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Social Media
By Dan Vis
April 20, 2020
Comments: 17

Many people are at home right now, with lots of time on their hands, and they are using that time to catch up on their news feeds. But is that really the best way to use social media? Read on to learn more...

Icons of social media platforms.

Social media is definitely all the rage these days. Roughly 3.7 billion people use it regularly, which is about 80% of the world's population with access to the internet. The average user has accounts on between 7 and 8 social media platforms, and spends between 2 and 3 hours per day using these tools to connect with people.

Facebook has 2.5 billion users, and is adding some 500,000 new members every day. It's messaging services process some 60 billion text messages per day.

YouTube has just shy of 2 billion active users. They upload nearly 400 hours of video every minute, and watch more than 1 billion hours of video every day on the platform.

There are over 1 billion users on Instagram sharing over 95 million new photos every day, generating an average of 4.2 billion likes per day.

And the list goes: LinkedIn, Pinterest, Reddit, Snapchat, Tiktok, Twitter, and many more. How is a Christian to respond to the endless list of platforms? What really is the best use of our time?

The Middle Ground

In my view, there are two dangers every believer must guard against. And if you can avoid either ditch, you may just end up on a more helpful middle road.

The first ditch is to "just say no". Many Christians take the position social media is a waste of time, and that we should avoid it altogether. And there is certainly some merit to this position. As the statistics above suggest, social media can be an enormous time sink. Much of the information in our news feed has little spiritual benefit, and some is down right spiritually aggravating. Spending too much time fostering digital relationships can cause real life relationships to suffer. And in general, there's usually some better option for investing those few spare moments we have, than trying to keep up with the torrent of news flowing through these sites.

But there can be real value in using social media wisely. For one, that's where people are at these days. And a well crafted social media strategy has the potential to impact thousands for Christ. In some ways it is similar to the advent of radio, and television. Many Christians were concerned with their potential for evil and chose to avoid their use. But others saw their potential for ministry and launched powerful globe spanning radio and television ministries that are still reaching millions today. Even the printing press, which has certainly been used to print all kinds of corrupt literature, was first used to print a Bible. And far more Bibles have been printed than any other book! So yes, let's exercise caution with new technologies, but let's also avoid the overly simplistic solution of avoiding all new things altogether.

The other ditch, of course, is to dive into social media with little thought, or planning, and allow yourself to be caught up in it. To indulge in social media freely, can feel like falling into a black hole. It is specifically designed to be addictive. And most of us can't really afford to have hours diverted from regular prayer and Bible study, or real world life for that matter. Worse, it's algorithms tend to promote stories and articles that reinforce our own biases and blindspots worsening humanity's tendency to close-minded tunnel vision. And provocative and/or troubling posts are programmed to rise to the surface, disturbing our spiritual composure, and interfering with a quiet and contented walk with God. To participate in social media freely, without guardrails or precautions of any kind is simply not wise.

Many people would probably do well to decrease the amount of time they spend on social media and divert it to pursuing a closer walk with God. Rather than sending out some tweet, send up a prayer. Rather than posting a status update, do a status check-in with God. Rather than uploading a picture of your meal, take some verse of Scripture and chew on that. Discipleship is all about the moment by moment hard choices of putting God first. And effective time management is right at the heart of that battle. If you want to grow in your walk with God, there is no question you need to bridle your time on social media, and get it under control.

So if these are the two ditches we should avoid, what is that better, middle of the road, alternative? I believe that it is simply to be intentional and strategic about your social media use. Here's what I mean by that...

Intentional & Strategic

Being intentional, implies you must first determine the reason or purpose for using social media, and each platform in particular. And being strategic, means developing methods and systems to help you achieve those goals most effectively.

Discerning a valuable purpose for social media helps us avoid falling into the ditch of just saying no to all of it. And having a clear strategy keeps us from falling into the ditch of wasting time on meaningless actions. Being intentional and strategic together helps you stay on that narrow, middle path.

One of the keys to developing a goal (intentionality) and plan (strategy) is to evaluate the pro's and con's of each platform, and assess its potential. This allows us to select those few that will be most beneficial to us, and safely disregard the rest. And for those few we do choose to use, we can then think through how best to take advantage of its features.

