The advent of the internet brought about a phenomenon unthinkable to those in history – it made the world smaller. There was a time (frankly, not that long ago) when the western hemisphere was undiscovered. Now, an American citizen may know, in real time, about the happenings in China. They need only pull up a live news video on YouTube to be informed.
The internet led to the creation of the first smartphone, which led to the creation of social media apps like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Because of this new way in which people connect with one another, traditional forms of evangelism have been lost, such as door to door evangelism, leaving tracks in mail boxes or on windshields, or even hanging them on door knobs. Tweets have replaced bumper stickers and Instagram stories have replaced face-to-face conversations.
With such a dramatic movement to online platforms as the main form of communication in the world Christians ought to ask themselves: Should we be using social media to evangelize?
Before stating a definitive answer, let’s take a look at a passage of Scripture where Jesus Christ clearly defines his reason for stepping off his heavenly throne and entering into his own creation:
“Jesus went out again beside the sea. The whole crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. Then, passing by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, ‘Follow me,’ and he got up and followed him. While he was reclining at the table in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who were following him. When the scribes who were Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard this, he told them, “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:13–17 CSB
Although this text is not explicitly about evangelism, the situation and what Jesus says about his mission provide wisdom for how to answer the question stated above:
1. Evangelism is most effectively done in a personal, face-to-face setting.
Notice from the text that Jesus was at Levi’s house. Levi was a tax collector, who were known for their extortion and abuse of local people when collecting taxes for the Roman Empire. Not only that, but Levi was a Jew, so for him to work as a tax collector was a gross act of betrayal against his fellow Jews because they did not recognize Caesar as their real leader. Yet, Jesus ate dinner with Levi and other sinners.
The point here is that Jesus spent purposeful time with those who needed his help, that is, sinners. He made relationships with them. He talked with them about their sin and how he was the answer for their forgiveness before God. He gave them good news that their condemnation would be paid for by himself. Countless other examples are found throughout the Gospels of Jesus building relationships with sinners to bring them the good news of his victory over sin and death. This is also seen in the acts of the Apostles, like Peter and Paul, as they engaged with unbelievers to share the Gospel with them. Paul would spend years at a time in a city evangelizing to establish a local church.
Evangelism requires time spent purposely building relationships with unbelievers. This cannot be accomplished through social media alone. It is most effectively accomplished through face-to-face conversations.
2. Evangelism requires bold statements of truth regarding an unbeliever’s sin and their need for salvation through Christ.
Jesus uses an analogy to describe those he was eating dinner with; he calls them “sick.” To call anyone sick today is a dramatic act of intolerance and bigotry. Yet, Jesus called the tax collectors and sinners he was eating dinner with “sick” before them and directly to the Pharisees. Everyone there definitely heard what he said, and that is the point. He made a bold proclamation about the state of their hearts before God because it is the truth they needed to hear. Yet, this bold proclamation was accompanied by wonderful hope: that Jesus is the doctor.
The point here is that one must have built a relationship with an unbeliever in order to know what sins are in their life and to call them to repentance of those sins. It is difficult to truly get to know someone through social media. It also comes across as impersonal and uninterested when generic posts are sent out into the social media sphere for unbelievers to see. It is essentially drive-by evangelism without any personability included.
But Jesus personally knew those sinners with whom he enjoyed dinner. He built relationships with them and knew the specific sins they struggled with and gave them hope, not only for forgiveness of sins, but for their hearts to be changed so that they could grow away from sin and into righteousness.
3. The work of evangelism does not end with a single conversation.
Do those who have a severe illness see their doctor only once? No, they repeatedly return to their physician in order to keep making progress towards becoming healthy. The same is true in evangelism. Often, a tweet or an instagram post may spark a thought in an unbeliever’s mind about their sinfulness or need for salvation, but sadly that is where the contemplation stops.
This is where social media is ineffective compared to personal relationships. Having multiple conversations with believers about their sin, about the Bible, about God, about questions they may have regarding Christianity, are all important aspects of evangelism. Real evangelism takes months or even years of conversations before an unbeliever truly converts. Again, this is hard to accomplish through social media alone. A Christian’s reflex must be first toward face-to-face interactions as they plead for unbelievers to realize their situation and turn to Christ.
