“How can Christians use social media to influence culture?”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard variants of that question at Christian gatherings and conferences over the last decade. As blogging, social networking, Twitter, mobile texting, and other services cropped up in turn, Christians—always eager to share the Gospel with the world around them—have wondered how to “use” these “tools” to change culture for the better.
I’m certainly sympathetic to this general goal, but these phrases are clearly the vocabulary of the broadcast media era, when television and radio transmitted the Christian message to millions around the world, to great effect. But unlike traditional broadcast media, social media feels less like a tool that can be aimed in a particular direction, and more like a general background against which we go about our everyday lives and conversations. Now everyone is a broadcaster, and no central authority manages the message.
In the back of my mind, I’ve always wanted to ask, “Instead of trying to figure out a magic formula that will transform social media into the perfect evangelistic tool, why don’t you just be a Christian who participates in social media?”
These thoughts came to mind while reading a roundtable discussion about Christians, blogging, and the internet. Blogger Jared Wilson, asked “Can social media truly have a positive influence on Christianity?”, responded with this sharp insight:
Obviously I am interested in some level of influence, or else I wouldn’t post my thoughts in public forums for others to read. But the context of thinking of social media as a “tool” to influence others — and here I think of self-appointed marketing gurus, some of the pastorpreneurial tribe, and anybody who obsessively monitors their stats and rankings — seems so strange to me…
Can social media have a positive influence on Christianity? Yes, locally and worldwide. But probably not… in that sense of heavy influence. But social media edifies me when I’m reading the right people…. all of us here probably receive messages throughout the year from folks who say a particular post or tweet encouraged them, addressed some concern of the day, etc. So use of social media that glorifies God — whether it’s reveling in the gospel, reflecting on a Scripture, or just in the spirit of Christian camaraderie being silly among friends — can be a positive influence in someone’s need of the moment. Our days go by fast; our needs change. I would think a short-shelf-life medium like Twitter might be keenly appropriate for encouragement in that context.
When you approach blogging, Twitter, or other networking with this attitude, your social networks become an extension of your normal communication—which, if you’re a Christian, will be influenced by your faith and desire to share the Gospel. I think that’s a very practical way to “be a Christian online,” and is more likely to positively influence your “audience” than trying to implement a noble-sounding, but vague, media strategy. Among other things, it simply feels more authentic—who wouldn’t be a little suspicious upon learning that their Christian friends were trying to “use Facebook to reach” them?
Where have you seen Christians having a positive influence through blogging or social networking? Were those Christian influencers guided by a strategy, or simply “being Christians?”