WhatsApp as a ministry tool

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Social media is where we see what’s going on with friends and where we have most of our conversations. But have you ever tried having spiritual conversations on social media? How would you even get started? How can you talk about God without sounding weird? Without getting into an argument?

The messaging app WhatsApp is one of the most popular social media platforms in Uganda. In his role as national digital strategies leader for LIFE Ministry Uganda, Francis Mutatiina regularly uses WhatsApp for ministry. He’s seen great results with public and private groups as well as private messaging. We recently interviewed Francis for an episode of Indigitous PULSE to learn about how he uses WhatsApp as a ministry tool and how others can follow his lead.

One way that Francis has helped train people in using social media for missions is through a Social Media Day of Outreach. During that event, Francis and other leaders train people how to do outreach on various social media platforms, especially WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter. During the outreach, people share content from GodTools and EveryStudent.com as well as short films from The Jesus Film and the Global Short Film Network. As participants share the content, they are encouraged to also talk about their personal testimony, sharing how God has been working in their lives.  

Starting conversations

Whether it’s on WhatsApp, Facebook, or in person, often the hardest part of a conversation is getting it started. While some outgoing people are naturally gifted at starting conversations, many of us struggle. For a more serious topic like faith, it’s even more difficult. Francis has a few strategies that he uses to start faith conversations.

In your WhatsApp profile, you can add a status using text, photo, video, or GIF updates that disappear after 24 hours. When you change your status, your contacts and people in your groups will get a notification. Francis uses the status feature to start conversations.

“For example, I pick one of the Four Spiritual Laws statements and say, “God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life. Did you know that?’’ Francis says. If someone responds to the status, he continues the conversation.

In addition to text status updates, Francis sometimes shares JESUS Film clips followed by an ice-breaker question. Questions invite conversation and people love to talk about films and videos, so that can be a powerful combination. 

“Or if there is a current affair going on and maybe there are things that people are talking about, you can pick it from there. Then you slot in a question or statement that is going to trigger a conversation or response,” Francis says.

From conversation to relationship

Sadly, Christians who get excited about sharing their faith can sometimes think of other people in a way that’s dehumanizing, thinking of them as statics or goals. A person who doesn’t follow Jesus isn’t just a soul to be “won,” a box to be checked. All of the people you interact with, whether online, at the workplace, or in a checkout line, are loved by God. Because they matter to God, they should matter to you. 

For that reason, relationships are important. While you should share the Gospel or share your testimony any time you feel called by the Spirit to do so, most of these conversations should happen in the context of relationships. 

But if starting a conversation is difficult, forming a relationship is much more so. Having some conversations with someone over WhatsApp is one thing, but how can you build trust? How can you build a friendship?

First of all, you must truly care about the person. Don’t fake it. That’s deceptive and wrong. Also, they’ll probably be able to tell. Ministry is about real relationships and those relationships must be genuine.

It’s also important to set aside time to follow through with these conversations. You don’t want to start faith conversations and not be available to answer questions, talk to those who respond, and delve deeper. “Schedule your time so that you’re there to engage with the responses that come,” Francis says.

Relationships take time, but if you’re authentic, truly care about the other person, and make time for them, that will make an impact.

What to avoid

When using WhatsApp or other social media platforms for ministry, there are some things you want to avoid. The most obvious is getting into an argument. Though they are common on social media, online arguments are almost never productive. When a conversation turns argumentative, people get defensive, they dig in to defend their perspective, and they won’t be open to what you have to say. At the end, nothing will be accomplished other than making people angry.

While some debate can be healthy, you must do your part to make sure that the conversation stays helpful. “As the initiator of the conversation, I must lovingly remain in control of the engagement and direction,” Francis says. “If the argument is taking us off the direction we are going, I find a way of redirecting it.”

If someone is asking a question that you can’t answer, that’s totally okay. Francis recommends telling the person that you will have to look into it and then taking time to research the topic. Then make sure you follow up with the person at a later time.

On a more practical level, Francis advises against forwarding messages on WhatsApp. “Forwarded messages are usually skipped,” he says. “If you want the message to reach people but you’re not the source, copy it and post it as if it is coming from you.”

Brevity is also important in our TLDR cultures. On both WhatsApp and Facebook, long messages tend to be skipped, so if you have something long that you want to share, it’s good to find a way to shorten it or deliver the message in multiple parts.

Even if you think a graphic, image, or video is self-explanatory, you shouldn’t share one to social media without adding your own caption or explanation. This is especially true for videos, where it’s important for you to write something that convinces the person to click and watch the video.

Next steps

If you’ve never used WhatsApp or other social media platforms for ministry, it’s best to start small. Here are three simple steps that Francis recommends taking to get started in social media missions.

  1. Use your status to share conversation-starters on WhatsApp, Facebook, or your platform of choice. Then make sure you follow up with anyone who responds.
  2. Post a video clip from Jesus Film to social media along with an ice-breaking question. Take time to follow up with anyone who responds.
  3. Post your salvation story. Talk about how God has shown up in your life, your relationship with Jesus.

WhatsApp and other social media platforms can be valuable tools for ministry if you take the time to use them well. Make sure you always operate out of love and are genuine in your love for the people you’re talking to. May God bless your steps of faith.

Run

Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. (Habakkuk 2:2)

  • Try one of the three action steps recommended above.
  • Better yet, try all three!
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