Scrolling and squabbling: can you really do evangelism online?

Katy Morgan | July 8th 2019

What does your social media activity look like?

Do you flick through Facebook in bored moments, stopping to scrutinise friends’ baby pictures or judge their meal choices, but never commenting or posting anything yourself?

Or are you prolific on Twitter and Instagram, sharing every tiny detail of your life with anyone who cares to listen?

Have you given much thought to how you are representing your faith in Jesus online?

Unlike our workplaces, family time and sports clubs, social media is something we share with pretty much everyone we know all—as well as many we don’t. But in other regards, it’s no different to any other part of life: providing chances to get things done, to play and rest, and to build connections.

As Christians, then, social media has to be a place to share our faith. If we go online, we should seek to share the gospel online. But how do we do that wisely?

What we post

Thankfully there is a wide range of Christian content online which people can use to find out about Jesus, just as they would use the internet to find out about other things. And it works: I recently met someone who became a Christian partly through watching videos on YouTube.

But social media is more interactive than that. Whether it’s on dating websites or gaming chatrooms, through LinkedIn or Facebook, we are always forming new relationships and reinforcing old ones online. People don’t just read content: they comment on it.

Thinking evangelistically may just mean clicking the like button on a friend’s Instagram Bible quote; but Christians also sometimes develop long and involved conversations about faith online. We don’t want to just scroll past things without giving a gospel perspective on them, and that can lead to arguments.

There are plenty of thoughtful blogs outlining Biblical principles for arguing online. The Bible might not use the words “social media” but it certainly tells us a lot about how to relate to people in general. Try this post or this one for discussions of the ins and outs of social media evangelism.

For now, though, I want to take a step back and consider the thing that lies behind it all: the way we see ourselves.

Making a mark

Why do people comment on blog posts or like Facebook updates? It’s often said that social media is a way to chase approval, but I think that, on a simpler level, it is also a way just to feel that someone has heard you. You can sit all alone in your bedroom, but still make your mark on the world. Posting online is a way of saying, “I’m here.” It’s a way of asserting your own identity.

Maybe that’s one reason discussions online can become so heated so quickly. There is a lot at stake. There is a greater feeling of insecurity than in a real-life conversation where you know the other person isn’t just going to walk away.

Deny yourself

But Jesus said that following him means denying yourself, not asserting your identity. We see what that looks like in the life of the apostle Paul, who applied Jesus’ command to every dimension of his life: to food (1 Corinthians 8 v 1-13), to work (1 Corinthians 9 v 7-18), to what he said (Acts 20 v 24-27) and where he went (Acts 21 v 10-15). He sought to “become all things to all people”, adapting his lifestyle to theirs in the hope that it would help his message to get through.

Paul wasn’t interested in asserting his own identity, but in gaining Christ’s (Colossians 3 v 9-11). He wasn’t insecure about being heard, because he knew God always heard him (Romans 8 v 26-27). Paul did share and speak about his life (e.g. Acts 26), but his aim was always to say not “Here I am,” but “Here he is.”

If that applies so comprehensively to Paul’s life, then it applies to all the dimensions of our lives, too. On social media as elsewhere, we should be denying ourselves.

That will look different for different people. Some may post less often, as they rest in the security of being known by God. Some may use social media more, seeking to make connections that they couldn’t make elsewhere. Some may think twice about how to phrase a comment on a post they disagree with, as they prioritise what this person needs to hear right now, instead of the impression they want to give of themselves.

God is sovereign

But the main thing to remember is that social media is just another dimension of life, like all the others. If God is sovereign over every relationship, every place, and every meal, then he’s sovereign over the internet, too. 

Jesus’ call to self-denial does not go away when we get past the lock screen on our phones. Nor does his immense power to transform and use whatever we say and do. So let’s live for Jesus and share our faith online. It may not save all, but it could save some.

Katy Morgan

Katy Morgan is an Editor at The Good Book Company. She is involved in Chessington Evangelical Church in Surrey, UK, where she lives. She holds a master's degree in classical Greek literature, and previously worked in a ministry role as part of a school chaplaincy.

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