In Matthew 28:19, Jesus gave His disciples a Great Commission saying, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Today, 2,000 years later, the Seventh-day Adventist Church faces the challenge of how to effectively continue this mission as the means of communication evolve.
As technology continues to develop, the Church must continue to adapt in order to strategically place the gospel where people will find and hear it. And as social media becomes an increasingly popular channel for connecting with and communicating to mass audiences of a younger demographic, it seems also to be an ideal platform for evangelizing to the rising generation of future church leaders.
The primary question for this research was: “How can Adventist Churches, media organizations, and individuals more effectively utilize social media as a tool for evangelism among youth and young adults?” This research was conducted via a quantitative survey of 375 students, ages 15 to 24, at nine Seventh-day Adventist high schools and three Adventist universities in the United States. It aims to identify how Adventists can utilize social media platforms to engage more effectively with their audiences in order to build stronger digital spiritual communities that attract youth to the gospel.
The data collected from this survey indicate that, currently, evangelistic social media content will be most effective if it is delivered through youth’s preferred platforms: Instagram (47 percent), TikTok (20 percent), and YouTube (16 percent). When deciding what type of content to post, creatives should consider sharing memes (77 percent), quotes, facts, and infographics (59 percent) in the formats of short videos (80 percent) and photos (79 percent). Fortunately, this lends itself well to evangelistic content. For example, designing a brief message as a quote, fact, or infographic may help to catch the eyes of young adults who would otherwise overlook written blocks of text.
One survey question inquired how strongly respondents agreed or disagreed with the statement, “Social media is an effective platform for evangelizing.” On a scale of one to seven (one = strongly disagree, seven = strongly agree), the mean of the respondents’ answers averaged 5.18 (standard deviation = 1.49), suggesting that most agreed that social media is effective for evangelism. A follow-up question allowed respondents to submit open-ended explanations for their answers.
Reasons it is effective. Those who answered that it is an effective platform pointed out that social media is widely used and therefore an efficient method for reaching people from all over the world with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. They also pointed out that social media is accessible, free, fast, convenient, and posts are easy to reshare. They observed that it is a safe way to evangelize when people are encouraged to limit face-to-face interaction due to COVID-19, and they appreciate that consumers can avoid unwanted, confrontational proselytizing since they can simply unfollow an account or scroll past a post. Additionally, many respondents personally testified that social media had positively impacted their spiritual lives.
Reasons it is not effective. On the other hand, those who believe social media is not an effective platform for evangelizing expressed concerns that social media, as a whole, is too distracting and shallow of a platform for discussing religious topics; and that since technical algorithms seek to provide people with content that aligns with their existing interests, it would be difficult to reach people who do not already consume religious content. Others suggest that when religious content is portrayed on social media it is impersonal and that organizational accounts that do not have a “face” associated with them make little impact. Others expressed concern that it is difficult to explain religious concepts in few words and little time and that attempts to do so may misrepresent God and mislead people. Some shared their frustration with social media content that portrays a “holier-than-thou” attitude. Still, others observed that religious content may “conform to worldly expectations” and lose its potency as a form of evangelism in its effort to attract attention.
Finally, some who answered in the middle of the scale proposed that social media is an effective tool for evangelism in the sense that it is a good place to start building relationships that can grow into face-to-face conversations, which they maintain are the most effective forms of evangelism.
Suggestions for Improvement
One qualitative question on the survey requested feedback on how Adventists can improve their social media evangelism efforts. Most responses fell into one of three categories: content, activity, or attitude. (For an extensive list of the feedback given under each of these categories, see Notes & References below.)
Requested Topics to Address on Social Media
A seemingly obvious, but critically important step in creating effective social media content is selecting topics that interest the target audience. Another open-ended question asked what religious topics respondents would like to see social media content creators address. Analysis of these responses yielded eight themes: theology, social issues, taboo topics, relationships, personal testimonies, everyday life, spiritual growth, and service. (For an extensive list of the suggested topics in each of these categories, see Notes & References below.) Youth have questions and crave conversations that surround the real issues they are facing. By taking this, as well as direct suggestions for improvement, into consideration, Christian social media managers will better understand their audiences, and be better equipped to create content that appeals to youth and young adults.
