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Online outlook

Covid and lockdowns have pushed many of us online to do things we would never have thought of doing such as business meetings, church services, birthday parties and fitness classes.  But there are so many people already online.  For example, 1.8 billion people across the word use Facebook on a daily basis.  That is more than the population of the world’s largest country, China, with 1.4 billion people.  As we move out of lockdown, there is a lot of talk about what we will be keeping and what we will be losing from it all.  Surely, we don’t want to lose the opportunity that being online gives?

During the first covid lockdown, I got increasingly frustrated at my lack of contact with people who were not Christians.  At the time I was working online with people who were Christians, and had little contact with any other people, apart from the Thursday night neighbourhood clap for key workers and my wife!  So, I decided to go to the market place, where people talk about and listen to the latest ideas like in Athens chapter 17 – Twitter.  I made up an alias as many people do online, followed a number of people who called or described themselves as an atheist or sceptic, and started interacting with them.

There have been many conversations – some informative, some insulting, some insightful, some impacting.  They have covered heaven and hell, evidence for the bible and for God, free will and God’s control, faith and works, good and evil.  I have learnt and been reminded of many things which we can all apply for online outreach or in person faith sharing:

Assume nothing

We can often assume in today’s world that people do not know about Christianity or the bible.  Often that is true, but we should not assume that.  I have found many of the people I have got to know online used to go to church, used to describe themselves as Christians and have studied the bible in depth.  I assumed I knew what atheists did not believe i.e., they don’t believe in God but I have learnt not to talk about belief in relation to atheists at all, it is more about evidence.  All this will affect how we talk to people so…

Ask lots

Jesus asks around 307 questions in the gospels.  When we talk to people about Jesus, we can often feel defensive about what we believe.  But questions can be used to make people think about their own views as well as our beliefs, the reasons for their views and also for us to find out more about people. So, I purposefully ask lots of questions online.  They can range from “What do you think about that?”, “How do you decide what is good?”, “How would you feel if someone died instead of you?” or “Have you always questioned that?”  What could you ask the people you talk to?

Character counts

Romans chapter 5 says “We also glory in our sufferings because suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character and character, hope.”  We can often think that we need lots of clever things to say and smart answers to give to convince people about Jesus.  But most of us when asked about people who helped us become Christians would think of certain people and their character, rather than something amazing they once said.  Therefore, when I try to engage people in topics, I think I have something significant to say (see below) and answer any question people directly ask me, I try and do it “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3 v 15) whether people have said I am stupid or a sheep.  How could you show your character not only in what you say but how you say it?

Stay focused

As Paul says in Colossians 1 v 28, we are to proclaim Christ.  There are many subjects I could get involved in discussing online – politics (especially American politics), sexuality and suffering.  Of course, if someone asks me directly, I will talk about anything.  But I look for where I can say something directly about Jesus, whether as a starter in a conversation or during it.  It can be about Jesus’ nature, what he said or what he did.  So, I have talked about how we can know what God is like best by looking at Jesus, how we can know how to love people by looking at Jesus and how we can know God loves us by looking at Jesus.  How can you stay focused on Christ?

Outcomes?

There have been some very positive interactions, with mutual respect expressed, good humour shown and some things that people have said they did not know or will think about.  But many conversations suddenly stop online and you don’t know how the other person is left – did they get bored?  Busy?  Or are they thinking about something they don’t want to express?  It is definitely a seed sowing in different soils ministry.

How can you use these principles to start or continue to talk to people online?

How can you use these principles in your in-person conversations both now and hopefully increasingly with the easing of lockdown, in the future?

Online opportunities won’t disappear with the easing of lockdown.

They won’t completely replace in person opportunities either in the future, they are just different.

But we all need to make the most of all the opportunities to tell people about Jesus.

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