By Nikole Hahn
A Review of Impacting MENA Through New Media Strategies Report
“Over the years, most research shows that media readily identifiable as Christian, such as Christian television or radio, is a powerful tool but not frequented by a majority of the Muslim population in MENA.” – MII Report
Media Impact International came out with their annual research project, Impacting MENA Through New Media Strategies. It’s a 56-page investment of time but come at it with a pen and highlighter and maybe some sticky notes. MENA, “ …is an English-language acronym referring to the Middle East and North Africa region.” (Wikipedia) In this commentary on the report, I will also include my thoughts on how their strategies can apply to social media engagement.
The report begins by defining traditional and non-traditional media. Traditional Christian Strategies are readily identifiable as Christian,“…like historical Christian television or radio programming.” Non-Traditional Media Strategies are internet or mobile-based and can include Digital Media Strategies (media that uses digitized content on the internet, social media, and accessed through computers or mobile devices). Non-Traditional Media campaigns have a better chance of engaging Muslims than traditional Christian media. It offers “greater anonymity.”
Non-traditional media relationship development was said to take longer than traditional media. Non-traditional media engages at the individual level while traditional media was like watching television with the family. The most effective follow-up strategies were email, messaging, chat, and text. MII reported from Open Doors, “…building relationships was significantly improved when Christians focused on practicing their faith (orthopraxy) more than sharing what they knew about their faith (orthodoxy).” (emphasis mine)
A missionary once said how confused non-believers were when believers weren’t focused on practicing their faith. On any given Sunday, a believer was one thing while Monday through Saturday they were another, and this includes their online life. The report says, “…engagement of people in a relational way is key…Online entities/brands need to be trustworthy for greater effectiveness.” A person needs to use their social media to engage people where they are, and not be quick to give answers without knowing the questions. Muslims and other non-believers don’t think they need anything else or Jesus. Muslims are the hardest to reach with the Gospel. The report encourages us to walk with Muslims and to pay attention to all the small decisions made along the way.
Seth Godin said in This is Marketing, “Emotional labor is the work of doing what we don’t feel like doing. It’s about showing up with a smile when we’re wincing inside, or resisting the urge to chew someone out because you know that engaging with him will make a bigger difference.” We need to do the emotional labor of digital discipleship, making time for, and being available to walk with someone on an individual-basis through their journeys whether they are Muslim or not. So, what did work?
- Pop-up ads
- Keywords/landing pages
- Various social media platforms
- “Focus first on the person, find a solution that works, then figure out a way to scale it.”
- Content is more important than platforms
- Focus on the person and their needs and where they hang out online
- Especially effective, “…emotive content and values-based engagement dealing with women’s/family issues.”
Online security is a concern, but as one anonymous interviewee said, “Biblically there is little evidence the Lord or His earliest disciples made ministry contingent upon it being risk free.” We live in a free country and we haven’t yet experienced the level of persecution that our brothers and sisters are experiencing in other countries like China. Social Media is free. Technology is readily available. More than half of the congregations in churches all over America are already online. The report goes on to talk about “Best Practices”:
- Persona focus. Create a Persona or a fictional character that are pieces of the audience you are trying to reach and target all posts towards that Persona.
- The handoff (when we give someone to someone else) is potentially negative. This should be done as little as possible. The person has established trust with us, not the person we hand them off, too.
- Look at successful models in the secular world, like social influencers, product placements in film, and I add, look at secular marketing models, too. Marketing is just getting the information in front of people and engaging with them.
The report continues to talk about being “Jesus-Centric,” “Catalyzation,” and how to measure success. My notes in the column were:
- People are online. They need guidance from leadership in how to intentionally use their social media in the online world. People tend to follow their shepherds. If the shepherds are leading them to use the online world in digital engagement, imagine the harvest!
- “Discipleship cannot happen without relationship.” Technology is moving fast. Virtual Reality is proving that discipleship can happen online without an in real life or face-to-face encounter. The online world allows people to be intimately involved in every aspect of their lives depending upon how much the person is willing to share and how connected the believer and non-believer or new believer are in the online life. The study of Scripture, prayer, and accountability can be done online with anything virtual or video interaction related. A believer in their neighborhood or community should use social media to engage an unbeliever or new believer and help them connect with a local fellowship of faith somewhere. Online and face-to-face can and should be balanced.
“The most effective person to speak into this seeker’s life will most likely be the first Christian they meet virtually.” I advocate for life-long friendships in social media. A person on a digital team at church can be the first person a seeker trusts and that relationship should remain, even if a new person is introduced into that person’s life. It’s not overwhelming if the church grows the digital team to half the church with each person praying for and speaking into the lives of an appropriate number of people online. And if the team is working with other digital teams, the task isn’t impossible. The report has many great ideas and nuggets of information I’ll use to determine a 2019 strategy for online ministry. But here are some more takeaways from the report,
- The online and face-to-face are working together to share the Gospel. We can and do compliment each other.
- Churches need digital teams that work with the church who work with the missionary organization.
- Tailor your content for the individual needs of your audience. Know your audience. Know the people you friend or follow.
- “Experimentation is key on all social channels.”
- Create quality content that serves your audience.
- According to the report, Facebook is an effective platform. Many Arabs use Facebook.
- The report suggested that discipleship is a challenge and traditional and non-traditional media defer to the churches to complete the task of spiritual growth. If the churches have digital teams or shepherds, this is as it should be. Missionary organizations should work (and do) with churches to finish the task of reaching the unreached, the unloved, and the unchurched.
Also, recommended to read: Facebooking the Unreached
Nikole Hahn is WorldVenture’s Digital Engagement and Disciple-Making Coordinator currently raising financial partners to become part of WorldVenture’s supported staff. You can learn more by clicking here.