Phones. Tablets. We live on screen. Is it an opportunity?

“As we begin the message this morning, I’m going to ask if you might take out your Bibles, and turn with me to Matthew 7”.

Only a few years ago, these words would be met with the sound of pages turning, the occasional teenager calling out “got it”, and others nodding as they browse a highlighted section of their leather-bound study Bible. This morning, as I look out on the audience, I can only see 2 paper-based Bibles. I joke, “Righto, who actually brought a physical Bible to church today?” Those two raise their heavy books to show their loyalty to the ink. The rest, including me, read the same words but from a screen. Some have two or three versions open at the same time; others  have zoomed the words into LARGE FONT to assist their fading vision; while others take digital notes alongside the text. It’s all so modern and fluent – and exactly the space where scriptures need to be most prominent.

The move to digital has been swift. It’s not just the way of the future but it’s the way of the current. For over a century, Lifewords’ has been passionate about getting the scripture into those spaces where it will bring life and good news to those who encounter it. That is now the digital space. Paper products are not redundant, but just look at a train full of commuters and you’ll realise that most are reading their news, books and social feeds from screen devices. That’s where VerseFirst has found an audience – and a highly engaged one at that.

VerseFirst is a social feed that brings beautiful, creative Bible pieces into the social media space so that followers can like, comment, share and repost to their own audience. If people are already on their screen, we want to bring scripture to them right there. VerseFirst brings hope, life and good news to the screen – and is doing so with incredible reach and results.

Right now, over 20,000 people follow the VerseFirst feed, with most engagement on Instagram and quite a strong following on Facebook. Hundreds of people comment, like and engage daily, and recently our VerseFirst blog invites people to a deeper level of reading and engagement. In fact, there’s a real community feel with younger people feeling a sense of ownership over the images, often posting them as their own status update, enabling their own followers to read and engage.

THINK ABOUT THIS COMPARISON:

(a) If I give a Little Book of Help booklet to one teenager, the best I can hope for is that he reads it, perhaps a few times, gaining insight, wisdom and hope from it. It might even help him make a choice to follow the Lord in his life. He may pass that little booklet on to another friend, so one booklet reaches two. Great!

(b) If I post one scripture image to our followers, there are around 800 people (daily) who “like” or “comment” on that image. There may be 20-30 who then repost or share the image on their own page. Well, even one of those people may have 500 friends, so a percentage of those friends all see this scripture as well – people who aren’t our audience. With 20 people taking our scripture post and sharing it, there could be thousands of additional people all seeing and engaging with scripture – and that is each DAY! So at worst, there are literally thousands who get the scriptures directly through their screen into their hearts each day. Now that seems like an incredibly fruitful opportunity!

BUT IS IT AS INTIMATE AND RELATIONAL?

Recently, an older ministry friend of mine told me that their organisation doesn’t like the digital space for sharing God’s word because it doesn’t feel as relational or intimate. I tend to disagree, and so does the evidence. Social media is part of the way young people actually do their friendships, and whether we like it or not, they spend a lot of time with their face buried in the screen, checking out what each other is doing, liking and following. They comment on each other and talk about it right there. Even the introverts among us find their voice and grow confidence to put themselves out there and tell others what they think. On the flip side, it’s a very confident person who can take a scripture booklet, leaflet or even a message and share it face-to-face with a friend or acquaintance. Perhaps it is fair to say that these online social media outlets are not “better” ways to do friendship and interaction, but just “different”. Powerfully different. And it’s here to stay.

EXPANDING OUR IMPACT:

As a Bible mission, Lifewords is all about bringing good news to everyone, everywhere. In many places, paper products are best. Our Choose Life program in African schools is impacting thousands through a series of school lessons; The Visible Story program is helping village farmers and rural churches of Indonesia to share God’s word with those who cannot even read and write; Pavement Project has helped over 30,000 children at risk to find hope in God. All of these need specialised ways of presenting scripture and good news. The social media space presents another opportunity, and we see it is a HUGE BLESSING to spreading good news to so many who would never get it. We don’t know the full impact but there are already hundreds of testimonies of people coming to the Lord, growing in faith and being encouraged in the Word.

THE BEST PART… YOU CAN JOIN IN:

Sure, you can join in by donating to Lifewords and seeing this expand and grow. That’s the obvious line you expect from a charitable organisation. But moreso, you can join in the mission by following, commenting, sharing and engaging with the daily scripture feed. Simply enter VerseFirst into Facebook or Instagram to follow and start engaging! Read the blog and join the conversation at our VerseFirst blog, and tell others about the scriptures that are being spread in creative and beautiful postings.

Have you had a similar experience?