We’re going to take a break from our typical blog topics to bring you a post we think you’ll appreciate.
Last fall (2013), a few of us at Masterworks were asked to attend the Lausanne Global Consultation on Media and the Gospel in Brea, California. The purpose was to gather media professionals from around the globe to discuss the implications of media on the Gospel.
One outcome from the consultation was the following article summarizing our discussion of the role of digital and social media in evangelism. We hope it informs and inspires you.
The role of digital and social media in evangelism
Digital and social media are playing an increasingly important role in evangelism. That role varies across three continuous stages: SOW, REAP, DISCIPLE. At any moment, hundreds of millions of people globally are at each stage in their Christian faith — ranging from a complete lack of interest in Christianity to a mature, growing faith.
- SOW — In this stage (which might also be referred to as pre-evangelism), people aren’t actively seeking Jesus. But digital and social media can play a role in influencing the perception of Christianity and creating an environment that fosters openness and curiosity to engage.
- REAP — For our purposes, the REAP stage extends from when someone reaches a place where they’re beginning to seek answers, through to a decision to follow Christ. Digital and social media provide a unique and safe environment for people to struggle and question, often in more vulnerable ways because of the perceived anonymity and safety of technology.
- DISCIPLE — After someone becomes a believer, the lifelong journey truly begins. Digital and social media can help people connect with a local church, provide resources and connections to deepen in the faith, and provide encouragement and tools to share Christ with others. That completes the circle, looping back to SOW.
Key aspects of digital and social media
Here are some of the key roles digital and social media can play in the work of evangelism.
We should be as Christian online as we are offline, so that our friends know we’re Christians. Even on Facebook.
Vulnerability and perceived anonymity
Something deeply psychological happens when someone seeks answers to tough questions using digital or social media. They’re often willing to be far more vulnerable and transparent than they might otherwise be in other settings (in person or on the phone, for example).
Our hypothesis is that the keyboard acts as a sort of perceived barrier between us and the world — even if we engage in live chat with another person we don’t even know. (For a fascinating presentation on this phenomenon, see: An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube).
Google has changed our world fundamentally. It may have started as an easy way to find information. But when searches take on the form of existential questions — like “Who is Jesus?” — you can see that “Googling” has reached a new level of meaning.
This makes findability critical in today’s world. By creating good content and using search engine optimization (SEO) techniques, you can place the Good News seconds away from any search globally.
Particularly in the SOW stage, it’s critical to note that your content doesn’t need to be explicitly evangelistic. In fact, you could argue that a bulk of the digital and social engagement in the SOW stage should not be overtly evangelistic.
Examples of indirect evangelism include a mom blogger with a massive following who doesn’t openly evangelize, but is unapologetically Christian and occasionally posts Christian content. Or the stars of a reality television show who clearly live out their faith in a winsome way.
In the REAP and DISCIPLE stages, platforms provide us with the tools to reach massive numbers of people. Technologies include web pages, chat rooms, instant messaging, videos, curriculum, location and more. Jesus.net is just one example. YesHeIs aggregates content that others can re-post across their various platforms.
Open source approach
Too many ministries approach technology and tools with a selfish mindset. They look internally to develop proprietary tools and technologies without considering what is available in the marketplace. They don’t share with other ministries. Far too many resources are wasted in continually re-inventing the wheel, rather than collaborating and using existing technology to accomplish goals.
Leveraging world news / cultural moments / memes
We live in a world where the news of the minute attracts massive attention. Rather than trying to drum up our own attention and interest, we should consider leveraging existing world events and cultural moments to evangelize, particularly in the SOW and REAP stages.
For example, after singer Miley Cyrus gave a lewd performance at the MTV Music Awards this year, Focus on the Family chose to respond by blogging from the perspective of a father on their Dad Matters Blog. That single post generated more traffic and attention in one day than the blog typically receives in an entire month.
And as a non-evangelistic topic, it gave Focus on the Family the opportunity to introduce a winsome voice into the conversation that points to Jesus.
Today, quality content is king — it is core to your success in reaching and influencing people in digital and social media. Christianity is the greatest story ever told. The Bible gives us content on every issue related to the human condition. As wise and creative Christians, we need to be committed to creating and sharing evangelistic content for all three stages: SOW, REAP, DISCIPLE.
Lausanne Global Consultation on Media and the Gospel, Brea, California, November 2013