Norah felt trapped. Living in the Middle East and stuck in an arranged marriage, she was depressed. The dominant religion in the area offered her no hope and no love. She attempted suicide.
After surviving the suicide attempt, Norah searched online for more information about God. She wondered if the God of Christianity could be real and if that God would love and accept her. She eventually found an evangelistic Christian website and she began chatting with an online mentor, Miriam.
Norah had a lot of questions. For three months, she chatted with Miriam on WhatsApp, asking questions about faith and God. Then she made a decision to follow Christ. “I love Jesus so much!” she told Miriam.
Norah watched the JESUS film and then told Miriam she wanted to read the Bible. With no printed Bibles available in her country, Norah was directed to an online Bible, where she started reading the book of John.
Norah continued to communicate with Norah, asking questions about her new faith. She took an online course about Christianity and discipleship. Through that course, she decided it was important to share her faith. The gift of a relationship with Jesus was too important to keep to yourself. But sharing her faith could be dangerous. Norah decided to accept the risk and shared the Gospel with her brother. After two months of faith discussions, her brother also came to accept Jesus as savior. A year later, eight people in Norah’s life had come to Jesus.
There are a lot of stories like Norah’s. There are people all around the world — from the far corners of the globe to right across the street — who need to know about Jesus. As a Christian, you have an amazing opportunity to use social media to tell them.
But if you’re like most Christians, your faith discussions on social media have been quite a bit different. Maybe you get into arguments with atheists on Facebook, trying to show them how wrong they are, and the only outcome of the arguments is that you get angry. Or maybe you share Bible verses on Instagram but no one seems to care.
Conversations on social media tend to be superficial at best and toxic at worst. But they don’t have to be. With the right mindset and strategies, you can turn social media conversations into social ministry.
Make it about them
The first thing you need to realize is that most people don’t care about you. Not even most of your Facebook friends. That sounds harsh, but everyone is busy with their own lives, their own problems, and have a limited amount of time or mental capacity to devote to anyone outside of their best friends and family members. That’s why building a strong relationship is so important in evangelism. More on that later.
But if people don’t care about you, what do they care about? Themselves. “Talk to someone about themselves and they’ll listen for hours,” Dale Carnegie wrote in his book How To Win Friends and Influence People.
Mariana Pando-Romero, a social media strategist with OneHope, agrees. “People want to talk about themselves,” she says. “They want someone to hear them. They want safe spaces where they can share their heart, they can share what they think without being judged.”
Comment on their posts
If you want someone to engage in meaningful conversation on social media, the easiest way to do that is to make the conversation about them. Ask them questions and listen to their answers. Their responses should tell you what they want to discuss. You can do this through a direct message or in some cases it might make more sense to start small, with some comments on their posts.
“There is a strong tendency to use Instagram merely as a platform for broadcasting our content for others to see, but it is a social tool. Be intentional about liking and commenting on the images others share,” writes the Mobile Ministry Forum (MMF) in its recent free e-book Social Media for Missions: An Introductory Guide. (Side note: We highly recommend that you download the book). “Post comments to encourage, empathize, celebrate, or even point people to Jesus. One cross-cultural worker in Southeast Asia shared how her efforts to continually like and comment on another person’s posts made that person feel affirmed, valued, and loved. When they bumped into each other in real life, the positive actions begun on Instagram jump-started a fruitful relationship.”
If you want people to listen to what you have to say, you should start by listening to them. “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you,” Dale Carnegie wrote. The same applies to social media. If you don’t already have a strong relationship with someone and you want to share the Gospel with them, start by paying more attention to what they post on social media. Comment on their posts. Show that you’re paying attention and that you care. They will notice.
Be a good listener
Have you ever had a conversation with someone where you could tell they weren’t really paying attention? Or maybe they were listening but it was clear that they were waiting for their turn to talk? It hurts and it doesn’t make you want to talk to that person.
The same thing happens online. One of the reasons social media conversations tend to get so toxic is that people are focused on their part of the conversation. They want to win the argument, so comments are treated as something to rebut, rather than something to understand.
To a lesser degree, the same thing can happen when you’re chatting with someone. If they mention something important and you move on to a different topic, it shows that either you don’t recognize the importance of what they shared, or you don’t care.
When you listen to someone, whether it’s on social media or in person, it’s important to listen carefully and actively, to pay attention, and most of all, to listen without judgment. A friend won’t share their struggles with you if they think you’ll criticize them for it later. No one will want to talk about God with you if they think you’re going to judge their beliefs or lifestyle.
