What if instead of seeking a large platform to make a name for themselves, individual Christians made niche, interest-based content for specific audiences, seeing themselves as missionaries to those people? Instead of the Christian media landscape being dominated by a handful of celebrities, small to midsize Christian content creators—rooted in their local churches—have the opportunity to speak to their niches in helpful ways and minimize the attention given to those who represent evangelicalism with their platform but not their character. What might this look like?
People sometimes say, “Social media is neutral. It’s just about how you use it.” This is false. As we learn more about social media’s role in our national mental health crisis, it’s increasingly clear this technology is anything but neutral—and government leaders are starting to respond. In May, Montana became the first state to enact a total ban on TikTok. Arkansas enacted a similar law that requires minors to have parental approval to create an account on certain social media platforms.
Christians know well that social media’s harmful effects also extend to our spiritual formation. As authors like Chris Martin have noted, social media has become our chief discipler. It conforms our minds to the patterns of the content we consume (anxious, outraged, fearful, and numb), reengineers our habits with its liturgical practices (opening, scrolling, swiping, liking, and commenting), and asks us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices (posting content for consumption by others and profit for the corporation through advertisers).
Social media acts as a spiritual and cognitive distortion machine that warps our view of reality and bends our will away from God. It’s the systematic, corporately incentivized inversion of Romans 12:1–2. Instead of our minds being renewed by the Spirit of Christ, they’re shaped by algorithmically curated delivery of the particular patterns of the world that best play to our unsanctified desires. They beckon us into conformity with the world by drawing our hearts and minds away from God.
Social media isn’t a neutral player in our sanctification. It’s an active agent working against our becoming more like Christ.
This doesn’t mean social media is entirely irredeemable. Our media intake has the potential to form us both away from Christ and toward Christ. It’s because algorithms mirror our desires that the possibility of redeeming social media exists. The more our desires are for Christ, and the more content we seek out to aid us in our desire for him, the more the algorithm will be bent toward Christ-centered content that benefits our discipleship. The very tool that can pull us away from Christ has the ability to be re-formed to push us toward Christ.
New Categories of Christian Social Media Users
While we need to be wise about our engagement in the spiritual distortion zone of social media—and for some, that might mean stepping away entirely—we also need new categories for thinking about it Christianly and modes of operating that glorify Christ and help others flourish in a digital Babylon. Here are four categories to consider.
1. Discipleship through Content Creation
We underestimate the formative power of the steady drip of content consumption over time. If consuming digital content can form us away from Christ, then it can also form us toward Christ. But we need faithful, intentional, intelligent Christians creating this content and using best practices to reach their intended audience.
Churches have a unique opportunity to do this for their particular congregations. More and more, as pastors are replaced by podcasts and average church attendance drops to once a month, churches can meet their congregants where they are throughout the week by producing local digital media that keeps people connected to their local congregation.