Twitter and evangelism
Twitter’s main use, in a Christian context, is sharing ideas relating to Christian ministry or personal news. For more on this, and a detailed explanation of Twitter, go here.
Of course, to the extent that not-yet-Christian friends may see our tweets about anything, we should be that gracious fragrance spoken of in 2 Cor. 2:15.
However, it also offers remarkable options for direct evangelism too. Here are several opportunities:
- For example, if tweeting about a TV show or movie, we can mention any spiritual parallel we notice. Such tweets might occasionally include the URL of a relevant webpage, preferably shortened using an URL-shortening service such as tinyurl.com. Maintain a list of individual internal website pages you find helpful, perhaps in a text file on your desktop. One good source is PowertoChange which has separate sections within it for men, women and students, with many pages on secular bridge topics.
- When tweeting on specific topics, research what hashtags people are using for it. By adding the hashtag to your tweet, people who search for (or follow) that topic, may find your tweet.
- One Twitter evangelist sends out a short joke a day, with an onward short link to an evangelistic page.
- The same approach can be used for a proverb a day. In some cultures, it is also surprising to find that some not-yet-Christians will subscribe to a Bible verse a day by SMS or Twitter.
Finding hurting or seeking peopleThere is a major opportunity to use Twitter to locate people who are hurting, or tweeting about spiritual topics in a way that shows they are inquirers. Furthermore, because many Twitter users allow their geographical location to be tagged to their ID, this means that a church or ministry can use Twitter to find people in the local area who are tweeting about personal problems or questions of faith, and sensitively make contact. (Incidentally, you can use a similar approach using Google Alerts to find people blogging on specific issues, and sensitively offer input.) Mashable explains how to use advanced search to locate people in your area, and Mike Ellis explains how churches can use Twitter in this way, with pictures of people who are now members of his church because of Twitter.
Brian Barela’s video introduces this concept:
This valuable strategy is also being used by Paul Watson of Reaching the Online Generation and we are grateful for permission to share his explanation:
When I started listening online, I used the keywords ‘pray’ and ‘prayer’ to filter the Twitter stream. I wanted to see if people – Christian or not – asked for prayer when they faced crisis. They did, and I was quickly overwhelmed. I didn’t have enough time to listen to all the requests.
Here is an excerpt from the book I’m writing (publication due early 2010, working title The Six Strategic Elements for Starting an Online Ministry) that explains how to use Seesmic and Search.Twitter.com to ‘listen to the lost’.
Here is one quick way using the Seesmic desktop:
If you don’t want to download the Seesmic desktop, you can use Search.Twitter.Com to do the same thing.
- Sign up for a free Twitter account, if you do not already have one.
- Download the free Seesmic desktop program and install it. (Note that Seesmic can help Twitter users in many other ways than described here.)
- Add your Twitter account in the Seesmic desktop program.
- In the top right hand corner of the Seesmic desktop, you will find a search box. As a test, type in a word connected with a social object or social marker. I usually tell people to type ‘photography’, ‘picture’, or other words related to photography, as an easy example to use.
- Seesmic will search Twitter for any tweets using the word you entered into the search box. It will create a column for that word that automatically updates anytime someone uses that term.
- If you want, you can click on their username in the Seesmic desktop and then again on their profile picture to visit their Twitter profile online. Then you can read their bio and perhaps visit their blog or website, if they list one.
If you use the ‘Advanced Search’ feature on the Search.Twitter.Com page, you can set your filter to pull tweets from people living in specific cities or countries. This is especially valuable if your organization wants to focus on connecting with, and meeting the needs of, people living nearby. You use the same listening strategies as above to listen to the needs of these geographically close communities. You can also use the same tactics to meet their needs, but you are more likely to connect in person.
- Go to http://search.twitter.com.
- Enter your keyword in the search box and hit enter. Search.Twitter.Com will display tweets containing that search word.
- Click on a username to visit that person’s Twitter profile.