A recent Barna Group study asked non-Christians how willing they were to talk about faith with a Christian. The number-one quality they look for that makes them open to such a conversation is someone who “listens without judgment.” Unfortunately, only 34% of those surveyed said they personally know a Christian who does that.
Good listeners are hard to find. If someone finds that they can share with you and that you’lll listen without judgment and care about what they’re sharing, they’ll want to open up to you more. That helps you get to know them better and builds the foundation for a successful Gospel conversation. But first you must listen.
In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale writes, “If you aspire to be a good conversationalist, be an attentive listener. To be interesting, be interested. Ask questions that other persons will enjoy answering. Encourage them to talk about themselves.”
There is another type of listening you can do online that can have an impact on ministry: social listening. Sprout Social defines social listening as “analyzing the conversations and trends happening not just around your brand, but around your industry as a whole, and using those insights to make better marketing decisions.”
That’s the marketing context, how the term is normally used. But how can you use social listening for your personal ministry? I can’t find a good ministry definition of social listening, so I’ll provide my own:
Social listening for ministry is analyzing conversations on social media about beliefs, struggles, and trending topics in order to speak about the Gospel in a relevant way.
“One of the most powerful opportunities Twitter presents is the ability to engage in trending conversations and to use hashtags as a tool to insert a voice of hope, faith, and reason into conversations that would otherwise deteriorate into arguments,” writes Nona Jones in her book From Social Media to Social Ministry. “Twitter can be thought of as a ‘speed dating’ site that allows you to quickly connect with users on the basis of trending topics or personality.”
On social media, and especially Twitter, you can find out what people are saying about important topics. Whether it’s a recent natural disaster, an election, the COVID-19 pandemic, graduation day, prom night, or one of those trending topics where seemingly everyone is sharing their own toxic opinion, using social listening, you have the opportunity to share the love of Christ and hope of the Gospel to people who are discussing those topics.
Evangelism works best in relationships. Sure, you can share your faith with strangers — your Uber driver, the person bagging your groceries, the people near you in line for a roller coaster — and those people may come to Christ. But generally speaking, it is in relationships that God will really move a person to a life-changing decision.
There’s a simple reason for that. In his book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel Qureshi writes, “The Gospel requires a radical life change, and not many people are about to listen to strangers telling them to change the way they live.”
If you don’t have close relationships with non-Christians, building those relationships is the first step. Most of us only have a few close friends, but we have many acquaintances — coworkers, people we see every week at a fitness class, people we went to school with and haven’t met in a while, most of the people who comprise our friends and followers on social media. With whom can you work on building relationships? If you don’t know, pray for wisdom. When God gives you guidance, you can list them on MissionHub and choose steps to take with each person.
For some, meeting for coffee can be a great next step. For others, it’s asking about something you know they’re struggling with, or maybe asking about something that brings them joy. Maybe there’s a practical way you can help them, such as bringing them food, helping with yard work, or picking up their kids from school. All of those interactions matter.
“Some of the friends and family members in our lives, you could be the only Christian in their life or the only Christian that is actually loving towards them,” says Maddie Garcia, a digital missionary with Power to Change. “You can be a powerful witness and example no matter how many people you are interacting with in person and online. God can use you in those different relationships to impact those people in big ways.”
When interacting with friends on social media, look beyond the superficial. Forget about engagement numbers and going viral. How can you use your social media interactions to build relationships so that discipleship can happen?
“Tune into the lives and feeds of others you are connecting with. Reply and comment on their updates, and repost their content. You may find that your interest in others leads to a growth in their interest in you and your message,” writes MMF in their Social Media for Missions e-book.
Amy Udy does this well. Whenever she goes on Facebook, she pays special attention to what’s going on in the lives of her friends. Who is celebrating something? Who is struggling? Who looks like they need someone to talk to?
One time she noticed that a non-Christian friend of hers, Annie, was posting a lot of travel photos. There were lots of photos of the family posing in front of different landmarks, showing off all the places they had gone together. But something seemed off. Annie didn’t look happy in any of the photos. So Amy sent her a message to ask how she was doing.
“Annie said when she read my message, she burst into tears because she felt so cared for. She was amazed I could see her unhappiness, and confessed she was facing some challenges in her marriage,” Amy says.
The two met on FaceTime and talked. Annie shared about her struggles and Amy listened well. Then she also offered some practical help, sharing a biblical view on marriage as well as some tips on how to communicate better with her husband. They also prayed together. All of that helped to build a solid relationship.
