In his book, Faith for Exiles, David Kinnaman offers a staggering statistic regarding online utilization by stating that the average 15 to 23-year-old consumes 2,767 hours of content per year. That’s roughly 45% of their waking hour. Even more frightening than that, of that time, only 153 hours (or around 5.5% of time online) fall into the area of spiritual development.
And this book was written before the pandemic. Before the reliance on internet socialization undoubtedly increased dramatically.
We are in an age where people are relying less and less on in-person community, both in a social capacity and definitely a spiritual capacity. We are turning to online sources for a sense of purpose and fellowship more than ever before.
My personal experience with building community online began when my second daughter was diagnosed with a severe heart disease in my womb and was bolstered when she passed away at the age of ten months.
Writing had always been something I loved, and I found it therapeutic to share my heart online with so many who chose to follow her story and pray for our family. Honestly, I was able to find a sense of community surrounding my trauma online that I wasn’t able to find in person.
Sylvia’s story was shared by many, garnering lots of new “friends” on my social media platforms.
As a Christian, I remember having a moment when I realized what a responsibility this was. Not only was I sharing the details of a heavy, traumatic story with thousands of people, but I was committed to doing so through the lens of a Jesus-follower. I came to realize my words were not just for my benefit, but an opportunity to create a faith-fueled community for others as well. While this didn’t necessarily change what I shared, it changed why I shared and how I shared.
Because if we are called to love like Jesus, we cannot assume that the job only applies to in-person interactions (Matthew 28:19, ESV). We are literally commanded to “do all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31, ESV). Those two commands make it clear that Christians, in this age of digital community, carry the responsibility of bringing Jesus to the spaces they occupy online.
And yet we pause. We hesitate. We wonder if we should really be sharing our faith over the internet.
Keep it personal & keep it real
Being vulnerable is hard. Yes, yes it is.
And putting myself out there is scary. Yes. Totally.
So can’t I just share a meme of a Bible verse and be done? You could, but if your objective is to bring people to Jesus, you will be more effective if you personalize your message.
When you share something personal, you are doing something Jesus did wherever He went, and that is inviting people to come closer to you. One of the biggest differences between the ministry of Jesus and the teachings of the Pharisees? Access. Personal, up close, unfiltered access.
The Pharisees kept a wall of authority between them and the people to whom they taught, while Jesus literally and figuratively infiltrated the same space as those who followed Him. This personal access not only built a deep connection between Jesus and His followers, but a profound level of trust.
In the same way, sharing your vulnerable lived experience will build up trust with your audience. One of the most important ways to do this is to resist the temptation to paint your life as picture perfect as a result of your faith. Along with the joy Jesus offers, share your struggles. Share your burdens. Share your pain.
The goal is to change hearts, not minds. This requires you to share yours.
Cast a wide net
One of the more unique aspects of social media is the provision of built-in diversity within your audience. Unless you have purposely curated your friends and follower lists to include a narrowed demographic, your words will be in front of a wide variety of people. And each of them log in online from different walks of life with a vast array of personal experiences, values, and opinions.
In light of this, the words you use and the tone you set in your message matters immensely. How many followers of Jesus are lifelong believers? How many are just beginning their relationships with Jesus? Are any of the non-Christians hostile towards the faith? Which of them used to call themselves believers but were hurt deeply by the Church and have renounced their faith?
It can get really complicated, really fast.
Which is why your message needs to be simple.
By simple, I don’t mean talk down to everyone; I mean talk openly with everyone.
Jesus made this a priority during His ministry. The Jews thought He was there to redeem only them. But His intended audience was everyone, which is why He made sure to speak to everyone. His teachings included analogies and anecdotes which made sense to both the Jewish and non-Jewish people in the crowds who followed Him. This was radical for His time and often upset leaders of the Jewish church.
But Jesus wasn’t interested in exclusivity. He came for all.
So how do you keep your message inclusive? Use these two ideas of Simplicity and Small Moments:
There is so much to say about faith, the Bible, Jesus.
