FIRST-PERSON: Using Facebook for the Gospel
GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP)--As one of 400 million people using Facebook, I joined the social network specifically to extend my ministry. Today, I'm "friends" with more than 2,200 people, and the number grows virtually every day. My goal is not to be popular, but to be connected, so that relationships built there can bear the weight of the Gospel.
These efforts have allowed me to use Facebook to exhort and encourage believers, to establish grass-roots prayer networks, to teach doctrine and offer real-life ministry. I've been honored to lead people to faith in Christ and have ongoing witnessing conversations with atheists, agnostics, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, New Agers, Muslims, Buddhists, and secular humanists. Here are a few tips for how to use Facebook in your own obedience to God's Great Commission:
-- Be "on" Facebook often. Facebook is free. If you are at your computer, it requires little effort to have a web browser tab open to Facebook. To be "on" Facebook doesn't require you to be staring at it all day while other responsibilities go neglected. Periodically check and comment on what other people are sharing and type updates that insert you into the ongoing community conversation.
-- Be yourself. People like you in real life. They'll like you in Facebook if you show your personality. Show your team or school loyalties. Talk about programs you watch, movies you see, or books you read. Brag on your kids. Tell others the good things going on in your Bible study and in your church. Boast on Christ.
-- Take advantage of technology. Use your cell phone and take 20 seconds to type an update or respond to a friend. These micro-conversations make you accessible and more real to virtual friends.
-- Use humor. Humor is disarming and breaks down barriers so you can bring peace, comfort, joy, hope and Christ, as opportunities arise.
-- Pick one "app" to intentionally get in front of strangers. I "play" Mafia Wars. I'm not a big fan of the game itself. However, by being in this group, I'm part of a network of thousands of people who love this game. Currently, more than 700 Facebookers are my friends solely because of the game. Because of it, I am able to see what they put on their wall about their pains, worries, doubts and needs. They can see what I'm sharing about my faith, my joy, my church and most importantly, my Savior. Minimal but ongoing participation in one of these application games offers far bigger dividends than the investment required. If you don't want to be "in the Mafia," then grow a farm, fight space wars, build a restaurant, or breed a virtual pet. There is no shortage of these social game apps allowing you to connect with others, where you can leverage your influence.
-- Be organized. Arrange your friends in groups for high school, college, churches, family, ministry partners, gaming friends or other classifications. Not everyone has to see every message, link or comment. Sometimes, you only want specific people to see it. Facebook allows you to be strategic and has actually structured itself to be a resource that allows you to be targeted.
-- Take advantage of opportunities. When somebody posts a failure, tragedy, setback, or need, respond! Often, a private response (by a message) is better than a public one (on their wall). Don't be afraid. If you become known for being a Christian on Facebook, you're not going to shock or scare anyone when you actually behave like one.
-- Get thick skin. Virtually every time I am bold with a Christ-affirming update, link, or post, I get de-friended by someone. I try to be winsome, pleasant, congenial and inclusive. While I've been de-friended by plenty of people, many more have stayed connected. Interestingly, I've had far more criticism from Christians than by non-Christians. However, I've also been exhorted by Christians who have expressed gratitude, appreciation and partnership.
-- Ask questions/be relevant. Facebook is a public forum. People like to share their opinion. Invite people to do so. Talk about what's going on in the world. God's Word is truth and it is both timeless and timely. Engage in the dialogue.
-- Be civil. Jesus is your defense. He doesn't need you to defend Him. Be salt and light, and season your words with grace and truth. The Gospel is good news. You are an ambassador of peace and reconciliation with God through Christ. Love the unloved.
-- Adapt as necessary. Learn to block applications that are annoying. Occasionally, you will have to block the posts of other Facebookers. Send happy birthday wishes as an easy way to move the relationship forward. Try to be a good self-editor. Don't be unnecessarily divisive. Don't compromise personal convictions, but consider being purposefully less political on Facebook so you don’t convey that God loves only people in your political party.
-- Actually network. Connect people with others. Suggest Christian friends to non-Christians. Invite non-church friends, neighbors and work contacts to church events using Facebook events. Use Facebook to draw people not just to Christ, but also to the Christian community. Invite your Christian friends to pray for your witnessing efforts.
The potential for Facebook as a ministry tool is just beginning. Take it captive and use it for the redemptive purpose of sharing the Gospel with anyone within the reach of your influence.
Bryan McAnally is minister of education and discipleship at First Baptist Church in Grapevine, Texas.