Will Annie give her life to Christ? Only God knows. But that’s out of Amy’s control. All she can do, all any of us can do, is build relationships and, when appropriate, take the initiative to share Christ, leaving the results to God.
What to post
Social media is more than direct messaging and responding to the posts of others. You do your own posting, too. So what should you post that will lead to social ministry?
When you scroll through your social media feed, you’ll see a lot of Bible verses. You’ll sometimes see generic prayers that seem copied and pasted from elsewhere. And you’ll see some #blessed posts about how perfect someone’s life is thanks to God. You probably won’t see a lot of engagement on those posts. You’re even less likely to see ministry result from them.
That’s because they’re not authentic or personal. What to post varies by the platform, but some general principles apply to all of them. One of the most important is to be authentic and transparent in your posts.
“God has put so many people in our lives and we can make an impact,” Maddie says. “It can be something as simple as a social media post sharing a little bit about my life and how Jesus has made a difference. That could impact somebody’s story completely.”
But be honest. No one has a perfect life. Once you started a relationship with Christ, your life has probably gotten better in many ways, but it’s still not perfect. You still have struggles, pains, injuries, health issues, and even doubts. If you never share any of those, it will be clear to your friends that you’re only sharing a filtered version of your life. If, however, you share honest posts about the good and the bad things going on in your life, that draws people in.
“The best way for God’s people to share is to simply be themselves and allow their ‘friends’ a window through which to view their relationship with Christ,” MMF writes in the e-book. “Be authentic, yet conspicuously spiritual. Our use of Facebook and other social platforms should flow from a vibrant relationship with Christ. One of the very best ways to do this is to answer the question, ‘How has the Gospel been good news to me today?’”
Let people see the real you. Share your faith, your relationship with God, and how it impacts your life, but don’t sugar-coat your life and try to make it seem like you’re the perfect Christian. The Bible never portrays following Christ as something that’s simple, clean, or problem-free, so you don’t need to pretend your life is like that. “The more people see the real you — your successes and failures, your gifts and flaws, your triumphs and your struggles — the more they will be able to relate to you and want to know more,” MMF writes.
Post something useful
Jesus met the physical needs of the people He encountered on Earth, not just the spiritual. He healed, gave sight to the blind, and fed hungry people. One way to use social media as ministry is to meet the needs of your friends.
Amy demonstrated that well. When she found out that her friend was having marital problems, she prayed with her, but she didn’t stop at that. Amy also gave some practical advice.
If there has been a natural disaster, you can post volunteer opportunities or blood banks that are looking for donations. If the school year is about to start, you can post tips for getting prepared or places with good sales on school supplies. None of those things are overtly spiritual, but posting them shows that you care about the needs of others and if you continually do that, people will be interested to know why you care so much.
Post as stories
Posting a random Bible verse, even if it means something to you, probably won’t get a reaction. The same goes for a prayer request. Instead, try to share a story about something going on in your life and how people can pray for you. Instead of a Facebook post that’s a written prayer request, share about your life and what you need prayer for. Instead of an Instagram story that’s just text of a Bible verse, post a video where you talk about why that verse is meaningful to you. “Instagram’s primary intended use is visual storytelling, which means posts should spark interest and conversation, not just consumption,” Nona writes.
Stories are what people remember. The stories shared in sermons are retained far longer than the main points of the sermon. Think about your social media posts the same way. Even if you’re just sharing photos from your child’s birthday party, what is the story? If you want to share a Bible verse, what is the story behind it? Give context for the verse itself; what is going on in that part of the story and why it matters. But also give your personal context; why are you sharing this? What does it mean to you?
Stories are inspiring. They help us to see things from different perspectives. Tell some kind of story with your posts and people will be more interested and more likely to take part in a conversation about it.
Even if you take all of the advice in this article and put it into practice, you might not see any benefit right away. You might not see more engagement initially. Maybe you started conversations with friends but they didn’t go anywhere.
Be patient. You can’t change someone’s heart; only God can do that. Everyone is on a spiritual journey, but they’re all in different places. If they’re in a place of seeking Jesus, a couple conversations with you could be all it takes for God to bring them to Him. But for someone else, it could be a big achievement just for you to be a Christian that they know and trust. For them, it’s a big deal that you’re a Christian who loves them. You might be the first.
In John 13:35, Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” If you use social media to love people, you’re using it right. Through open and transparent loving of your friends, you can reflect Christ’s character and show the people in your life that there’s something different about being a Christian, something they want to know more about. Social media has more than its share of toxicity, so show people you follow Jesus through your love.