- On http://search.twitter.com, click on the ‘Advanced Search’ link next to the search box.
- Type your search term in the ‘All of These Words’ box.
- Scroll down to ‘Places’ and enter your zip code or city. Set ‘Within this Distance’ to something that makes sense to you.
- Click on the ‘Search’ button at the bottom of the screen.
Case study: helping a mother in distressPaul goes on to give a moving example of the power of Twitter to give encouragement to hurting people:
As I ‘listened’, several of the requests moved me to prayer. Eventually, prayer wasn’t enough. I had to respond somehow and let these people know that someone cared enough to pray. More importantly, I wanted them to understand that there was a God who loved them and cared about what was going on in their life.
About the time I decided to jump into the conversation, a heartbreaking tweet came up on my monitor:
“Must stave off breakdown. It’s too much knowing my daughter’s going blind. I pray she sees her baby girl before that happens; if it must. March 30, 2008”
That tweet broke me. I knew I needed to respond, but how do you respond to something like that in 140 characters in a way that doesn’t come across as religious and trite. I prayed hard and then replied:
“@[her name] - God brought your tweet to my attention. He loves you. Praying for you and your daughter.”
To my surprise, she replied and thanked me for my prayers. Later on that evening she tweeted:
“Night y’all. Thanks for your care & prayers for my daughter [daughter’s name]. I pray her blindness/migraines stop & she’ll see her baby being born. March 30, 2008”
I followed her on Twitter so that I could keep up with her and her daughter and see how God was going to answer my prayer. A few weeks later she tweeted:
"[Baby's name] was born @ 9:58 PM on 04/22/08. She's a beautiful, healthy girl & [daughter's name] doing well. Thanks y’all for your best wishes. April 23, 2008”
She communicated that her daughter was able to hold her baby and see her when she was born. I was so excited. I remembered that 1 Chronicles 16:8 says, “Give thanks to the LORD; call on His name; proclaim His deeds among the peoples.” Basically that means that we get to point to things God does and shout, “Look at what God did! Isn’t He amazing!” I wanted to obey this passage, so I replied,
“@[her name] - Congratulations! Praise the Lord for answering our prayers! Glad she could see her baby!”
Later on that night she replied to everyone,
“I’m so tired. You’d think I had the baby. I truly thank everyone for your prayers, good wishes & support for [daughter’s name] during her difficulty April 23, 2008”
A couple of weeks later she tweeted,
“My daughter’s eyesight is returning to normal since the birth of [her baby] on Earth Day (04/22/08). I appreciate all the prayers & love. Thanks May 05, 2008”
I praise the Lord for what He did in that woman’s life. After reading her bio and website, I realized she was probably not a Christian, even though she came from a Christian culture. I’ve long since lost contact with her, but I hope God continues to work in her life and draw her to Christ.
After that, I knew that the Holy Spirit wasn’t going to let me simply listen to what was going on online. I had to jump into the conversation.
Dangers to avoid
- Always use a sensitive and gentle approach: 1 Peter 3:15.
- Don’t treat people as ‘gospel fodder’. Build unconditional relationships with respect and tolerance. Use integrity. It’s dialogue, not preaching. “The focus should be on building authentic relationships. Without it, not only do you run the risk of not being effective, but also in ruining any chance that other Christians might have,” says Dan King of Bibledude.com. “That’s why the most important thing that you can understand about social media is that it’s social in nature.”
- People will quickly see through insincerity and mixed motives. Cat owners know well the conditional affection shown by their pets when they want feeding: cupboard love.
- Some stategists have named inappropriate, strident, argumentative, manipulative or impersonal attempts to convince people of the truth with the chilling term un-evangelism.
- Avoid Chistianese jargon. Express truths in alternate neutral language.
- Mixing ‘in-reach’ and ‘outreach’: if you are tweeting hurting people or non-Christians in general, they do not want to see your stream of ministry-related tweets too. Much better to have a separate Twitter account in the same way as different Facebook profiles or blogs blogs are often the best option.