The quote famously attributed to Saint Francis goes, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” These days, when so much of our communication takes place on keyboards and screens, words truly are necessary for sharing our faith online. In my own social media presence, I’ve struggled to strike the right balance of piety and down-to-earth humor, inner peace and occasional doubt that will make my Catholic faith relatable to my friends and followers who aren’t believers. So, how do we choose what to say in our posts, comments, and updates that attracts others to the Gospel? Here are a few do’s and don’ts I’ve learned along the way.
Do: Make it personal
I love to share what God is doing in my life. When I do so on Facebook or Twitter, I have the freedom to speak from personal experience without feeling preachy—since, after all, I’m simply relating my own stories. I’ve posted many times about how God is leading me, like when I started volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center, or the many things I’m thankful for, like my recent 10-year anniversary of becoming Catholic. Personal testimony is compelling. Both in my “real” life and in my relationships on social media, I’ve had friends reach out with questions about Christianity after I’ve shared openly about my spirituality. When others hear stories about your walk with God, it may intrigue them enough to turn to you when they’re seeking answers.
Do: Make it real
On social media, we often try to present an image of perfection in order to show we’re “good” Christians. I’d be embarrassed to admit to hundreds of people that my marriage has hit a rough patch or that it’s a weekly struggle to get my kids to go to Mass without a meltdown. (In fact, it’s during these times that I often post a cheery status update to garner likes that will make me feel better.) But to make our faith appealing, we don’t have to post the status updates of a saint. Your friends know you’re human. Let’s try to keep it real by mentioning authentic struggles alongside the highlight reel. I recently shared a podcast episode that featured a painful story from my past, and it actually felt really good to get so honest. Jesus himself said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
Do: Make it an invitation
It’s the final, critical step of evangelism: Making a concrete offer for others to take a step toward Christ. Could you tell your Facebook friends about a service opportunity they could join at your church, or extend an open invitation to Mass to your Instagram followers? (Since it’s all online, at least you won’t experience the awkwardness of rejection in person.) When my husband and I lead music for the Stations of the Cross at our church, I like to put the word out on social media. Not surprisingly, we’ve had far more friends show up to this particular church event than get in touch out of the blue.
Do: Speak with charity and kindness
It stings when people say hurtful or uninformed things about our religion on social media. But while it’s important to stand up for our convictions, we’re far more likely to win over online friends to Christ with gentle words than with a battering ram of righteous anger. My hot-button issue online? The right to life. The minute I see Facebook friends on a tirade against the pro-life movement, I want to rip their arguments to shreds in ALL CAPS. But when I can stay a bit more mindful, I try instead to lead with open-ended questions that get to the bottom of the other person’s feelings or beliefs. (Or, when possible, offer an invitation to discuss in person.) A show of compassion and open-mindedness may go further than you expect. I recently had an agnostic pro-choice friend share a Catholic article I had written on her own Facebook page—an action I believe was fueled by the mutual respect we’d shown each other online.
Don’t: Get too academic
As much as we Catholics may love to dig into the finer points of transubstantiation or the difference between venial and mortal sin, most people are not won over to the Gospel by theological treatises. If your social media posts delve too often into a religious academic discussion, your unchurched (and possibly even your churched) friends’ eyes will glaze over. I know I tend to skip over lengthy back-and-forth theological discussions when I see them online. The comments so often seem self-important, and the highbrow religious terminology is a turn-off. The unfortunate reality is that many people already have a preconceived notion of the Catholic Church as an esoteric institution. Instead of feeding that stereotype online, maybe it’s time to present our faith on a more relatable level—and keep the discussions of dogma to a minimum.
Don’t: Be (only) religious
My relationship with Jesus is the bedrock of my life, but it’s not the only subject I find interesting. And, quite honestly, when religious friends of mine post nothing but saint pictures and Bible verses, even I tend to tune them out. People want to see you’re a real, approachable person who does more than pray 24/7. Showing you have a sense of humor and a life outside of church might convince others that they, too, could embrace faith as a part of their journey. On social media, I especially love pointing out things that strike me as hilarious, like weird things my kids say, or the time my church’s song sheet made a super funny typo. After all, social media presents an opportunity to share all of our lives with others, including—but not limited to—our faith.
Originally published May 15, 2019