Tweeting the gospel
How does social media stack up when it comes to telling others about Jesus?
By Rob Horsley | Thursday, June 21, 2012
The ever-expanding jumble of social media. Photo by Kexino.
Many Christian leaders are embracing social media like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. The New York Times reports that tweets made by prominent church leaders tend to travel about 30 times further than posts made by megastars like Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber.
For example, a recent Twitter post"Your words will tell others what you think. Your actions will tell them what you believe"made by popular American pastor T.D. Jakes was "re-tweeted" 2,490 times. Jakes currently has about 485,000 followers.
A Katy Perry complaint about jet-lag was re-tweeted about the same number of times. The difference? About 21 million presently follow Ms. Perry on Twitter.
Toronto pastor and church planter Darryl Dash maintains a daily blog, and frequently updates his Twitter feed. He says social media can be "a way to gain interest" for potential newcomers to church.
"I've found it useful to build credibility with people who are skeptical of the Christian faith," Dash says. "It provides a small window into my life, and supplements our personal friendships."
Social media exchanges with people who are new to church can be a good way to add to real-life friendships. Dash says, "Being authentic and real seems to be most effective in furthering a relationship with [non-Christians] and builds a platform for sharing the gospel."
Social media is making the message of the Bible more and more accessible. Many churches publish online audio recordings or "podcasts," that members and the public can download and listen to at their convenience, most often free of charge.
Websites like YouTube have made viewing Christian music and videos easier than ever. Many Christian colleges and universities have uploaded lecture videos for those interested in exploring the Bible and theology more academically.
Christianity Today reports that the "Bible: YouVersion" mobile app now has over 50 million users, with a growth rate of about three million per month. In three years, the "Bible" Facebook page has generated about 8.6 million 'likes' and gets roughly 10,000 responses for each daily Scripture versewithin the first 10 minutes of each post.
But is social media the right place for talking about Jesus? Nicholas Greco, media professor at Providence College in Otterburne, Manitoba, isn't sure.
"On the one hand, it allows us to connect to each other, while on the other hand, our relationships [aren't as] strong.
"When thinking about evangelism and social media, one might have the thought that opportunities are hugeit's much easier to send a message to my friends on whatever social media site, and hopefully have them respond. But if they don't, that's okay."
Passing along Christian tidbits such as a verse can often pass as a modern-day equivalent of "sowing the seed," says Greco. "We might think that we are doing a lot by doing very little."
Kevin Schut, media professor at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C., sees a lot of value in what social mediaFacebook in particularcan offer by way of supplementing relationships. He notes that it's very difficult to generalize its users.
"It's a great place to see a lot of people really quickly," says Schut, noting its ease in spreading messages. But he says it's also important to keep in mind the types of relationships that can often occur on social media such as Facebook.
"What you see on Facebook overall is that relationally, it's a great place for weak relationships and for strong relationships it can be a useful tool," he says. "But it can't be the primary means of carrying on a strong…relationship."
While social media may not be the easiest place for forming strong Christian community, the message is still be transmitted faster and farther than ever.
The Christian story is not so much a set of ideas, says Schut, but instead a living relationship with God and others. "What's important about Facebook is not how well it spreads ideas, but really, how it impacts the way we deal with other people relationally."