Whenever Amy goes on social media, she pays attention to what’s going on in her friends’ lives. Among the selfies, memes, and food photos, she searches for insights into what’s happening with her friends. Are any of them celebrating something? Maybe a birthday, anniversary, or work milestone. Do any of them seem to be struggling? Maybe they’re posting about the loss of a loved one or a child who’s not doing well in school. Does anyone just seem like they need to talk?
Once she noticed her friend, Annie, sharing a lot of travel photos on Facebook. Her feed was full of photos of Annie and the family in exciting locations all around the world. Yet something was wrong. Despite the exciting locations, Annie didn’t look happy in any of the photos. She looked miserable. That wasn’t normal for Annie, who typically wore her emotions on her sleeve.
So Amy reached out and sent her a message. It was a simple message saying that Amy was thinking of her, that she noticed Annie doesn’t seem happy, and wanted to know how she was doing.
That simple message had a profound impact. Annie burst into tears, overwhelmed by the knowledge that someone cares enough about her to not only notice her unhappiness, but to ask about it. So she responded to Amy.
“She was amazed that I could see her unhappiness and confessed that she was facing some challenges in her marriage,” Amy says.
The two talked on FaceTime, where Annie opened up about her marital problems. Amy listened without judgment. Since Annie isn’t a Christian, Amy also shared the biblical view of marriage and some tips to help Annie improve communication with her husband. They then took time to pray together for Annie and for her marriage. It might be the first time Annie has taken part in prayer.
Because Amy was intentional about how she spent time online, she made a big impact in the life of her friend, helped build their own friendship, and hopefully helped Annie to improve her marriage. And who knows? Maybe the encounter also planted a seed that God will later use to grow a love for Him in Annie’s heart.
All Christians have an opportunity to be intentional with our online time, to make an impact the way that Amy did. But we don’t always do that. That’s because we often have bad online habits.
Be intentional with your online time
The single most important thing Christians can do to more effectively use their online time is to be intentional with that time. How often do you find yourself mindlessly scrolling? Sometimes if I’m waiting for someone or just have a few minutes of idle time, I pull out my phone and scroll Instagram. I scroll through the feed and tap the like button whenever I see a good photo – which could mean an artistic shot or some friends who look like they’re having fun, or food that I wish I was eating. But I’m not putting any thought into it. I’m scrolling past the photos way too fast to actually examine them, to put thought into why this particular photo was posted, to what it means about the person’s life.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Amy is intentional when she looks through her social media feeds. She looks for something that tells her about the lives of her friends. Think of your social media feed not as something to entertain you, but as a window into the lives of your friends. If this is what they’re sharing, what are they telling you? Once you know that, you’ll know how to respond.
Don’t just post. Listen.
I tend to be a consumer on social media. I don’t share a whole lot of my own content. But some people are the opposite. They use social media to constantly share their own photos, articles they want people to read, songs they recommend, their TikTok challenges, memes, and more. If they’re not posting something new, they’re checking social media for engagement, checking the number of likes, comments, and retweets. But they don’t really pay attention to what other people are doing.
But for Christians to effectively spend our time online, we must not just be content creators. We must be listeners.
Have you ever had a friend who constantly talks about themselves but never wants to listen to anyone else? It’s annoying, isn’t it? Now have you ever known someone who is a great listener, who listens to you talk because they legitimately care about what you’re sharing? Who would you rather talk to? The same goes for online.
If you use social media to listen to your friends, you’ll be surprised at what you learn. But also make sure they know you’re listening. Have you ever posted something heartfelt and no one responded? Didn’t feel great, did it? And it might have made it seem like there’s no point in sharing. When you listen to what your friends post online, especially if they share something really personal, make sure you engage with it. Leave an encouraging comment or, if it’s more appropriate, send them a private message or text.
Good listeners are hard to find. If a friend finds that you actually listen to them and actually care, they’ll be more willing to open up and share their life with you. Through that, you can grow your relationship, which God can use to draw the person closer to Him. And as your friendship grows, you can look for opportunities to share about your relationship with God.
Don’t get sucked into arguments
Listening is great. Engaging in conversations online is great. Arguing, not so much.
Have you ever been part of an argument online that resulted in anyone changing their mind? Have you ever seen anything good come out of an online argument? I know I haven’t.
A lot of arguments happen on social media. In fact, Twitter and Facebook seem to be designed to amplify arguments, to rile you up about certain topics so you have to join in. As Christians, we should resist that urge.
Some Christians also feel a need to be “culture warriors,” to speak out against our sinful society and make sure everyone knows what’s right and wrong. While there is certainly a place for speaking out against sin and speaking up for biblical truth, arguing with a friend’s Facebook post isn’t the right place.
Arguments don’t change people’s minds. In fact, when you argue with someone about their belief, it only makes them defend that belief. That defensiveness makes them less open to alternative views.
Some people use apologetics to share the Gospel, using logic and reasoning to explain why Christians believe what we do. And apologetics are great. But when Christians argue online, that’s not typically what we’re doing. There’s a big difference between saying “here is how the historical record supports Jesus’ resurrection” and responding to a photo of a pride parade by calling it sinful. The latter is just arguing in a way that won’t get the person to consider your point of view.
Share your real relationships
In addition to listening to your friends and engaging with what they post, Christians can be effective online with what they post. The important thing is to be authentic. Most people post idealized versions of their lives online. They post all of the highlights, the filtered photos, the happy moments, the travel photos, and the parties. They don’t post the rough days, the struggles, and the routine.
As a Christian, you should post about your relationship with God. Do it honestly. Your life didn’t become perfect when you started following Jesus. You still have bad days and struggles. Even your relationship with God has peaks and valleys. Be honest about that. People will appreciate your honesty, and if they see that you’re authentic, they’ll want to know more about the relationship that you have with God.
Find a rhythm that works for you
A lot of people function well in routines. What if you made routines of the time when you’re intentional online? Maybe you’re a morning person and you want to go through your feed and do some listening before you start your work day? Or maybe you prefer to do that when winding down from your nine to five. For some, it’s a relaxing end of the day before going to bed. Find a rhythm that works for you, where you’ll be able to use social media effectively rather than just mindlessly scrolling through your feed.
The average person spends seven hours a day online. That’s a lot of wasted time if you’re just mindlessly watching TikTok dances and liking photos. But it’s a huge potential for impact if you use that time to be intentional with your friends, family, and followers.