Let me share a few examples from my own personal journey:

Like most people, I have a Facebook profile, plus a page for our FAST Ministry. In the early days, I accepted every friend request I received, thinking it might serve as a useful marketing platform--until I hit the Facebook friends limit and had to stop. This caused my newsfeed to become bloated with updates about people I didn't really know, essentially making my account useless to me. So I rarely logged in. My problem was I didn't really understand how the platform worked.

Eventually, I decided to try and approach it more constructively. I researched a few articles and began to see Facebook more as a kind of address book, where I could keep up with various people from various stages of my life, and encourage them along in little friendly ways. Better still, it could be a kind of prayer journal, filled with important people in my life that I wanted to keep uplifted before God. Once the goal was clear, my next step was to develop a plan of action.

First, I unfriended well over 4000 people (one by one) leaving only those I really wanted to stay connected with. Second, I gave myself a 15 minute window once a day to quickly smash through my news feed, sending out short notes to people who popped up. To keep my feed from shrinking down to the same small group each day (Facebook watches who you interact with) I would periodically go through my friends list and drop in on people I hadn't heard from in a while, and quickly visit their page and leave a note. And with each contact, I could whisper a quick prayer to God.

The idea was to contact a maximum number of people in a minimum amount of time, and bathe the whole process in a ministry of intercession. I've found this process extremely valuable. I keep up with important events in people's lives, and strengthen connections with friends I haven't seen in years. To me it's worth that small investment of time.

As for my ministry page, I found a tool to help me preschedule announcements as part of my content creation process, and another tool to help me automatically post announcements from my site's rss feed--so our Facebook page is always filled with valuable and motivational content. But it doesn't require much time from me. I've tried marketing on Facebook, but find their privacy policies unacceptable, so I just use it as a bulletin board for our site, and keep my focus on using it as a personal address book and prayer journal.

This platform is only used by about 1 in 4 people in the USA, so it's not near as large as Facebook, but I do use it regularly. However, it's for a completely different purpose. Twitter allows users to post short snippets ("tweets") as a kind of micro-blog. And theoretically, all the world can hear what you say. The reality for me was different: Twitter works best as a news aggregator.

I've carefully chosen a small number of thought leaders I follow on Twitter, and use spare moments to browse through their latest posts when I want to catch up on news. Some posts are trivial, but others are quite insightful. The most important ones are links to news stories on topics that interest me. Often, I'll find articles on Twitter I would never see anywhere else, and that exposure helps me see things from a variety of different perspectives. I also make sure to follow a diversity of people--rather than just people I like and agree with. What I'm looking for are intelligent, thoughtful people representing different viewpoints, and that share links to good information. Choosing the right people turns Twitter into a super useful customized news source.

Many brands use Twitter as a customer support channel, but I haven't found that to be a factor for my ministry. Rather, people reach out via our Help Hotline (preferable) or my personal email (less preferable). So the public Twitter account for FAST Missions is very much like my Facebook ministry page--just an automated billboard for announcements. Things could change at some point, but for now, this is the approach that works best for me.

Your Platforms

Take some time to go through your own list of social media platforms and follow the same process. Evaluate the merits of each platform, and whether or not it is worth pursuing. If it is, clearly define the purpose for that platform, and then develop a plan to help you maximize it's benefits. If not, consider dropping it. Each person will come to different conclusions based on their unique life circumstances, but what matters is that each person create a thoughtful personal social media strategy. The goal is for each person to be intentional and strategic.

By way of example, here are my personal assessments of a few other platforms:

Snapchat: This is a popular messaging app used by many young people. My daughter uses it, and it's one way I could reach out to her. But I have other ways to easily message her, and haven't really seen the need for something more. Other people, however, might have social circles where this service would be much more valuable, and worth using.

YouTube: This is another behemoth platform, rivaling Facebook, and it's especially popular among younger generations. But quality video creation takes time, and has a steep learning curve, so I've been reluctant to move this direction. I'm at a place now, however, where I feel impressed to start a channel, and begin posting weekly video devotionals. I'm still gathering tools, researching best practices, and developing processes to optimize the production of these videos. But it's coming soon.

