What if the conventional wisdom that “shorter is better” doesn’t apply when it comes to the Bible? And what if we could turn social media—the king of fragmented content—into a tool for helping people connect more deeply with the Scriptures?
In 2013, our small-ish community on Facebook numbered fewer than 10,000 people. Last month, we celebrated our 100,000th follower.
What changed in 18 months? Among other things, we decided to start breaking some of the rules. We wanted to find out how many people were hungry for more than just a passing connection with the Bible each day—and if social media could become a vehicle for making that happen.
But first, we had to think very differently about the way we read and share Scripture.
Defragmenting the Bible
Four hundred and fifty years before Facebook was even a thing, a French printer named Stephanus added verse numbers to the New Testament for the very first time—and we’ve been using them ever since. Verse numbers have utterly transformed the way we read the Bible.
Verses became the primary unit of content. We often read a single verse of Scripture and go no further. Sometimes we read random verses—zooming in on inspiring texts like Jeremiah 29:11 or Romans 8:31, and zooming past the stuff in between. The tools many of us rely on to engage the Bible—“verse of the day” emails and text messages, for example—reinforce a fragmented approach to reading.
Shorter is better. (Except when it’s not.)
This way of reading the Bible existed long before social media. Yet the digital revolution has elevated fragmentation to a whole new level, one where anything worth saying has to fit within the constraints of a 140-character tweet or a 6-second Vine video. The prevailing wisdom is that “shorter is better.” The more tightly packaged the sound bite, the bigger the impact it will have. People don’t have time (or enough interest) to engage deeply with content anymore.
When it comes to the Bible, this means giving people a verse or two at most, often superimposed onto a nice landscape photo for visual effect, and with a “like [or share] if you love Jesus!” message to ensure the desired response. (Because as we all know, there’s no motivator quite like guilt.)
But what if people are hungry for a deeper connection with the Bible? What if we’re selling them short when all we offer are tiny, random fragments of Scripture—what Philip Yancey once called “Bible McNuggets”? What if the social media pundits have it wrong? What if shorter isn’t always better?
Can social media be a vehicle for delivering not just a quick, easily digestible Bible “vitamin” each day, but for something more robust? Can Facebook become a means of engaging deeply with the Scriptures?
That’s what we set out to learn 18 months ago, when we decided we weren’t going limit ourselves to a “shorter is always better” mentality—when we decided to create content that helps people go deeper.
Instead of posting a randomly selected “verse of the day,” we started inviting people into a more immersive Bible study experience. We began going methodically through whole books of the Bible, from start to finish. We tested it out with a short book at first (Ruth), but soon we started going through longer books as well, beginning with John. The passage selections for each day are longer than your typical “verse of the day” post, because we follow the natural contours of Scripture, instead of the sometimes arbitrary divisions that verse numbers impose onto the text.
We offered other opportunities to engage deeply with the Scriptures, too. We started sharing weekly tips for reading the Bible well—how to get more out of it by reading on its terms instead of ours. To help paint a big-picture view of the story, we started posting weekly summaries of each book of the Bible.
When 40 characters isn’t enough…
Social media experts say the ideal post length for Facebook is 40 characters. (That’s 100 fewer characters than you’re allowed on Twitter.) In other words, about 10 words per post.
When we changed our approach to the Bible, we started averaging more than 200 words per Facebook post.
Sure, this approach isn’t for everyone. But before long, something interesting started happening. Our engagement went up. Our audience started growing faster than before. Eventually, we started advertising so we could invite even more people to “read the Bible well,” to engage in a very different kind of Bible study online. But our little community was growing well before that. Our new, in-depth Bible study posts engaged 3 to 5 times as many people as our old “verse of the day” posts.
Another thing that happened along the way… our Facebook family became a truly global community. More than 85% of our followers now come from outside the US. Our biggest country in terms of page likes is the Philippines, followed by Bangladesh. Suddenly, we were able to reach people with in-depth Bible content in countries where there are very, very few options for connecting with Scripture. Some of our followers have even told us that our Facebook page is their primary or sole means of engaging with the Bible on a daily basis.
Facebook as a tool for reaching the world with a better way to read the Bible… it’s not a bad idea.
Even if it means breaking some of the “rules” along the way.