Because video content has dominated social media for some time now, the church has been able to harness the power of the web through regular lives treaming and uploaded videos on Facebook and YouTube. However, since 2018, a different type of video content has dominated the landscape—TikTok.
The top three social media giants (YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram) have all incorporated TikTok–like videos through YouTube Shorts, Facebook Stories, and Instagram Reels. Companies such as Meta (owner of Facebook and Instagram) and Google (owner of YouTube) highly regard the TikTok trend. TikTok has surpassed 2,000,000,000 downloads1 and is now the fourth most popular social media platform. In 2020 alone, it grew by 87.1 percent.2 TikTok culture appears to be here to stay.
What is it?
According to Wikipedia, TikTok “hosts a variety of short-form user videos, from genres like pranks, stunts, tricks, jokes, dance, and entertainment with durations from 15 seconds to ten minutes.”3 According to one commentator, its style and length make it very addictive.4
In 2020, I opened a TikTok account but soon closed it because I felt (at the time) that the content was useless and nonproductive. Based on the description of the genre given by Wikipedia, the content is purely for entertainment purposes that are, for the most part, not wholesome for Christians. When I realized that this style of video presentation was here to stay, in early 2022, I reactivated my TikTok account and researched whether Bible-based content could thrive in the TikTok environment.
The first thing I observed was that TikTok did have some Christian content. However, 90 percent of the Bible-based content was not gaining much traction. Those videosthat did sometimes went too far or trivialized the gospel. Still, I wondered, Is it possible to do evangelism on platforms such as TikTok or Instagram Reels?
First, I must highlight some problems associated with the rise and dominance of TikTok video culture.
Trivialized content. Due to its entertainment-based nature, TikTok culture faces the danger of making light of everything. In his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death, media theorist and cultural critic Neil Postman posited that the transition from a typographic society (print based) to a television (video based) culture would bring about a situation in which 90 percent of the content would be trivial. He felt that way because video-based content was, by nature, entertaining and, therefore, could not be taken seriously.5 While I may not agree with Postman’s doomsday outlook toward this culture, I believe he has precisely pinpointed the nature of entertainment-based content. TikTok culture fulfills Postman’s prophecy far more than television ever did.
Difficulty filtering content. Unlike YouTube or Facebook, which indicate a video's content before you start viewing it, TikTok and Instagram Reels present their content in a “reel” that shows one video at a time. So, the best thing to do is to stop the video or move to the next one if you encounter something inappropriate.
Addictive content. As mentioned previously, the TikTok video style is addictive. Part of the reason is the highly effective use of background music. As The Atlantic’s Taylor Lorenz put it, “ ‘Watching too many in a row can feel like you’re about to have a brain freeze. They’re incredibly addictive.’ ”6
Insufficient content. While you can make an impact using short content, you cannot nurture spiritual life in such a brief time.
I nevertheless believe that TikTok offers incredible opportunities for evangelism. Though TikTok is meant to be trivial, it is not merely trivial content that is gaining traction. Creative educational content also has a wide impact. Christians should not feel that the only way to evangelize is by sharing Bible texts or sermons. The greatest need of the human heart is for a relationship with God, so Christ dealt with felt needs first. By doing so, He gained a person’s attention in such a way that He could minister to his or her deeper need for God.
People's felt needs relate to what they are going through right now—the problems that are immediate to them. On social media—including TikTok—if you can help others solve their problems or connect with them based on what they are actually experiencing, you can harness an incredible following, whether related to health, family life, education, practical wisdom, or spirituality.7
Here are some practical tips for evangelism on TikTok and similar platforms:
- Identify a niche and stick with it. It could be educational, health, parenting tips, Bible study, or anything else.
- Know your audience. According to one article, “on Instagram, 60% of users in the United States are younger than 34, and on TikTok, nearly 40% of users are teenagers between 10 and 19 years.”8 That still leaves a sizable number of older users. Do not underestimate their capabilities.9
- Involve your audience. Brainstorm with them on content, locations, Bible verses, and catchphrases. Have them tape the videos, post them, and monitor reactions.
- Get to the point. Your audience should be able to figure out what your video is about from the first second. Remember, you have only about 15 seconds to engage and maintain the attention of your audience on TikTok.
- Avoid formal greetings and welcome. While they are important to the longer formats, TikTok is not the place for them.
- Use all media, whether audio, video, or text, to make your point. Nonverbal communication is extremely valuable in a video format that gives you only seconds to make an impression.
- Provide the opportunity for persons to connect with you outside of TikTok. TikTok is more for connecting with individuals, not the place for preaching a full sermon. Therefore, to complete the process of evangelism, you will need to create means to interact with your viewers outside of TikTok.
- Study successful videos reflecting your particular niche. They will show you ways to improve your own.
- Ensure that your gear your Bible-based content to minister to the felt needs of individuals or to answer questions that people are really asking. A good source for understanding the type of questions that people are asking about the Bible is a website called AnswerThePublic.10
Through careful study and preparation, TikTok can become an additional tool to present the gospel to those living in today’s fast-paced and often hectic world. It may be a great way to get some of your younger parishioners involved in mission work.11 And it may be the only way of reaching some people, especially those who would tune out traditional presentations of the gospel.
- Wikipedia, s.v. “TikTok,” last modified March 11, 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TikTok.
- Jennifer Wagner, “The Most Popular Social Networks of 2021,” Ignite Social Media, September 28, 2021, https://www.ignitesocialmedia.com/social-media-trends/the-most-popular-social-networks-of-2021/.
- Wikipedia, s.v. “TikTok,” last modified September 5, 2022, 16:39.
- John Herrman, “How TikTok Is Rewriting the World,” New York Times, March 10, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/10/style/what-is-tik-tok.html.
- Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, 20th Anniversary ed. (New York: Penguin Books, 2005), 64.
- Taylor Lorenz, "TikTok Is Cringey and That's Fine," Atlantic, October 25, 2018, quoted in Herrman, “Rewriting the World.”
- See Damian R. Chambers, The Online Bible Instructor: A Guide to Personal Evangelism in the Digital Age (Mandeville, Jamaica: self-pub., 2022).
- Michael Haenlein et al., “Navigating the New Era of Influencer Marketing: How to Be Successful on Instagram, TikTok, & Co.,” California Management Review 63, no. 1 (October 13, 2020): 7.
- Gustavo Menéndez, “ ‘TikTok Grandma’ Grows Bible Study Ministry to Nearly 30,000 Followers,” Adventist Review, January 31, 2022.
- AnswerThePublic, https://answerthepublic.com/.
- Paulo Ribeiro, “Young Woman Teaches the Bible to 45,000 Followers on TikTok,” News, Adventist Review, May 9, 2020.