Instagram: While Facebook is showing signs of decline, Instagram (owned by Facebook) is booming. And especially with the younger generation. It's primarily a photo sharing service, and I've never been much into snapping pictures. But creating YouTube videos would generate lots of potential photos, so it might be possible to snatch a few photos each week and post them to Instagram with little extra effort. I'm weighing the benefits.

LinkedIn: This is a really nice network for professionals, and if I were looking for a job, I'd definitely be using this. It has great tools for finding business leaders and connecting. And it's possible, it could be used to reach out to church leaders as well, but there's a whole process to that and I haven't really explored it well yet. Another project for another day.

Again, these are just reflections based my personal situation. I don't share them as recommendations, or even suggestions--but rather as illustrations, of the thought process I use in developing my personal social media plan. I first try to ascertain the strengths of a particular platform, and whether or not it can meet some potential need in my life. If it does, then I need to clearly define that purpose and develop a plan to maximize that benefit.

In other words, I want to be intentional and strategic.

If you follow this basic process, you can avoid missing out on all the good of social media (by not just saying no) and simultaneously avoid wasting endless hours (by having some guardrails). Rather, you can get in, get out, and maximize your benefit. As believers, we can't afford to completely ignore social media, but neither can we afford to indulge in it carelessly. Like everything else, we need to approach it wisely, with an eye to advancing the kingdom of God.


What about you? Do you have a personal strategy for social media. Is your social media use marked by both intentionality and strategy? What can you do to make your social media use more beneficial? Less time consuming? Share a thought in the comments below.

Posted by Dan Vis on 04/25/20 
Ha! I checked out your video. Pretty cool Qing! I think your summary point below was a good one--that ultimately it's more a question of making the better, harder choices, than anything. It usually boils down to that, doesn't it?
Posted by Qing Ling on 04/25/20 

As usual Dan thanks for sharing your personal story as a way of illustrating the 'logic'/method we can apply in our own lives. Makes it a lot easier to understand something when there's real life examples to 'see' it in action.

Georgia i'm interested to see your art! I created a public Instagram account called "memoryverseart" as my way of sharing my memorized verses - check it out.

I have always found facebook overwhelming with the amount of content and notifications. I've deactivated my account a few times over the years to get a break from it. I like the idea of using it as a prayer tool and do appreciate the random catch up with long-time-no-see friends. Especially in a time of social isolation, I believe it's impactful when old friends reconnect, even if it's just for one conversation.

My dilemma is that I have felt sometimes like I miss out on important events in my friends' lives if I don't check FB, and this is such a common phenomenon in today's world of social media reliance, that it's an acronym - FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).

Over the years, I've just had to remind myself that in the 'good ol' days' people's friend networks were limited to their physical location, and if something wonderful happened on the other side of the world, I wouldn't have known that I missed out, and then I wouldn't feel like I missed out..... so why get anxious about knowing about every thing that happened every where in every one's lives in the first place?

It can be hard to stay out of social media when friends all around are talking about this one thing that everyone saw that one time, but then all I would have to do is find out what people are talking about if it's important enough, or we just move on to the next conversation.

I can make my social media use less time consuming by seeking personal direct contact with people (messaging and phone calls) rather than "posting" to the great out there. I also generally never leave a public comment, choosing to private message my contact about what they posted instead. I am also mindful of even 'liking' any FB posts because of the privacy issue in facebook, but somehow I am OK with liking posts in Instagram if it's someone I know.

Dan I get your point about feeding that much information into one corporation...Imagine what info we are handing over through video calls let alone voice calls....

Ultimately, my biggest challenge is probably making the disciplined choice to spend my time on healthier activities, rather than being 'lazy' and just 'vegging' on the mentally easier activity of scrolling through social media. E.g. picking up a book and reading/studying instead of watching youtube videos. Even talking to God and seeking relationship with Him rather than seeking relationship with 800 friends (that's not my friend count, I made it up...I'm not that popular) - because I'd be spread too thin if I wanted to keep in touch regularly with that many people!

Posted by Dan Vis on 04/24/20 
Great job Sharlene! You did an excellent job on that tagging thing. :)
Posted by Sharlene Yvette Reyes on 04/24/20 
Thanks Berith! Now I've forgotten who it was I wanted to respond to...but at least next time, I'll know. :)
Posted by Dan Vis on 04/23/20 
Thanks Berith. The reason I like it best, is the people who gather here. What an awesome group! :)
Posted by Berith Bermejo on 04/23/20 

I would love to see your videos, JoAnn, if you're okay to share them. A friend from work is asking for other media for her kids that deal with the Bible other than just reading, so I shared some Kids Time Praise videos from 3ABN.