But in an effort to keep your message accessible to a wide variety of people, key in on one focus at a time.
When discussing anything God-related, it can be very tempting to take a thousand bunny trails. Imagine you were hearing about your subject for the very first time and write about it in a way that wouldn’t overwhelm you. The goal is always a message that is easily digestible and highly accessible.
I understand the hesitation with sharing your faith online. It’s intimidating in a way in-person conversation never will be. I want to take a little of the pressure off here and say you do not and should not force yourself to exclusively talk about your faith in literal and obvious ways. You can be a Christian online without constantly mentioning Christianity – just like you can be a Christian in a restaurant, or park, or family party in your words and actions and everyday relationships.
So much of loving people like Jesus depends on the empathy and mindfulness with which we respond to and interact with others. We are constantly at war with both the sinner and saint within ourselves.
For me, the sinner side feels much braver presenting herself online when she reads something that makes her mad, offended, or even jealous. Especially since losing my daughter. In the months following, I found myself scrolling past friends’ pregnancy or birth announcements without offering congratulations. I would get red hot angry whenever someone complained about the smallest inconveniences of parenthood, thinking (and sometimes saying) they had NO idea what true pain really was.
After a lot of therapy and prayer, I realized I wasn’t living out the calling Jesus put on my life–on the life of all who follow Him–to love others well. So I looked to the Bible for help and created a very simple guideline for myself with my interactions online, taken from Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (ESV).
Because that’s what Jesus does.
He steps into the pages of our stories right along with us, sits next to us in the gap between here and Heaven, and offers us both His joy and His tears when we need them most.
If you can do that, if you can provide people the gift of intentionality, of listening when they’re in pain, of kindness when they’re lonely, of joy when they’re celebrating…you will bring your faith to them.
Every small online impression is a chance to mirror the heart of Jesus toward His people. Don’t waste them.
Lead with love
The last several years or so have set an unprecedented record for emotionally charged discussions on social media. Never before have we seen so many people engage in heated discourse online with such volatility.
When I scroll through my social media, of which the majority of posters are Christian, I see more desire to be right than I see a desire to love.
And I often stop and wonder…
Is our faith informing our opinions or are opinions informing our faith?
Because opinions are divisive. They’re isolating. They’re “us and them.”
And Jesus? His care for others is inclusive. Jesus’ love for people isn’t divisive.
Again, I look to Jesus’ ministry for guidance. Jesus always allowed His actions, how He treated people, to reveal His values.
This actually frustrated His followers, who expected Jesus to become King in the most earthly sense and take back the nation of Israel from Roman rule. They wanted Jesus to lead with politics, but He had something so much better, so much more impactful in mind.
Because Jesus understood what many of us do not: opinions don’t lead people closer to God.
If our goal is to draw others closer to a love that is bigger than all of us, we must lead with what is actually at its center…open hands and open hearts that bring people together.
This may seem like an obvious statement, but when you post something online, you are asking for people to respond, react, and engage.
When you choose to follow Christ’s model of love online, at some point one of the following could happen:
- Someone, someday might disagree with something you said.
- Someone, someday might disagree with you.
Listen, I don’t like it either. I am an Enneagram 2 and desperately want everyone in the
world to like me at all times. I hate confrontation and have a tendency to be a people-pleaser. And yet my calling is to be a Christian content writer. One who talks about hard things. Go figure.
When I find myself struggling with the inevitable feedback that comes with sharing my faith, I remind myself of the words of Jesus, “…and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22, ESV). There are two guarantees there. First, this is going to be hard. But second, and most important, dedication to my belief means an eternity without division.
And I cling to that. Not just for myself, but for anyone who may read my words and be pointed to Jesus. If my temporary discomfort means the Holy Spirit will work eternity for someone else, I will sit in this tension all the live long day. Remaining with others through division and standing on the rock of my Redeemer means I honor the Divine Hands that made the person on the other side of the internet from me.
Isn’t that what we’re ultimately called to do as Jesus-followers?