At the end of February I attended the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Nashville, TN—my first time—and met quite a few terrific gospel communicators, who are faithful in sharing the gospel across old, new, and emerging mediums. I came away greatly encouraged at the increasing ways in which 21st century technology is allowing Christ to be heard.
One of the most fascinating and engaging people I met was Toni Birdsong, author of a new book, Sticky Jesus. If the title makes you scratch your head, that’s the point. Toni, a creator, designer, and communications strategist, and her friend Tami Heim have started a movement with the same title, Sticky Jesus.
What impressed me about Toni, her book, and the content on her website is the depth. This is not just another shiny marketing tool. She provides great depth from the Scriptures and applies them to our behavior online. Let’s face it, we live in a digital world. I read a statistic the other day that said 96% of the world is on Facebook. So how do Christians a) act online and b) use these emerging technologies to advance the gospel?
I recently interviewed Toni about this movement.
1. Sticky Jesus is a very “sticky” title—how did you arrive at this concept?
“Sticky” is a marketing term that means “to attract and make stay.” To be “sticky” is the goal of any marketing message or website. A sticky marketing message adheres to a consumer’s psyche and motivates a purchasing decision. A sticky website (or post) engages a visitor so they stay around, explore, act, and come back.
In @stickyJesus: how to live out your faith online, we flip the idea of “sticky” and apply it to the attributes of Christ and His message of salvation. The gospel is the stickiest message to ever hit the heart of mankind. It continues to do its transforming, eternal work and outlive hundreds of transient theologies. We challenge Christ followers online to be “sticky” like Jesus — loving, engaging, praying, and responding in ways that run contrary to much of our culture.
We define sticky as: The message that holds fast; adheres and clings to the heart of every generation. Eternal content independent of time, change, and cyberspace.
The book is an intentional fusion of marketing, discipleship, and technology. We want to equip Christians to navigate this commerce-driven arena (marketing). We want them to transcend the streaming “me” culture of self-promotion (discipleship). We want them to learn the tools that will allow them to influence the culture around them (technology).
We’ve started the LiveSticky movement online. The twibbon (icon) on your avatar publicly tells others (and reminds you) that you’ve been set apart and have resolved to live—and interact—like Christ online.
2. As I write about in my book, iFaith, living online is a reality. God created us and put us here, in the 21st century. So how can we effectively channel 21st century tools to build up the body of Christ?
If you consider the reach of a single tweet, Facebook post, blog post, e-mail, or video, you begin to see the Great Commission in a profound new light. One post can reach thousands of hearts within minutes and tens of thousands globally within hours.
Social networks have shifted history (e.g. Obama’s campaign, or the Egyptian protests). The power of community can’t be disputed. It’s absolutely imperative as Christians that we understand the times we are in and inject God’s truth into a generation that is increasingly disconnected from God — and each other.
I think the technology is the easy part — Christians get the ins and outs of their favorite platforms. The tougher part is getting Christians to understand the condition of their own hearts in relationship to that technology and then consider the power and influence of that expression. To align with Christ before getting online is crucial to eternity. To make a Kingdom difference in our culture is what God has asked his kids to do since the beginning of time — now we just do it digitally, and with mind-blowing bandwidth.
3. I like the idea of every Christian being a “digital scribe” – explain that idea.
Throughout history believers have used everything from palm leaves to the printing press to share the gospel—scribes have documented the faith. Today, the responsibility to communicate that same gospel is yours and mine. We live in a time when every nation, every tongue, every age, every race, and every denomination of faith—and unfaith—is instantly connected online. We ask people to take an online Digital Scribe Pledge and choose to influence culture rather than be influenced by culture.
As Digital Scribes™ we see ourselves as networkers, connectors, servants, activists, and passionate ministers of the gospel. We are out to change the game in our online communities for the fame of Jesus Christ and for those He loves who have yet to secure eternity. We encourage Digital Scribes to invest 2-4 hours a week learning the technology of this new mission field and we give them the tools to do that.
4. What are some common mistakes Christians make in communicating the gospel online?
I think the biggest mistake we make is that we casually log online and forget who we are and whose we are. It’s a subtle, dangerous shift. Christians too easily blend into the social landscape. We watch the same movies, feast on the same scandals, express the same tolerance, and waffle around in the same gray areas. We do all of this on a very public stage so our words and actions become amplified. On the flip side, some Christians go the opposite direction and literally wallpaper social networks with scripture verses without ever really engaging (or influencing) anyone.
We have a post on 10 Ways Christians Blow it on Twitter that recently got a ton of great feedback. As Christians we are not here to broadcast our theology and be understood. We are here to listen, understand the culture, and share Truth with Holy Spirit compassion and discernment. Sounds like a missionary to a foreign country doesn’t it? In many ways, it’s just that!
5. If you could give one piece of advice to a Christian communicator about his/her online presence, what would that be?
Walk so closely with Christ in your daily life that the communion you experience with your Father easily spills into every other conversation you have. Evangelism is simply sharing with others (conversationally) what God is doing in your life. Relax. Keep it real. God will do the heavy lifting of changing hearts. He’s just asking you to show up and live in such a way that others see His love for them. People all around you are hungry for Jesus. We need to see the online space with His eyes and listen to others with His heart. Be prepared for a digital exchange to go from routine to holy in an instant. And be willing to point others straight to Him.