Tim Snyder considers how church leaders can connect with new people through digital relationships. He explains how digital platforms provide enhanced opportunities for listening, prayer, storytelling, and evangelism in the course of day-to-day life.
The digital revolution has been transforming our lives for the past 30 years — at home, at work, and, yes, at church. But in the face of COVID-19, congregations have come to rely on digital connections in ways we couldn’t have imagined just a year ago. To fully engage the world today, we must continue to develop digital practices and relationships. It makes no sense to try and go back to the world as it was before the digital revolution or before COVID-19. But how can we forge digital relationships that are as strong as our face-to-face ones? For those wanting to expand and strengthen their digital outreach, here are six important things to keep in mind.
In our digital world, all kinds of voices are amplified. Everyone has a platform, an audience, and a bully pulpit. This creates some unique challenges, but it also gives us a chance to hear how God might already be at work in the lives of those around us. Take social media, for example. Many of us have much larger social networks because of social media. It’s tempting to use those privacy settings to filter out all the voices we don’t want to hear. What might happen if we used these vast networks of relationship to strengthen our capacity to listen to each other across our differences?
2. Pray without ceasing.
Every Facebook post, tweet, Instagram photo, and so on is a window into the life of another, and it is therefore a call to prayer. Sometimes you may want to quietly pray for the things you encounter online. Other times you may even want to invite prayer requests in your own posts and updates. If you’re like me, you sometimes find yourself scrolling through social media without any real purpose. What if that habit became a spiritual discipline?
3. Convene conversations.
Good evangelism, whether face-to-face or digital, is about having good conversations about the things that matter most: questions of faith, meaning, and purpose. It’s about living into our God-given callings to accompany each other in our faith journeys. Good evangelism always leads to mission, to actions and practices that “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God” as the scriptures say.
Most of us have seen how social media can turn ugly. If you sense things are getting negative, try pivoting and invite conversation through honest questions. Honest questions forego the sarcasm or the need to make a point and instead reflect genuine curiosity and care. Here’s an experiment you can try. Next time things start heading downhill in a social media conversation, try shifting to private, one-on-one messages or, better yet, a phone call. Often, we’re more defensive in settings where we feel we’re being publicly shamed for the views and beliefs we hold. Shift the medium and you may just be able to shift the relationship.
4. Tell stories.
Digital platforms can be an incredible way to tell stories. As one of my teachers used to say, stories are the “coins of the realm” in the world of meaning-making. When we tell stories together, our lives and relationships become more meaningful. Chances are you know some powerful stories about how God is at work in the world. Consider using your online presence to tell and share as many good stories as you can. Creating digital media to tell these stories is a great way to engage younger generations who probably know already how to create the videos and graphics you’ll need. Here are three resources to get you started: The Story Center, the Network of Biblical Storytellers, and StoryCorps.
5. Release God’s people as evangelists in their everyday lives.
One way the digital revolution has transformed our lives is through mobile technology. That means the entire digital world and much of your social network goes with you in the course of your everyday life. For many of us, our work, family, and communities are digital realities. Faith in the digital world is not just one part of busy lives, it can be the thread that ties it all together. When evangelism is more of a conversation than a program, it can happen anytime and anyplace. The best digital strategy for connecting with your neighbors is to release God’s people as evangelists in their everyday lives.
6. Take a Sabbath.
Our digital lives are just as relentless as the rest of our lives. Whether it’s for a day, a week, or maybe even longer, consider what it might look like for you to take a digital sabbath. You can use that time for more intentional face-to-face relationships or other things that are important to your spiritual journey. After all, it wasn’t that long ago when our lives didn’t include selfies, tweets, hashtags, or Zoom. The revolution may be irreversible, but God’s commandment to rest has definitely not changed. Trust me, I just looked it up on my iPhone!
Meredith Gould, a social media strategist and Christian writer, has revised a well-known prayer from St. Teresa of Avila for those who want to connect with their neighbors digitally. It goes like this:
Christ has no online presence but yours,
No blog, no Facebook page but yours,
Yours are the tweets through which love touches this world,
Yours are the posts through which the Gospel is shared,
Yours are the updates through which hope is revealed.
Christ has no online presence but yours,
No blog, no Facebook page but yours.
- Stop Telling People to Turn Off Their Smartphones in Church by Olu Brown
- 6 Traits People Value in Online Faith Communities by Heidi A. Campbell
- Online Worship Makes Evangelism Less Intimidating for Many by Doug Powe and Ann A. Michel