I also send birthday greetings to my Facebook friends, Del Jeanne, with a link to a GLOW tract. And as I send the greetings, I also pray for them.

I do need a max timer for Facebook. And I agree with you, Dan, about FAST being my favorite social medium. :D

Sharlene, just tap the picture of the person you want to tag. That automatically inserts the code so they're informed of you mentioning them in your comment. Just make sure there are no other letters immediately before or after the tag code.

Posted by Dan Vis on 04/22/20 

Yep, thanks for highlighting that point Carole Bliss . Setting some kind of timer can be a really important part of our strategy. For me, I don't really like Facebook, so I need to set a minimum timer. More people I suspect need a max timer. And stick within that. Either way, the key word is discipline.

Didn't mean to discourage you from using Facebook Sharlene, it's just important to have good information so you can make good decisions. Definitely appreciate you sharing this article! Thank you, as always...

Posted by Sharlene Yvette Reyes on 04/21/20 

Oh, I wasn't even aware of that mechanic about "rewarding" or "penalizing" based on engagement! Spending on advertising is not an option since my small literature ministry is not really a business, so there's no extra money to shell out. Funds just circulate as sales finance reprinting. Besides, the tracts are in the vernacular so the market is really just brethren in the Philippines.:)

By the way, I shared this article on my personal FB page and a number of friends have expressed appreciation, praise God. One dorm assistant dean even plans to share it with their residents.:)

P.S. I don't know how to tag here.:( I wanted to respond to some of the others' comments, too.

Posted by Carole Bliss on 04/21/20 
I find for myself I need to set a limit when I go on Facebook. Because I don't watch much television, I use Facebook as a relaxing time.
So important to be disciplined, so many other things we can do as in reading calling folks who are alone and etc.
Posted by Dan Vis on 04/21/20 
Actually I should note, FAST is my preferred social media platform. :)
Posted by Dan Vis on 04/21/20 

Thea, I'm sure the Lord will guide you. The key for any platform is to first determine your goal, and then second to develop a strategy make the biggest impact toward that goal with the minimum expenditure of time and energy. If it ever takes more time than the benefits, you either find a way to be more effecient, or you cut that platform...

Generally, Facebook rewards those who engage more, and penalizes those who don't engage Sharlene. So if you are going to use it for marketing your various resources, you have to be willing to commit to that. It does have very nice advertising capabilities if you have more money than time. But you pretty much have to invest one or the other...

Dinah, Facebook Messenger is becoming a very powerful messaging platform. I don't like seeing so much funneled through one company, so avoid Messenger, but a lot of people are there. I have several friends on Whatsapp I want to keep up with, but that's owned by Facebook too. :(

Georgia, sounds like Instagram is the right platform for sharing your artwork. See my notes to Sharlene about using Facebook for marketing. My advice would be to explore ways to stick with Instagram and use that for your ministry, since you are already on it. Some people are using Instagram very effectively for marketing. But you just have to research the pro's and con's.

I think one reason so many with more life experience prefer Facebook is we have accumulated so many relationships over the years! Sounds like you use it similar to me Del Jeanne, though to be honest I rarely get my 15 minutes in each day! It definitely can be useful and make an impact on people...

That's awesome JoAnn! Just goes to show that God can do amazing things if we let Him! From my research, YouTube is one of the best platforms for growth right now, if you can get past the technical hurdle of creating some decent video content. I'll be joining you there soon, God willing...

