“We’re done with Facebook.”
My heart sank as I read these words from a church leader friend of mine in an email.
Facebook has been in the spotlight for several negative connotations lately. Privacy issues. Political distrust. Free speech concerns. Security threats. It’s no wonder so many people on all sides of the political and religious aisle are closing their Facebook accounts down.
People like my friend have struggled with whether or not to keep their church presence there, or to withdraw. Pressure from church members, deacons, colleagues makes the choice tougher.
So when I read my friend’s email, I couldn’t say I blamed them.
Why hang out in a social media environment where there’s so much broken trust and increasing conflict?
To leave or not to leave…
As I pondered why believers should stay on Facebook the answer occurred to me out of the blue: Because people need to hear the Gospel. People need to know there’s hope. Broken people. Betrayed people. Deceived. Sick. Dying. Lost. They need to hear the love of Jesus.
Let’s face it. Facebook isn’t what it used to be. A Lot has changed since we created our first profile and found that long lost cousin of ours, or that friend from high school.
But can I have your permission to present a crazy idea?
I believe what should be concerning isn’t how much Facebook has changed. I think it’s deeper than that. I believe we should think about whether we as Christians will change our mindset when it comes to why we’re on Facebook in the first place.
To help you understand where I’m going with this, let’s look at the small island country of Jamaica.
Why do people visit this tropical place in the Caribbean sea?
It depends on who you ask. One person might tell you they go to relax and spend their vacation on it’s white sandy beaches and soak in the sun while they bask near the blue waters.
But ask someone like a friend of mine named Tiffany, who is a missionary, along with her mom and dad, and her reason is much different.
She travels there because there are needy families beneath the surface, homeless families with no shelter from the harsh hurricane-like weather Jamicans receives. She goes because the people there are lucky to make a dollar per day – not enough to buy food or clothes for their families. She goes because some people don’t have an education like we do, not being able to read or write.
But each year, she and her family make the trip for a few months to distribute food and clothing supplies, teach reading classes and share the hope of Jesus.
So here’s the question to drive my point:
why do we as Christians stay on Facebook?
Depending on who you ask, you’ll get a different answer, won’t you? What if we as followers of Jesus shifted our mindset and began to look at Facebook as a mission field to reach a lost and broken society? Look, the enemy is going to leverage any piece of technology for his gain. Radios, TV, Internet, smart phones – you name it. He’s been doing that for decades and he’s gotten good at it.
But we know all too well that what the enemy intends for evil, God can turn it around for good. No piece of technology is too big for God to use in advancing his Kingdom.
So what should the church do?
While retreating from social media may feel like the safest option, I don’t think this is the solution. We’re called to go to the highways and byways. To lean into the darkness and be the light. We can do that on social media without compromising the gospel.
Below are five practical and intentional steps your church can take in being a missionary-minded believer on Facebook:
1. Stop falling for conflict
I see well meaning Christians on Facebook all the time posting conflicting views that do nothing but stir up rage. Telling people what you’re against won’t win them over. Think about it. When was the last time you saw a post that slandered your beliefs that made you think “huh, I suddenly feel the urge to agree with this person?”
Arguing, bickering, trolling and blocking people over controversial issues has never proved to be effective. Don’t get dragged into the conflict. Better yet, don’t start it.
2. Realize there’s a deeper issue and pray
I’ve realized most of the people in my circles who pump my newsfeed with toxicity are actually struggling with a deeper issue. Most of the time I don’t know what it is. But God knows.
When you pray for that person who’s getting under your skin, you’ll be surprised how God surfaces snapshots of the pains, hurts, or hang ups that are actually feeding their animosity.
For example, take my old highschool buddy Jake. If you look at his posts, it’s all about how much he hates God, why he believes God is dead, and why you’d have to be an idiot to follow him. Frustrating, huh?
If you knew the backstory though, Jake was accidently shot in a gunfire exchange between police and gunman, making him permanently paralyzed. In an instant, his whole life flipped upside down. His friends have left him. He can’t drive. He can’t live on his own. He’s hurt, confused and depressed. There’s an opportunity for me to empathize with his pain, a chance for me to be the friend he’s lost in others and show the character of Jesus to him. When you realize that most posts are rooted in someone’s pain or struggles, it allows you to easily pray for them. Who knows, God might just open a door of ministry to them!
3. Fight the dark with light
I remember a pastor once sharing a true story of a young Christian girl who worked as a barista in a coffee shop. All of her co-workers were non-religious people and eventually she got weighed down by the conversations about partying, getting drunk and hooking up with people. Discouraged, she went to the pastor and asked his advice.
His response was perfect.
He encouraged her to be just as open about her life as her co-workers were with theirs. Instead of coming off at them in a judgemental way, she simply shared about her great experience at church, her and her young adult group going camping together, and the recent Saturday Outreach event they had feeding the homeless people downtown.
Sure there were probably a few people who jeered inside at the fact that she was a Chrisitan, but her positive approach to fighting their toxic conversations with her own life-giving stories had an impact on many of her co-workers. It wasn’t long before a couple of them actually attended her young adult small group with her.
Focus on posting uplifting content on your Facebook page. Share the positive moments you have at your church. Take selfies with the people in your small group. Talk about the back-pack drive your church is hosting, or the number of meals you’ve served to your local homeless shelter. You’ll find it’s much easier to fight the darkness with light.
4. Make your church active online
Many people who are spiritually lost have this misperception that churches today are full of scandals, greedy for people’s money and all about hell, hell, hell. Of course that’s not true with the majority of churches, but they don’t know.
Your church’s response should be to show them the opposite of those things.
Help them see how generous your church is toward different needs in the community.
Let them know about the different care ministries you offer, your marriage groups, grief share support, financial planning classes, etc.
Talk about how you’re praying over the needs and crises that are happening in your community, state or country. Let them know you care!
Even if you don’t get a lot of engagement at first, keep posting. Keep staying active. Make it a point to schedule content on a daily basis. You may not see many Likes or Shares, but you need to understand that people are watching. And their curiosity is stirred.
5. Encourage church members to collaborate
If you’re a church leader, get your members motivated about partnering with your church in your Facebook missionary efforts. And let them know you all are missionaries!
Encourage them to follow your Facebook page. Share your church’s posts. By them engaging with your church, you are organically connecting with their friends and acquaintances online.
One of the most powerful tools available on Facebook is ‘Events’. An event is like a one time group merged into a live guest list. You can create an Event for your church’s annual Easter egg hunt, 4th of July BBQ, Fall Festival, etc and members can indicate whether they’re going or are interested in it.
Events are powerful because they’re more visible to people in your community and act as a bridge for helping unchurched people attend an Outreach event.
We cannot fall for the conflict or start it. Instead of getting angry and retaliating, we must pray for people. Pray that God would work in their hearts. Pray that God would open a door for you to be the light that they desperately need. Start making your church more active and promote positive, life-giving content that piques the curiosity of your community. And encourage your church members to get motivated about partnering with your church by sharing, liking and commenting on your posts. This will help you reach even more lost people in their networks.
This isn’t the first we’ve seen technology used to promote conflict, break families and friends apart and see our views attacked. The church has always endured the trials of this world, and anytime a wall pops up in our path, we’ve been able to stand on it and share the gospel louder. Facebook can either be the block that trips us in reaching more people, or it can be the stepping stone that allows us to do more.
Isaac is the Sites and Social Media Coordinator at Outreach Digital. He’s been involved in church ministry for 12 years and is passionate about helping pastors and church leaders reach more people in their community