Rev. Evan Dolive explores what evangelism looks in the age of social media.
Facebook is one of the most popular websites to date with nearly 500 million users from all over the world. From its humble beginnings in the dorm room of Harvard University, Facebook’s reach is now almost inescapable. From your personal computer to your Smartphone, one is never too far away from social “interactions” found within Facebook (or as a friend of my calls it ‘faceless book’).
Facebook connects us to the world around us and we are able to share things from vacation pictures to memorial pages for those who have died. Facebook at its core is a social networking site, connecting people across various socio-economic statuses, education levels and even religions. Facebook in my opinion has moved past its original intent of just social networking between friends. Businesses, churches, civil groups, clubs and even TV shows all have a presence on Facebook. Breaking news is reported, shared, liked and commented on, all within the confines of one website. The goal has moved from friendly conversations to specific advertisements and mass information around like issues, causes and beliefs.
What does Facebook do or what has it done for Christianity? Has Facebook helped or hurt the gospel message? Recently I began to see more and more pictures shared that read “Like if you Love Jesus” or “Keep scrolling if you love the Devil, like if you love God.” If you are a user of Facebook like I am, you have more than likely seen these pictures (or others like it) before. These pictures call for Christians around the world to share their faith boldly and proudly on their Facebook page so that all who may grace it will know that they are a follower of Christ.
To be honest, I can’t stand these photos. I get on Facebook to keep in contact with friends and family, and all they do is clutter my news feed. On a deeper level, they make Christianity something to do, not something that is done. Followers of Christ are called to continue the message of Christ in the world around them. Often in churches there are talks of “letting your light shine before others,” but there is also a warning about doing things just to get attention in the name of faith (See Matthew 6). Does it really mean I am “less of a Christian” if I decided not to click the ‘like’ button on a picture? Does this mean that I have sold my soul to the internet Devil because I am too consumed with posting pictures of my children? Absolutely not.
It is one thing to have a faith and for that faith to inform your life, but it is another to have a faith and guilt trip others into following your actions. Christ did not call for us to plaster our faith across the internet. Christ calls us to be the presence of God at all times, in all places and to all people. A person’s faith or commitment to God/Christ is not contingent on whether or not they share a Facebook photo with their friends.
Facebook and other social media outlets like it have made the gospel a bumper sticker, for good or for ill. Since the interaction happens in cyber space the relational connection is lessened. Because of this the scriptures, quotations, theology and sermons can all be taken out of context and promoted as truth with little or no dialogue, conversation or explanation. They are posted as theological and scriptural fact. The internet has a way to embolden people to critique, debate and even belittle all from the confines of their home. The internet creates a veil of anonymity; you can be whoever you want to be. The people you are conversing with are reduced to profile pictures and witty screen names. The level of connectivity and even empathy is greatly diminished. Of course this can happen anywhere, but for some reason the internet has brought this to the forefront.
One does not have to hide their faith from social media; the two can co-mingle together—there just needs to be a balance. In fact, there are ministers out in cyberspace who are actively trying to use social media in a way that promotes community, increased dialogue and faithful, thoughtful discussions — churchsocmed.blogspot.com, hosts Twitter Chat every Tuesday night, attempting to use the social media platform to have an international discussion. The focus or aim of these chats and discussions are to bring a sense of connection and community to a medium that has an inherent anti-social quality to it. Church Social Media (or #chsocm for short) bridges the gap between the church door and cyberspace. They try to foster community across the various social media outlets, not through cliché pictures or guilt trips but from their desire to share the gospel in a meaningful way in the 21st century.
Is social media the 21st century model of evangelism? If it is, I sure hope it’s not a full on replacement for face-to-face encounters. To be sure, social media has it place in the propagation of the gospel but evangelism, at its core, is grounded in relationships. Evangelism is a scary word for many people because they believe it means inviting people to church or knocking on people’s doors and passing out ‘salvation tracts.’ While some people believe this is the best way to promote one’s faith, I believe that being in a relationship with someone first helps to “open the door” to evangelism. One does not even have to speak the name of Jesus Christ to get the message of Christ across. This is where these Facebook “like if you love Jesus” pictures fail; there is no relationship, just a touching picture with a alluring font.
The gospel demands more.