Posted by JoAnn Moon on 04/21/20 
I enjoy listening to sermons on YouTube. I had never thought of posting anything on YouTube until we have had to cancel schools because of COVID-19. Now I laugh, because I have a YouTube channel. I make my Bible story and my lessons for the day and post them for my Kindergarten students. This is not something I thought I would ever do, but I am so thankful to have a way to reach out to my students.
Posted by Del Jeanne Mathews on 04/21/20 
I have a Facebook account. Initially, it was for staying in touch with friends and relatives around the world - and it is still great for that. Having been in 44 US states and 41 countries of the world (lived in 2 outside of the US), I have friends all around the world, and FB allows me to stay in touch with all of them more easily/inexpensively than writing snail mail letters or making international calls. FB lets me know which of my friends is celebrating a birthday each day, and I send them Christian birthday greetings. And skimming through the latest posts on my newsfeed I can send congratulations for anniversaries, graduations, etc. Acknowledging birthdays and other special events helps with my seeing/being seen by more than the same few over and over. On my page, I post a Scripture every day. So many of my friends have told me they really look forward to that, and it is a blessing to them. I post some personal things, too. Having lost our beloved daughter-in-law 7 years ago, and our son last year, who were the parents of our 2 grandchildren, so many people have told me how they admire our faith, to remain firm in our walk with God in spite of tragedy (we've had at least 14 other deaths in our family in the past 8 years as well). I also post things about health, and invite people to evangelistic/health meetings.
Posted by Georgia Kenny on 04/21/20 

Thanks so much for the timely post! I’ve been a social media avoider for the most part. I’ve REFUSED to get Facebook because I knew it could become a snare, plus it became know to me in my senior years of high school and I didn’t need the added distraction! But a few years ago I decided to get instagram for the purpose of sharing what I call “scripture art” that I create (posters/ drawings of verses). It’s greatly helped me to have a focus and limitation to what I post as I find it helps me avoid using it for “self esteem” purposes, trying to get likes and responses.
However, as my main work is currently literature evangelism, and COVID means I cannot take such timely books door to door, I have been motivated to use these platforms more. I even got a Facebook account (!) - albeit for the purpose of making a business/ministry page.

The summary of platforms was interesting, and the advice on how to avoid the social media black hole is very valuable as I know from experience how quickly it can become a distraction.

Posted by Dinah Robles on 04/21/20 
It is really time consuming to indulge in any platform but I like the idea of having a clear purpose of having it. Honestly, I just had Facebook maybe May if 2017. I still don’t know about it. The only reason I started so u can connect free with family outside of US. I am not consistent fan. But because of Covid 19, we use messenger for small groups and announcements and some invites are only in Facebook, so that I miss some because I’m not consistent. I’m sure there is a better way and I need to learn how to use it for the glory of God.
Posted by Sharlene Yvette Reyes on 04/20/20 

Thank you for this insightful article. Though I've had a Facebook account since 2011, I hardly ever used it. Until a year and a half ago when I felt the necessity to get the word out about a small literature ministry the Lord entrusted to me. Then I had to learn the ropes of using Facebook and even created a page each for both the R.I.P. Fan (a colorful infographic fan sharing the Bible truth about death) and Forever Good News Tracts (small tracts the same size as Pocket Signs and GLOW).

I went through that "getting-overwhelmed stage" when I was just discovering how the world of Facebook works! I'm thankful the Lord pulled me out before I got sucked in by that "black hole" completely. I did feel it might be a bit "antisocial" to just unfollow everyone and not see anyone's posts at all, and just log in simply to post updates on my ministry's respective pages. So yes, I have wondered how to find a nice middle ground.

I appreciate your balanced approach of using Facebook as a directory for intercessory prayer. This way, you still get to be in touch with friends and are able to lift them up in prayer. Thanks much for sharing your ideas.

(The rest of the platforms mentioned I'm not really familiar with and it sounds like they don't fit with my setup, anyway.)

Posted by Thea Bayangos on 04/20/20 
I found this so helpful Pastor Dan. A few days after I deactivated my Instagram account which I knew was from the Holy Spirit, the Breakout Memory Challenge was posted up to Sign Up. And I knew this was divine intervention for me to join and use my time off Instagram to put my efforts in this challenge. And i have been so blessed, but now I am hearing little nudges to go back to Instagram. I am still trying to test whether this is from the Holy Spirit or not. As I was also weighing up the pros and cons, in which my intention was solely for the purpose to share the health message to encourage the Youth im connected with through my journey on Plant Based eating. But then I threw all these thoughts down the other day, saying that I completely need to be off Instagram. But this Memo has given me another light. We definitely need to test all Spirits but I am more and more convinced that this is from God!
God bless ❤️

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