Every Friday in Sacred Space, Brad Williams explores the place of popular culture in the local church.
There was a time in the United States when a visit from a neighbor was always a pleasant surprise. When the country was more rural, when televisions and computers and cell phones did not exist, a visiting neighbor meant news to be shared and fellowship to be had. It broke the monotony. Plus, neighbors counted on each other for help.
Today’s world is different, and a surprise knock on the door on a Saturday morning usually means annoyance more than excitement. Who hasn’t peeked through the blinds to make certain that the “intruder” isn’t a Baptist, Jehovah’s Witness, or perhaps a politician, and upon noticing that it is, carefully let the blinds go back into place and pretended not be at home? In general, I suspect that most of us tend to be annoyed when strangers visit. It would be a surprisingly rare individual who would actually welcome such an intrusion on our doorstep.
This makes for a difficult time for would-be evangelists of all stripes. As a pastor, I am especially concerned about how this affects the church. Unsolicited visits, either by way of telemarketing or door knocking, almost automatically paint the visitor in a negative light. For those who would dispute this in favor of “old fashioned door-to-door evangelism”, I have to ask if you find telemarketing and knocks on the door on Saturday morning at least a little off-putting?
Before I lose my street cred, I admit that I have gone door-to-door many times, and I will continue to do so in the future. Yes, cold calls can be annoying, especially when the “caller” is pushy. But if they are polite, take up little of my time when I am not in a position to give it, then I generally consider it a positive experience. The same can happen with door-to-door evangelism and invitation to church. So by all means, don’t abandon the practice.
My point here is to say that things have not changed as much as we might think. The world is still starved for news and fellowship. For exhibit A, I point you to Facebook. Millions of people are on Facebook, and they are actually interested in telling you about their kids, their vacations, their cars, and even what they had for lunch. And you are interested in hearing about it because you probably check your Facebook twice (a hundred?) times a day to see what people are doing, what they are reading, and what internet articles they are linking to. Instead of sharing life over coffee in the den, we are sharing life in sneaky snippets while we work or sit at our home computers. I am not saying this new way is better, I am simply saying it is a reality, and the church ought to pay attention to it.
I am a pastor in a rural town, and I currently have 583 Facebook friends and counting. These friends can see what I post during the day. They see my thoughts, my likes, and they see pictures of my family. I keep Facebook open all day at my desk, basically, so that if someone messages me, I can chat with them. I get a lot of theology questions this way, and I think I have strengthened friendships through this social media. I may not be able to get in the door of the house of half of these Facebook “friends”, but they have invited me into their lives in a small way through this social media, and I do not want to take that for granted.
If you are a Christian, how can you use Facebook to put your best foot forward? Try to think of it as you would a cold call house visit. In other words, try not to be awkward and annoying or overstay your welcome. I have a lot of friends, real friends, who are also my Facebook friends and who are not Christians. They might block me if all I put on Facebook were Bible verses and “Share This if You Love Jesus” memes. So try to be a good guest by being interesting. In other words, it is okay to be normal and talk about day-to-day stuff on Facebook. It is okay to link to things you find interesting that are not necessarily political or related to Christianity. If you do link to interesting things, and if you tend to put up witty updates from time to time, your friends will be more likely to read your Bible Verse quotes and/or read your links to articles by Christians that you found helpful.
While Facebook is not the same as a house visit, it is “a foot in the door.” So be yourself. Be a nice guest. By all means, share on Facebook things that are important to your faith and the gospel, but try and remember that your ‘on-line’ relationship can be terminated faster than a slamming door. All a person has to do is anonymously click “Hide” and you’re done. So think before you post, remember that you have a large audience before you click “Post”, and remember that your message is hitting someone else’s personal page, so be considerate of their domain.
For another perspective on online evangelism, see Alan Noble’s Feature: Proclaiming the Gospel, One Forum at a Time.