Social Media and Christianity
With only 2% of 18-30s currently attending church but 10 million of them using Facebook everyday, Rachael Smith looks at the relationship between Evangelism and Social Networking.
Christianity, Social Media and Generation Y
For many of us, particularly those in Generation Y (under 30)the concept of a “private life” is foreign. From what we have for breakfast, to what music we listen to while we eat it, thanks to social networks and advances in mobile technology, wherever we are and whatever we are doing can now be shared. This sharing of information along with the intimate details of our lives is not just limited to our family and friends but is broadcast to an extended network of people across the globe.
“You used to be what you had, now you are what you share”. With profiles, pages and newsfeeds providing an ad infinitum portal into our daily lives we no longer lead lives that are purely physical but have created for ourselves cyber-lives. This online expression of our lives is, for those who are authentic, just as real as the physical and Christians now have an online extension to their lives in which they must also share and be true to the Gospel. This concept of sharing should be nothing new, the primal confession of the Church is to share Christ and as individuals is not the sharing of our faith and of our lives at the heart of the Christian identity? If we are what we share, and we are Christians, then we must share Christ.
We are in an age where news travels instantaneously, youtube celebrities are made overnight, and Facebook makes up an online community of over 500 million users. We must then ask the question: How are we as Christians to engage with this digital reality? As new communities are created online, so too do these new communities need to be reached. We are increasingly having to see ourselves as a generation of cyber-evangelists and the world wide web as our mission field.
Christianity, Social Media and Evangelism
The internet is providing new and exciting ways for Christians to share Christ. From forming communities and kick-starting campaigns for social justice, to digital articulations of the Gospel, the internet is revolutionizing how we express our faith in the modern world and Generation Y are leading the way in experimenting with social media.
For the Millennials (Gen Y) who were brought up with computers, mobile phones and instant messaging, using social networking and email is not a commodity but is second nature. In many ways their use of email is a reversion to letter writing, a means of staying in touch. Ever popular amongst the Victorians who wrote several letters a day in correspondence, aptly named the New Victorians, Gen Yers utilize the web similarly, it is a way of staying informed and sharing in others lives. It is normal for The New Victorians to almost continuously be using messenger, skype, Facebook and email, even all at the same time merely as forms of correspondence. Whether sharing their lives publicly (on their walls for example) or sharing them privately (in an email), for this generation to include their Christian faith in their online interaction is as instinctive as having profile, and the effect they are having online is profound.
Christianity, Social Media and Creativity
The technologically educated Gen Yers have used creative flair and ingenuity online to bring about political protests for democracy, to boycott unethical traders, they have created amnesties and petitions to see an end to sex trafficking and are self-declared lobbyists. By sharing their lives online they univocally share Scripture, youtube gospel parodies, church events, and evoke religious discussion. They are inviting all who view their cyber-lives to participate in a very real both physical and online Christian community. Of course it remains vital that all evangelistic contact made online is ‘followed up’ in real life and for many who are unfamiliar with web-based etiquette and the unwritten rules of sharing online, bringing the Gospel into this arena is daunting. And, like any mission field, there are risks involved.
As in real life, it is vital to respect people’s privacy: it is very different sending someone a private message for their inbox to posting something on their wall that thousands of people can see. Using the internet for expressing faith brings with it problems and occasionally opposition from Christians as well as non-Christians and as in everyday life, making a stand often carry’s a cost.
Christianity and Social Media: The Benefits Outweigh the Risks
But the benefits and overwhelming utility of engaging with social media and internet technology far outweigh the risks. Accountability is made easier, having an online profile pushes us towards leading transparent and honest lives. So too is participating prayerfully with the rest of the world made easier, on Facebook I am a member of a huge international student movement that is committed to interceding for young persecuted Christians, it was started online. On a more local level some self-starting GYers host their small groups on the net so if members are unable to attend they can sign in online, participating and sharing as if they were really there. The new media is creating fresh and convenient ways for us to create Christian community and to share resources and is becoming increasingly important in outreach and evangelism.
As the way we communicate online increases, so too does the way we communicate our faith online increase also. There is nothing revolutionary about sharing our lives and our faith with the people around us but as evangelists in a technologically advanced world, to engage our Christianity online is a given that in our freedom should be valued, in our lives practiced and in sharing, thoughtful.