Not only that, but the purpose of evangelism is to bring a recently converted unbeliever into the local church. God does not command Christians to evangelize just for the sake of evangelism. The goal is to guide an unbeliever to repentance and have them join the church so that they may be taught God’s word and grow in holiness.
It may seem at this point that the answer to the question posed above is that Christians should not use social media to evangelize, but that is not the case. Social media, just like printed pamphlets, doorknob tracks, and bumper stickers, is a tool to be utilized in evangelism. There is no other form of media so accessible to the public and so widespread as social media, making one’s tweets and posts potentially visible to hundreds, if not thousands of people.
That is a powerful tool in the hand of a well meaning Christian. But social media should not be our go-to tool for evangelism. It should be used as a supplement to the main way evangelism is to be accomplished: in-person. Jesus and his apostles set this as an example for us to follow. It is easy to hide behind one’s phone, share a bible verse online, and think one has done evangelism. That’s not evangelism. Evangelism is a deliberate act of engaging with an unbeliever to reveal to them their need for salvation and to proclaim to them the good news of Jesus Christ with the purpose of not only their conversion, but of bringing them into the local church to be discipled in righteousness.
Having established that evangelism is intended to be performed in person and that the goal of evangelism is to make disciples and bring them into the local church, how does one use social media as a resource in evangelism? There are numerous and creative ways this can be done. Below are a few suggestions to get you started:
1. Interact with a post.
Now-a-days, people are far more inclined to post about their views online. This could be through a shared instagram post in their story or an article they share on facebook. When an unbeliever posts something like this, especially if it contradicts what Scripture teaches, interact with it.
For example, if you see a friend post something about how there are more than two genders (something that clearly contradicts what the Bible teaches) start to ask questions of the person who posted it. Why do they believe there are more than two genders? What are the possible positive and negative impacts of taking that view? Are they aware of the statistics about the quality of life of those who struggle with gender identity? Asking these questions digs at the heart of why they believe such a view is true. As you dig deeper you are able to see the weak points in someone’s worldview compared to what Scripture teaches. And asking them questions about what they believe shows them you actually want to hear from them and listen to their thoughts. This makes a conversation far more open where they will be inclined to hear your Biblical view on the subject too.
One important point to make is that you should start this conversation online but finish it in person. Once engaged with this person ask them to meet with you over a cup of coffee to continue the conversation. Don’t use the internet to hide and argue with another person. Evangelism is about building a person up in love and truth, not beating them down by winning an argument. Moving the conversation to an in-person setting is more effective for evangelism and disciple making. Social media is a wonderful tool to start up the evangelistic process with someone.
2. Find them a local church.
Perhaps you have several lost friends online who do not live near you. As you engage with them online about their views, look up churches in their area. Google is a great resource to look up local churches. Be sure to look at the church’s website and read their doctrinal statements or “what we believe” sections to make sure they are a Bible believing church. If a church looks solid in its beliefs, try to watch a sermon or two by the pastors to make sure their beliefs stated on the website are also expressed in the preaching. The last thing you want to do is send your friend to a theologically failing church. They will not hear the real Gospel there nor be discipled.
If you are able, take a trip to see your friend and offer to attend the church you found with them. It can be intimidating for an unbeliever to attend church for the first time, especially alone. Take time to encourage them and go with them if you are able. Help them meet people in the congregation and maybe have a quick chat with the pastor. You may even want to attend a youth group event with them as well. Your friend will be far more inclined to come back if their initial experience is welcoming and thoughtful.
3. Send an invitation.
As stated above, social media allows us to connect with hundreds of people. This is a great resource to use to promote a time to gather together to discuss the Bible. This could be sharing an instagram story inviting people to attend the next youth group meeting. It could be posting about an upcoming youth group event that you want your friends to attend. Or, you could even plan a day where you invite people over or to a local coffee shop saying you will be there if anyone wants to stop by and talk about Christianity. Social media is a great resource to invite your friends to church events or to just grab coffee and talk about the Gospel.
All-in-all, social media is a blessing from God for use in evangelism. Let it not be lost on us that God ordained the existence of social media. Knowing this, Christians ought to strive to use it for God’s glory. Using social media as a tool for the work of evangelism is a great way to connect with unbelievers in ways that were not possible before the internet. It is far easier to make connections and share the Gospel. So, whenever you are on-line, seek to use social media as a means to make connections with unbelievers and present to them the Gospel.