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The Christadelphian | April 2018

In the magazine this month:

A sample article from this edition:

Online preaching and social media

Should we? And if so, how?

At last November’s Positive Preaching Day, the author gave a presentation on the use of online platforms for preaching. This article is based on that presentation.

The purpose of this article is to discuss (not advocate) the use of social media to support the preaching of the Gospel. In my own experience it has proved to be a tool which works well for some things and less well for others, hence the need for careful thought and planning.

What is social media? According to one definition, social media constitutes “forms of electronic communications (such as websites for social networking and micro-blogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (such as videos)”. Social media are now the platforms where debate takes place for an ever increasing number of people.

For the purpose of this article we shall focus on Facebook and Twitter, two of the best known platforms. It is of note that many people access social media primarily and regularly through their phones.

What scripture principles apply?

Should we use it or not? What did Paul do? He visited a place where discussion and debate of the day took place, and there presented the case for belief in Christ (Acts 17:16-34). Is social media the twenty-first century equivalent of Mars Hill in first century Athens – a place of information and debate? Are we indeed missing out if we do not use social media for preaching? We need to consider what we want to achieve, and where the activity takes place.

Andrew Jenner The same rules apply to the use of social media as to our regular conduct in our daily lives. We must display the fruit of the Spirit, not the works of the flesh (Galatians 5), and our behaviour must be above reproach. A good starting place is to look at our own individual profile on social media. What perception is created by the pictures that we post? How do we use the “like” function and what does it tell other people about us as believers in Christ? We need to be careful about everything that we write and say. It is important that those who use social media on behalf of the Gospel follow the rule that “whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Colossians 3:17).

We should not underestimate the challenges that we may encounter, because the world’s moral compass is so profoundly different from ours – from the iron rule of societal norms, to the goal of maximum personal enjoyment and the problem of peer pressure. There may be times when we need to break off a discussion rather than continue it, following the guidelines in Philippians of “Whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report … think on these things”.

Social media principles

What follows is a lot of information crammed into a short space. Some you may not understand; if you want to learn more, ask someone familiar with social media in your meeting, or you can contact the author.

The message

  • You must have clear objectives – Who do you want to reach? What do you want to achieve?
  • Story-telling is a powerful tool on social media to attract people and encourage them to engage with you. Everyone has a story – what’s yours?
  • Drip feed messages rather than putting your whole message out in one day.
  • When you use guideposts to other resources (e.g., your ecclesial website), these should be up to date and updated regularly with new content.

Your community

  • Start small and focus on engaging with people you know already, working outwards from that centre.
  • Do you have contact information for your ecclesia’s lost sheep and interested friends?

Tips for long-term success

  • Benchmark to find out what kinds of things work.
  • Quality trumps quantity. Pick two or three platforms and devote yourself to learning and using them well, and – one of the biggest challenges with social media – consistently.
  • You don’t always have to be the source of the content – it is all about creating connections and linking to other resources.
  • When you find something that works keep with it!
  • It is fine to copy from others who do it well.
  • Once you begin using social media as a preaching tool, you must try and keep it up over the long haul. Use everyone! (You might consider using training courses funded by the ecclesia to give members the skills and confidence for this work.)
  • Proofreading is vitally important – check for typos (especially in website addresses, mailing addresses, phone numbers, etc.), spelling (e.g., “Noah’s Arch”), and appropriate fonts.
  • Use visuals! A picture can speak a thousand words.
  • Don’t expect immediate results – the best campaigns start small and grow.
  • Everything must be driven by content. Try to put yourself in the shoes of someone hearing about the true Gospel for the first time. Which content and conversations can lead to trust, and from there, ultimately to salvation?
  • Content control – vigilance is key! On Facebook you can choose whether to post to ‘friends’ or to all (defined by category); you are kept informed about activity, and you can delete adverse / unwanted comments. On Twitter you can tweet to ‘followers’ or to all; you are kept informed about activity, and you can block someone who makes adverse tweets.
  • Infographics bring lots of information in one place.

What are the different social media platforms?

  • The top active social platforms are Facebook with 2.2bn users, YouTube with 1.5bn users and Instagram with 800m users.
  • Pinterest – an online pin-board to store images of your favourite activities and hobbies.
  • Twitter – imagine it as a fishing hook, dragging people to your boat (using hashtags to help users find comments on a theme); due to the limited number of words permitted, it is content-lite, but creates connections.
  • Facebook is the most popular platform. Ecclesial Facebook pages are good at demonstrating ecclesial life, our beliefs, etc.
  • Instagram – sharing photos and videos from a smartphone.
  • Snapchat – in-the-moment story telling.
  • LinkedIn – for business networking.
  • Periscope – webcasting made easy to a closed or open group of people. This is useful for getting a talk out to people who can’t physically make it to hear the talk in person.
  • YouTube – videos –
    • Must be short and focused (no longer than three minutes).
    • The speaker must be overly enthusiastic – you lose a lot in the video recording process.
    • Excellent for linking to and from other media time and again.
    • It is best to disable the option for viewers to make comments. You do miss an opportunity to engage, but experience teaches that the benefits of this approach outweigh the disadvantages.

Who is using it?

  • Social media use has grown to 2.8bn people (through mobile phone devices).
  • Use is growing in the 30-49 age bracket.
  • Social media will probably never replace the physical distribution of leaflets, fly billing, etc. But the more that you use it, the more you are building up an “echo chamber” of information about the Truth, and conveying the message that the Christadelphians know about the Bible.

For a case study on the use of social media during Cardiff Campaign in 2017, go to www.calscampaigns.org.uk.

Andrew Jenner

 

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