Social Media isn’t all bad. And its use needn’t be bad. And so I jotted down a few ways that we can use Facebook for the good of the gospel. So could we use it?
Here are four positive ways to use Facebook to promote the gospel
1. Model Christian Communication
I don’t simply mean that a clever or intriguing restatement of the gospel needs to be inserted into your status each and every day. Though if you wanted to do that, that’s fine. It’s just hard to do well. And most people do it badly. It ends up like the virtual equivalent of the orange and black signs that used to decoarte country evangelical free churches.
We need to be distinctive in not only what we say but how we say and when we say it. Allow the gospel to shape what you post on someone else’s timeline. Allow the gospel to drive what you say about your status. Make it obvious that the goodness of God in salvation shapes your approach to life. If, for example, the purpose of scripture is to equip us for every good work by teaching, correcting, rebuking and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16) then make some of your comments fit those categories. When I can be bothered I’ll often quote Psalm 90:12 ‘teach us to number our days so that we may gain a heart of wisdom’ on someone’s birthday feed so that amidst all the virtial glad handing we remember that we’re a year closer to our death! I don’t just want what I say to be the same as everyone else. I do want what I say to be said in the light of the realities of the gospel. I know that Facebook is meant to be relentlessly affirming and positive. But that’s not how we love one another. Not everything needs to be approved. Sometimes things need to be challenged. Doing that on Facebook is fraught with potential pitfalls, I accept. And I usually get it wrong. But every now and again it’s worth getting it wrong in the name of trying to do something right. Better that than not doing or saying anything. Surely?
2. Encourage Christian Friends
Facebook gives us the means to communicate quickly with friends from whom we might be separated by some distance. Obviously we can do that with a text or with an e-mail. And we should. Though Skype is a better way of doing conversation. Obviously. But when a Christian friend posts something online, that’s an opportunity to rally round in support. That might be especially valuable if what they’ve chosen to post may not meet with universal applause. Sticking up for your mates online and suffering the grief that may come your way is a good thing to do. Of course, we may need to encourage them through a direct message to rethink what they post, and how they post if it’s a sensitive issue that needs more time and space than Facebook encourages. But publicly I’m all for supporting the team. When push comes to shove we need to line up with ‘our guys’ even if we might question how they’ve done it. But we can also encourage our Christian friends to reflect on what they’ve posted, or how they’re feeling in the light of the gospel. For example, when someone close to them dies and they choose to make their grief public then that’s an opportunity to comfort them with scriptural truth compassionately expressed. When they’re celebrating some great accomplishment then encouraging them to praise the Lord for His gifting would not be appropriate. I don’t mean that we’re like some sort of virtual religious policemen constantly qualifying everything our Christian mates post. But every now and again we may need to strengthen a biblical perspective that’s being lost.
3. Initiate Christian Community
Use it as a tool to gather people together. Not just your close knit group of real life friends but others. Church is meant to be inclusive. We’re meant to welcome newcomers into our family. And that means so much more than learning to say hello and perhaps even their name on a Sunday. It means doing life together as fellow disciples of Christ. We have a Facebook Group at Christ Church Balham. It’s a great tool to get people together. It’s also brilliant and helping me remember names! But group invites like ‘we’re having a park picnic after church on Sunday’ can go out to everyone. And no one need be or feel left out. Except those not on Facebook! In this sense it’s a convenient means to an end. The end is face to face contact with the church family, which is so much more enjoyable than browsing someone’s history or being moved to envy by their holiday photos from Vietnam!
4. Promote Christian material
We stick our church events up on a public Facebook page. I’m not sure that many non-CCB people come as a result of that. That’s a shame. But it’s not disastrous. It keeps the Christian faith in the consciousness of those that look at our feed. But I’ve increasingly been directed to helpful stuff by friends’ posts. I’m not a twitterati. I’m on twitter but I’m not really on twitter. I have it. And I tweet occasionally. But it’s not a constant stream into my life. But Facebook directs me to good stuff that’s been recommended by others. Often times a friend will direct me to a Gospel Coalition article. And that’s great because I trust their recommendations. And I simply don’t have enough hours in the day to trawl through everything that gets published online. The sifting that friends do is relly helpful. And we can be part of that. We can try to write our own useful stuff. Or we can point people towards helpful blog posts, commend books that we’ve read or talks that we’ve listened to.
For all its dangers, I don’t think that Christians should necessarily absent themselves from Facebook. It’s a public space. And I want Christianity to remain in the public consciousness. If all Christians leave then we’ll deny millions of unbelievers the opportunity to pursue any interest in the gospel that may be awakened by rubbing virtual shoulders with godly Christians online. And that would be a mistake.