The Voice of The Salvation Army in Canada and BermudaView RSS Feed
Feb6FriHow to spread the gospel in the digital realm. February 6, 2015 by David Giles
Social media: waste of time or of paramount importance? Should we get involved? How does it all work? If this was a tweet, it would end … now!
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- Opinion & Critical Thought
Thankfully, the printed page does not limit us to 140 characters—so I have more than enough room to explore how the world has taken to social media and why it's crucial that Christians get involved.
The most recent statistics reveal that Facebook has more than 1.3 billion active users. Twitter, on the other hand, has 550 million active accounts. Put simply: that's a lot of people.
I don't know whether you count yourself among this multitude or not. As a Christian, I would suggest to my fellow-believers that they probably should be. The technology that has developed over the last few years (the world-dominating Facebook is not even a teenager yet) is well-suited to our mission to fulfill the Great Commission. Salvation, we are reminded in Romans 10, is for all who call on the name of the Lord: “But how can they call to him for help if they have not believed? And how can they believe if they have not heard the message? And how can they hear if the message is not proclaimed? And how can the message be proclaimed if the messengers are not sent out? As the Scripture says, 'How wonderful is the coming of messengers who bring good news!' ”
If we're not present on social media, we aren't conveying that message to the fullest extent. Or, worse, our non-participation could be creating the misplaced impression that we don't care or aren't interested. That said, for those of us who are online, it's important that our “digital persona” is kept in check.
Here's a challenge. Check your last five tweets, Facebook updates or Instagram pictures. Would someone randomly happening upon them—and them alone—be able to deduce that you are a Christian? A Salvationist?
At the same time, I believe we should also be real. If our social-media output comprises nothing but randomly selected Bible verses and inane “Jesus loves you” thoughts for the day, we run the risk of being written off as irrelevant. The earth-dwelling Jesus lived in the real world, where there was grit, discomfort and suffering. There is a balance to be achieved. Let's try to be authentic and not fob people off with convenient—but ultimately crass—“explanations” for illness, natural disasters or the shortcomings of Christians who have erred.
So how can we proclaim the gospel message effectively? Here are a few tips.
1. Make friends
Follow interesting people on Twitter. Not just Christians (although they can be interesting, too). Comment on their updates—particularly where you share a common interest. You can interject in most conversations by prefacing your message with the originator's @-handle (the Canada and Bermuda Territory's is @Salvationist … make sure you follow us and share with us!).
2. Use hashtags
Many Twitter conversations include one or more hashtags to help keep everyone in on the topic (our posts, for instance, often use #SalvationArmy). This makes it easier to search for particular themes. Facebook has recently got in on the hashtag act as well.
3. “Do” God …
If your faith shapes who you are, you have a responsibility to talk about it. Have you been to your corps today? Tweet about it. Thinking about a particular Bible passage? Share it in a Facebook status. Praying about an issue of personal, local, national or international significance? Tell people. Celebrating answered prayer? Tell even more people!
4. Avoid jargon
According to the vast majority of people CO equals carbon monoxide rather than corps officer. The overwhelming majority of social-media users will not be familiar with Salvation Army terminology, especially when abbreviated. Try to use straightforward language, despite the temptation to squeeze every last drop out of the 140-character Twitter limit.
5. Share others' content
While Salvationist and many territories, divisions and corps have official social media channels, they're no substitute for personal relationships. Your own network of friends and contacts will have a much more immediate connection with you, so your voice is important. Retweeting “corporate” Twitter messages or sharing our Facebook statuses helps us to reach a much wider audience than going it alone, and at far less cost. We need you.
6. Be yourself
Don't just rehash other people's material. You've got something to say, too. Why are you a Christian? Why do you belong to The Salvation Army? What are your other interests and how can you speak into the conversations of others who share your passions? You are uniquely you, and personal reflection can be compelling and engaging. But be clear that you are not an official representative of The Salvation Army—unless you are, of course!
7. Don't leave it to someone else
See something unfairly critical of The Salvation Army? Make sure you're certain of the facts, then put the record straight. This needs to be done in a gentle, kind and truthful way, and without making up Army policy on the spot. A clear link to our non-discriminatory international mission statement (http://sar.my/mission) often defuses heated situations.
8. Be salt and light
Colossians 4:6 hits the nail on the head: “Your tweets should always be pleasant and interesting, and you should know how to give the right answer to everyone” (my paraphrase). Engaging with people using social media offers a unique opportunity to dispel misconceptions some may have about the church and Christians while demonstrating a Christlike attitude. Have integrity. Don't brag. Be honest.
9. Include pictures, videos and links
Digital marketers know that social-media content works best when people can visualize what you're talking about and provide a clear call to action (e.g. “give here,” “volunteer your time,” “help us”). Why not use Vine to create a six-second look around your Sunday morning meeting? Or Pinterest to curate your own view of the Salvation Army world?
10. Be timely and relevant
The immediacy of social media is one of its great strengths—we can quickly convey breaking news to a large audience, without needing to adhere to publication deadlines or broadcasting schedules. If you are part of a Salvation Army response to an incident in your community, try to find a few seconds to tweet about it. You may find your experiences then get shared or retweeted, including through social-media channels at territorial headquarters.
11. Pick and choose wisely
Jesus was right when he said, “Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Not all social-media content claiming to be Christian is edifying either. Don't feel railroaded into re-sharing dubious content of the “only real followers of Jesus will share this picture of a despondent, abandoned kitten” type. But don't be deterred from taking part in online petitions and awareness-raising campaigns, especially where they are orchestrated by bona fide organizations. International Headquarters (IHQ) launched a Thunderclap campaign to raise awareness of the Army on Founders' Day, enabling us to reach 800,000 people in just a few seconds.
12. Quality not quantity
The median active Twitter user has 61 followers. Depending on the size of your corps, you might receive that news as an encouragement or discouragement. However, if you successfully engage those 61 people, they may be minded to share with their followers. Sixty-one retweets later, and there's a potential audience of 3,721. If those people are similarly enthused and share the message with their circle of contacts, we have a theoretical reach of nearly a quarter of a million. With overlapping friendship groups, the true figures are usually less than that, but it's evident that the message can quickly be amplified.
13. Remember it's a conversation
Social media is not a book, a radio broadcast or a TV show. And it's certainly not a sermon! It's interactive, participatory and risky. Listen to other people's opinions and be open and honest—you'll almost certainly be “found out” if you're not.
To mark the 150th anniversary of The Salvation Army, IHQ has launched the #150reasons crowd-sourcing campaign. We're seeking compelling, first-hand stories of how God has influenced, shaped and transformed lives through The Salvation Army around the world. Why not put your social-media skills into action by sharing your own testimony on Twitter (use #150reasons), Facebook, Instagram or Flickr. Or even shoot your own video and upload to YouTube? A selection of the contributions received will be published at www.salvationarmy.org/150reasons and used to raise awareness of The Salvation Army's ministry in the 150 days preceding the 150th birthday itself on July 2, 2015.
David Giles is the web manager for The Salvation Army's International Headquarters. This article first appeared in All the World, October-December 2014.