Two thousand years ago, the gospel spread from nation to nation via roads built by the Roman Empire. You could begin in Jerusalem and follow the road all the way to Rome. This is what people did, and the gospel could continue to spread from Rome to Spain, and then all throughout Europe.
The gospel was spread via these roads, but so was the Roman Empire, which often meant the persecution of Christians along the way. There was as much conflict as there was peace.
In some ways, social media mirrors the roads that weaved through the Roman Empire. While an opportune place to spread gospel witness, social media is tricky. Isaiah 5:20 talks about woe being brought down on those who call evil “good” and good “evil.” We can easily find ourselves in this state when we use social media without meticulous intentionality.
When it comes to social media, how can we be certain that we are spreading the good news of Jesus? How can we build our social media accounts to be places that offer digital highways to hope?
Most churches today only use social media to announce service times and sermon links. This is completely fine, but there’s potential to do so much more than that; you just have to use the digital connection to find new pathways of engagement.
The biggest challenge is figuring out exactly how to use social media as a tool to build and communicate with your community.
Here are a few simple ways to do this:
First, share the good news
Many churches in the Chicagoland area use Explore God, a program that offers resources to people as they come to know Christ. In January of this year, Explore God launched an initiative in Chicago with a goal to grow attendance and participation in churches. They utilized a dedicated sermon series and small group discussions to answer tough questions about God and Christianity. In addition, the Explore God website is filled with videos and articles that individuals can access outside of church.
The organization is based in Texas, and while it isn’t directly connected to any of the churches in the Chicago area, many of the churches promoted Explore God on social media because it offers content that aligns with the churches’ theology.
Social media doesn’t have to be used to promote your church’s work exclusively; it can also be used to simply point people to the good news. Promoting websites that align with your church’s theology can help reach new audience members in new ways. It gives us a chance to build roads that provide new people with access to the gospel.
Second, use intentional advertisements
The simplest and easiest way to begin engaging with your community is advertising. Facebook advertising is best for reaching your target audience. But to be most effective, we have to be intentional with the way we advertise.
I currently serve as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College. Last November we wanted to grow one of our programs, so we used a timely event to communicate with people via Facebook Live about the importance of missions trips and cross-cultural ministry.
When you use Facebook Live, people who watch can share the video with others. Even after the live-streaming ended, people could go back and watch the video online. We eventually had 5,000 people watch the video, and we were able to place advertisements before the video that all viewers saw.
Tools like Facebook Live can be used to extend real-life community into a larger online community for your church. Events and celebrations can be intentionally broadcasted to countless people in and around your immediate church community. With the ever-growing scope of social media and its ability to reach more and more people every day, you can reach many people with intentional advertisements.
Third, create real-life community
When we use it the right way, social media can be very effective for evangelism and church planting. We can bring voices to the oppressed and create connections that turn into real-life relationships.
I’ve seen an increasing number of church planters and pastors connect people to a genuine cause, encouraging people to get involved in that cause— then inviting them to other similar causes. And, eventually, that includes an invitation to a new church.
We, too, can use social media to promote events, but we also need to use it to communicate and interact with people on an individual level. Real-life participation can come directly from social media engagement if we’re intentional with our digital interactions.
Social media gives us an opportunity to both intentionally provide people with a strong and winsome gospel witness and mobilize people for the good of the community. As social media evolves, we can continue to pave roads for the good news to travel on.
We have an opportunity to provide people with digital pathways to hope. What will we do with it?
Ed Stetzerholds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.