21st century technology makes it easier than ever to evangelize. Remember that when you say something in cyberspace, it may remain there for a very long time. Be charitable, prayerful and empathetic, and know when to turn the other cheek.
Here are guidelines I've come up with for evangelizing and interacting online.
Online Interaction Is Recorded
It’s important to keep in mind that however you interact with someone online — whether it’s through email, your blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Goodreads, Pinterest, Instagram —there is a potential of your words remaining in cyberspace for a long time. On public websites, it’s like you’re discussing an issue with someone in front of an audience of hundreds (maybe thousands) of people, and it’s being recorded. Your behavior online will serve as an example to hundreds or thousands of people.
Charity First and Foremost
Ensure your behavior and language are loving and appropriate, no matter how someone responds. Evangelization is meant to be primarily a loving act.
Pray Before Responding
Think and pray before responding. There’s no rule that states you must respond within minutes or even hours or every question or comment you receive online.
Stick to the Facts
People tend to become emotional, especially when dealing with religious issues. Try to set aside any emotional feelings you have and stick to the facts.
Answer Questions Succinctly
Keep your messages as brief as possible and to the point.
Phrase Your Words with Empathy
One of the ‘facts’ you can stick to is that every person is a beautiful creation of God, deserves dignity and could probably use a little understanding. ‘As brief as possible’ shouldn’t translate to ‘abrupt and cold.’ It takes a special effort to remember (and pray for) the person behind all the technology.
Don’t Be Afraid to Say “I don’t know and I need to research this.”
An internet search or a quick call to your local priest could help you avoid making pronouncements about gray areas that you are not sure about. Remember that the warning about ‘not believing everything you read online to be automatically true’ also applies to your words.
When people are honestly open, they will listen, but very few will change their minds on the spot. Help plant the seed of truth and the Holy Spirit will water it. It often takes years of gradual change for a person to embrace the truth.
Ignore Comments That Are Not Helpful to the Conversation
“Trolls” often lurk on social media with the express purpose of trying to trash or destroy any possibility of meaningful conversation with Christians or Catholics. I’ve learned to ignore these people as they are not interested in anything but starting trouble and being uncharitable.
Know When to Leave the Conversation
If the conversation is taking too much of your time or if a Facebook thread or blog conversation is either getting nasty and people are becoming uncharitable, know when to leave the conversation.
Can you think of other guidelines that may help in evangelizing online or when interacting on social media? Please feel free to share in the comments below.
Copyright 2014 Ellen Gable Hrkach
About the Author
Ellen and her husband, James, have been certified NFP teachers for the Couple to Couple League since 1984 and teach Theology of the Body to teens. She’s also an award-winning, bestselling author of ten books, an editor, a publisher and a self-publishing book coach. Her newest novel is Ella's Promise. The mother of five adult sons and grandmother of one precious grandson, Ellen lives in Pakenham, Ontario with her husband. Contact her at Full Quiver Publishing.