According to this survey, nearly three out of four youth spend at least one hour on social media each day. Further, only 23 percent currently use social media for spiritual inspiration, but 62 percent would like to see more religious content on social media. Seventy percent are currently exposed to religious social media content “occasionally” or “never,” and 74 percent say that seeing more appealing religious social media content would improve their view of the Church.
All of these statistics suggest that there is a compelling opportunity for churches, media organizations, and digital missionaries to utilize social media as a tool for evangelism. This may require training and educating church leaders who are willing to invest in learning the trends or encouraging members to take advantage of their personal accounts as platforms for witnessing. However, to reach young people effectively with evangelistic social media content, creators need to deliberately cater content to meet their audience’s needs. If Christians can curate appealing content, perhaps it will attract the eyes of youth, and the hopeful message of the gospel will fulfill the spiritual needs of sinful, broken human lives seeking answers and truth during their young, developing years.
Notes & References:
Suggestions for How Seventh-day Adventists Can Better Utilize Social Media as a Tool for Evangelism
– Discuss “relevant” topics (see suggestions below)
– More interactive content/trivia/Q&A sessions
– Make content aesthetically pleasing, give the account a theme and a professional look because youth are more likely to reshare content that is aesthetically appealing
– Give posts better titles
– Write longer captions and add value beyond just quoting a Bible verse
– Share multiple perspectives on a topic
– Use humor/memes
– Videos (music videos, short videos, TikToks, by teens for teens, daily devotionals)
– Encourage individuals to be influencers for Christ/digital discipleship: show us the books used for devotionals, meals, lifestyle
– Post more outings with the church to bring in people from the community
– Host events on social media
– Build on previous posts to provide long-term content in small chunks that encourage people to watch for future posts
– Have youth create the content
– Interact more consistently with followers
– Encourage youth pastors to interact on social media
– Pay for promotion/advertising/sponsorship
– Be consistent and persistent
– Just put out more content
– Invest in social media managers who are informed about the current trends
– Make it a safe place for anyone to come to (this may include turning off comments to prevent the audience from engaging in hostile arguments)
– See teenage phone use as an opportunity for evangelism, not an addiction
– Be raw, have emotion, and have passion
Religious Topics Adventist Youth Would Like to See Addressed on Social Media
– Clarifying myths of out-of-context verses
– Clarifying myths/attacks on Ellen White
– Historicity of the Bible
– SDA-unique doctrines explained
– Reconciliation of Old Testament and New Testament God
– Satan/how the Devil works
– Second Coming/Last Day events/Daniel and Revelation
– What it means to keep the Sabbath/what’s allowed and not allowed
– Are other denominations going to heaven?
– Homosexuality and the LGBTQIA+ community
– Intersectionality/racism and racial diversity
– Gender roles/sexism/misogyny (and women’s ordination)
– Social justice
– Generational gap in Church leadership
– Interpersonal relations with other faiths, religions, etc., including non-religious people and atheists. How to respect others who do not believe in/do not practice your faith.
– Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse
– Anxiety & depression
– Drums/rhythm in music
– Jewelry and tattoos
– Meat consumption
– Finding wholesome friends
– Personal stories of God’s work in someone’s life
– Missionary miracles
– Outreach successes
– Navigating a secular workplace as an Adventist
– Hope during current events in light of God’s promises
– School/value of education
– Intersection of career and calling
– How to be cheerful and enjoy life
– Diet and health message
Personal Spiritual Growth
– How to continue growing your relationship with God when you have a pretty good relationship with Him. How do you “fall in love” with God? How do you not get bored with God and Church? What are a lot of different ways you could do devotions?
– Salvation/God’s personal love and grace, accepting others
– Ways to build a relationship with God other than church and Bible study
– How to start a relationship with God
– How to approach those in sin without judgment
– Prayer life/how to pray
– How to study the Bible
– Encouraging verses/quotes/daily reminders
– Christlike character/Fruits of the Spirit/not being “of the world”
– Navigating grief
– Spiritual stagnation
– Finding/feeling peace
– Avoiding temptation
– How youth can get involved
– Media projects
– How to witness
– Outreach ideas
– How individuals can use social media as a tool for evangelism
Trisney Wiedemann received her bachelor's degree in mass communication from Southern Adventist University's School of Journalism and Communication. She currently works in public relations with Matter Communications.
This article is from a research paper that was original published in the Great Commission Research Journal, Spring 2022, a broadly evangelical publication and is published here with permission.
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