Creative gospel sharing is reaching new people
Popular opinion about the effects of the digital age on our societies and souls has turned suspicious in the last few years – in news, pop culture and even everyday conversations. From the early promises of a digital future to the curiosity of the 1990s and the new social networks of the early 2000s, we now realize we have not built a utopia.
Yet, the more I work with churches and Christian ministries, the more I hear stories of how digital tools are also making inroads for the gospel in all corners of the internet. Let me share a few examples, as we could all use some more good news.
• The Bible is reaching unreached people and language groups.
Almost twice a week someone new gets to hear God speak in their own heart language. Despite the barriers or disruptions of Covid, in the last few years Bible societies around the world have completed Scripture translations in 90 languages used by 794 million people – just over 10 per cent of the world’s population. Much of this work has been made possible by real-time collaboration online, and a series of digital tools and software that speed up the process. We are closer than ever to seeing every tribe and tongue have the gospel because of the digital age.
• People are meeting Jesus on YouTube.
Although the exact numbers are difficult to quantify, millions of hours of evangelistic content are being watched on the platform each month. With YouTube being the second-largest search engine in the world, when people are asking their search bars questions about God, faith, the validity of Scripture, the claims of Jesus or personal issues of anxiety, depression, divorce or suicide, they are finding Christian content. YouTube content creators report leading viewers to Christ with live or posted videos, and follow-up comments and email dialogues. Anecdotally, I just met a 30-something husband and father from Ottawa who came to faith in Christ from atheism after watching convincing content by Christian apologists on YouTube. He now brings his whole family to church and his wife is on her journey of faith as well.
• The Chosen series is breaking records.
Designed to move on from classically sleepy Christian depictions of Jesus to making bingeable content, the creators of The Chosen series have made the largest crowdfunded media project Hollywood has ever seen. At nearly 500 million views and rising around the world, the episodic content portrays the life of Jesus as told from a creative and colourful cast of characters. The goal is to hit one billion unique viewers through their digital app and see many come to Christ or renew their understanding of the gospel. (The 2021 feature article at FaithToday.ca/TheChosen goes deeper into this.)
• People are praying on TikTok.
This popular video platform has more than 1 billion active users. You may not be using it yet, but many around you, young and old, have jumped on. The difference between it and the social networks before it like Facebook or Twitter is that it’s primarily based on discovering new content that the algorithm thinks you will like, rather than connecting you with those you already know. For this reason people are discovering faith-based content and creators for the first time, and young evangelists are trying to learn how to reach a new generation. Youth pastors are running Bible studies live on the platform, worship leaders are offering songs and Scripture reflections, and others are calling out for prayer requests. Users are responding in droves as they discover Christians with answers and empathy for their greatest struggles. They may not have been looking for Jesus on TikTok, but through the discovery features of the platform many are moving to real relationships with Christians shepherding a lonely and anxious generation.
TikTok users are responding in droves as they discover Christians with answers and empathy for their greatest struggles.
A recent Barna study describes Gen Z (those born roughly between 1997 and 2012) as the Open Generation. Their church attendance may be in rapid decline, but their curiosity and openness to leaders, conversations and digital platforms that discuss spirituality are at an all-time high. They are open to the discussion – if only we would be creative and curious in our use of digital tools for the sake of sharing Good News to the ends of the earth.