Being a godly influencer
Confession: I spend at least half of my working week on YouTube. Before you tell me to stop time-wasting, I should explain: I am a filmmaker and director. But creativity and the media are just two of my many passions – second to a desperate desire to help the youth of today and third to my absolute and unstoppable love of Jesus Christ. Conveniently, all of these things tie into one aim: helping young people to navigate the world of social media.
Because of this, I want to ensure that all youth leaders are educated as best as they can be to tackle the social media ‘problem’. First, by knowing what their kids are watching, secondly, by knowing how it might affect them, and thirdly, in thinking about how we can steer them towards better influences online.
So, here are two frightening facts to start with: the young people in your church are using social media more than they are reading their Bible. While they are probably spending less than two hours a week in church, they’re spending two hours every day on social media sites. And so, I have to ask you: who has more influence on your youth group, you or their phones? You don’t see them every day, you’re not in their face with your opinion and influence like Instagram celebrities are, and you’re not preaching to them like that YouTuber who makes a mini-sermon on worldly topics three times a week.
Today, nearly 2 billion people are using YouTube across the world, consuming 1 billion hours of videos every day – with 40 per cent of all mobile phone usage spent on the video monster each day. Yes, these are scarily large numbers, but that’s not the most worrying part. If we cut to the chase, it’s your youth group making up most of these numbers. It’s clear, therefore, that we need to know more about it for their benefit if nothing else.
I’ll let you decide whether or not these YouTubers are harmful, but to give you an idea of what the most popular stars are like: British internet personality KSI and controversial American actor Logan Paul (who in 2017 filmed the body of a man who had taken his own life and posted it up for the world to see) have fought each other in an amateur boxing ring for two years running – spending the build-up saying nasty things about each other online and promoting violence as a means to an end. Many other YouTubers are promoting lifestyles of unimaginable wealth – some of the big names (including Swedish gamer Pewdiepie, ‘lad’ group Sidemen or the lifestyle ACE Family channel) could be making up to £100k a month from YouTube ad revenue alone. They are also earning much more through Instagram ad deals just by wearing the latest designer gear or using the latest console or phone.
I am telling you this, because this is what we are competing with. We need to have strategies in place to deal with these things – we have to saturate social media with the love of Jesus.
Become an influencer or be influenced
If you’re not being a digital missionary, if you’re not using your social media for the glory of God, should you be doing it at all? Social media is the best time-waster – you can spend hours scrolling or choosing an appropriate photo filter. We sit, scroll, stare and sigh instead of empowering, igniting, loving and caring. Essentially, either you become an influencer or you become ‘the influenced’.
I had a revelation about this last year and deleted all of my apps (yes, I became that person). Just weeks in I felt incredibly free and found myself spending more time with God, feeling closer to him and getting many revelations about my social media use. I felt it clearly: “Either use it for his glory or stay away from it for ever.” While Jesus doesn’t have Instagram, he does have us.
It was for Jesus that I chose to be an influencer (though I do recommend everyone takes a break from social media every now and again). I vowed to spend active time growing my accounts and ensuring I was taking my YouTube and Instagram seriously – and I’ve seen my reach grow considerably.
Health not growth
We can’t do anything unless we’re present. You don’t need a big production budget or a huge amount of know-how to get started. Start with whatever you have – your phone, laptop, video camera. You can then start influencing the people you’re already connected to on social media. Start sharing your story, be open about your testimony. Be as truthful, real and genuine as possible, avoiding the trap of creating a ‘false’ life or drawing focus onto anything that isn’t God. One of the ways I do this is by setting aside time every weekday to update my social media, scheduling it in my diary as ‘work’. Being intentional means I control what I put out there to the masses – and it also means I create a healthy relationship with social media by placing it in workable boundaries.
While growing is important to reach more people, it’s connection that we need to focus on. Connection is what human life is built upon – we strive to be around like-minded individuals; it’s why as Christians we gather in church. Connection builds communities and allows for the creation of a safe space. So, comment, engage, ask questions, make bold statements. Even be a bit controversial if it means creating engagement with new people or responding to an issue that others are already talking about.
Throw your sense of competition out of the window. There is no such thing as rivalry in the social media race towards God. The only thing we compete against are the algorithms – and we can avoid this by a shared interest rather than isolating ourselves to be the best. I try to deliberately get to know and question other influencers on social media. Not only does it boost both of our follower counts, it has great effects on the kingdom. In spring last year, I followed a UK-based family YouTuber who was pushing 200,000 subscriptions and boasted more than 50,000 Instagram followers. I started commenting fun and encouraging things on his posts and eventually we started messaging. While initially we talked about our life goals and our daughters (who are both the same age), one day he asked me if I could recommend some books so he could dive deeper into faith. Two weeks later, he sent me a message: “I [have] prayed asking for a relationship with him.”
If you based my legitimacy as an ‘influencer’ on my follower count alone, it may not appear I have that much reach. But even having small influences on influencers means you’re influencing someone.
It’s not all about the numbers
Celebrities are already aware of the importance of sharing the gospel over social sites. Selena Gomez posted to her 158 million Instagram followers last October: “I’m literally just laying down and thanking Jesus. Where my father has taken me and is placing me is exactly where I am meant to be. He said: ‘Selena, hold on. I hurt when you hurt. I cry when you cry but I will never ever leave your side. Work with me, walk with me and see how I do it’…I re-fall in love with him every single time.”
Justin Bieber, who boasts 120 million followers, has frequently shared his testimony – revealing how he went from a life of drugs, anger and fame that left him lost and broken to coming back to Jesus, being pastored and fathered. At Easter he schooled his followers on the true meaning of the holiday and his wife, Hailey, who has 23 million followers, ‘ranted’ at Halloween about the importance of bringing Jesus in to everything we do.
If that’s not enough to convince you – and if you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months – Kanye West dropped his gospel album Jesus is King. The 27-minute long album topped five separate charts, including the US Billboard 200, the UK Christian and Gospel Albums and even the Rolling Stone Charts, with millions of people worldwide singing along to his beat-backed Bible truths. Amid the album release his wife, Kim Kardashian, travelled to Armenia with the couple’s children to be baptised, postingphotos from the big day to her 150 million followers.
If these people are saturating social media with the name of Jesus, why aren’t we? It doesn’t matter if we have 30 followers or 30 million – these celebrities have already understood that we have to be outrageous, passionate, radical and bold to reach further.
Be a digital evangelist
Now I might be wrong, but I’d say that the reason the billion people on Instagram are opening and scrolling so frequently is because they are desperately searching for something. They’re looking for a way to fill the gap, to cross the void, to convince themselves that their life is worthwhile and meaningful. They’re all – perhaps without knowing it – searching for Jesus. So, are we going to give them what they are looking for? The good Samaritan surely didn’t just ‘scroll on past’ – he used his chance.
It’s your time now. This is your call to be the digital evangelist your followers need. We have a duty to go to where the people are and to be a good influence on those who have been led astray – and this is no different in the world of social media. Take a look at your profile and ask yourself: “Does everyone who follows me know I love Jesus?” and if the answer is no,
Joseph The Dreamer is a YouTuber, youth worker and dad. Visit his channel for faith related content.