Updated: Mar 14, 2020
On February 11, 2019, I was attacked by a pit bull while ministering to the homeless in the drug-infested streets of San Francisco. It was a nightmare of a day filled with shock, pain, tears, and a visit to the police station. By the time I stumbled home, I was a wreck and wanted to forget the whole thing ever happened. But to my surprise (and irritation), I began to realize that God wanted me to write about it. Reluctantly, I pulled out my phone, opened Facebook, and began to write. See my pit bull post here.
The story sparked discussion and even hope. I pray that it gave a glimpse of Jesus to those who may not know Him and even to those who do. An atheist messaged me privately to say that my post made her wish she believed in something. And a Christian commented:
"Your determination to focus on obedience, faith, and love is just what I need to emulate today."
Content marketing for Jesus
Because I shared about this traumatic event, God used it for His glory. My mission, I realized, was not just about one-on-one faith conversations, but it was also about using the various communication tools that God had provided. I had recently learned about "content marketing" at work: In contrast to outbound marketing (like pushy commercials or flyers), content marketing creates a "draw," compelling readers to learn more about a particular topic. From Dictionary.com:
con·tent mar·ket·ing noun the creation and sharing of online material (such as videos, blogs, and social media posts) that does not explicitly promote a brand but is intended to stimulate interest in its products or services.
Jesus is not a product or service, of course, but He is certainly someone we want to stimulate interest in. I turned to the Bible for confirmation.
What the Bible says about communication
The New Testament abounds in calls to speak, proclaim, preach, shine, and present the good news of Jesus. Jesus followers may not have had Facebook in 60 AD, but they seemed to make use of every forum available to them to share His story.
"What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the rooftops." (Matthew 10:27)
"Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season." (2 Timothy 4:2)
"In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:15–16).
"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15).
But I'm not a writer
But what if you're not a professional writer, public speaker, or graphic designer? Putting yourself out there can be scary. What if it backfires? What if your attempt to shine His light sounds braggy? Or boring? Or offensive? Or cringy? What if, instead of drawing people to Jesus, you actually repel them from Him? The risk of it all may send you running for a bushel to hide under.
The good news is that God doesn't expect perfection. What He wants, I believe, is a baby step: a sincere attempt to glorify Him from an open and humble heart. Whether you're creating a social media post, writing an article, or giving a presentation, I encourage you to step into the arena of "content marketing for Jesus." There is no greater advertisement than a well-crafted story about Jesus in our lives. And no better way to reach a large audience than by sharing online.
Tips for creating compelling content
Think of content creation like painting. You pick a scene, bring the details to life, and then hang it somewhere for others to see. This should feel scary if you're not used to it. But know that God is with you. He will bless your steps of faith.
Let's grab a paintbrush and begin...
1. PICK A SCENE: Choosing the story
Notice surprise moments: At the end of the day, ask yourself: Was I surprised at any point today? Ask God to highlight particular moments. Look through your calendar and remember any touching or challenging incidents. Short encounters often make better stories than long ones. See this example of a 30-second encounter on an airplane: "How to Build Trust in 30 seconds" or this conversation on my walk into work.
Log what happened Draft what happened step-by-step in a journal. No need to finesse anything at this stage.
2. PICK A CANVAS: Clarifying the main point
Identify your audience: Are you trying to reach colleagues? Friends? Other Christians? Skeptics? Think of a specific person (also known as a persona) that represents the audience you are trying to reach. Imagine that person as you write.
Identify a platform: I recommend starting with a small post on Facebook as a testing ground. LinkedIn is great for business- or diversity-related stories; Facebook for personal stories; Medium or Wix for blogs; Instagram for graphics; and Twitter, for promoting content hosted on other platforms. I often post the main story on a single platform and then use other platforms to point to that content.
Identify your goal: Your overall goal is always to stimulate interest in Jesus. But your more detailed goal may be to encourage, challenge, or equip your audience. Ask yourself: how do you hope people will feel after reading or hearing your content? What do you hope they will do? For this post, I hope people feel convicted to begin telling their stories and equipped to take a first step. Be careful that your covert goal is not to celebrate yourself. Be humble and vulnerable. The hero of your story is always Jesus.
Identify the problem: The most successful content addresses a specific problem and takes the main character on a learning journey. The "problem" might be your fear of outing yourself as a Christian, or it may be an interpersonal struggle, or perhaps you have made a mistake at work. The main character should learn a lesson that is applicable to the reader. In "How to Build Trust in 30 Seconds," I was initially annoyed at the flight delay but ended up learning an important lesson about communication that my readers could immediately apply to their own communication.
3. PAINT IT: Fleshing out your characters and setting
Paint the scene: Add 1-3 sensory details about the setting. What did you see and hear in that moment? Your audience desperately wants to see what you see. Make it easy for them. Example: "In a small conference room across the street from Salesforce's looming San Francisco Tower, a Sri Lankan employee sat next to me, off-camera, crying. Another employee sat across from me, head bowed and hands clasped in prayer."
Develop and disguise your characters: Bring characters to life using sensory details. Example: "A homeless man bent thick wire into intricate tree sculptures, his hands dark gray from the metal." For confidentiality, it's okay to disguise your characters by changing their genders or descriptive details. In the post, I refer to the homeless man as "Scott," which is not his real name. Unless the person wants to be identified and you've gotten their permission, this is the appropriate thing to do. The point is to convey the heart of the story, not to robotically report what happened. You can and should take creative license when needed, especially for confidentiality.
Keep it short: 400 words is a good length for a social media post. 700 for a blog post.
4. ADD HIGHLIGHTS: Making it Interesting
Add tension: Tension is the key to a good story. Bring your reader to the edge of their seat by describing the angst of your characters. Example: "After what felt like an unusual amount of time taxiing, I noticed several passengers looking around anxiously. What was taking so long? Why hadn't we taken off? Was there a problem? Just then, the intercom buzzed on." Other examples: "I drummed my fingers on the table." "He paced back and forth quickly." "My heart raced." "I wondered: What would she say next?" "Could this really happen?" "He took a deep breath, looked me in the eye, and said..."
Drop the Christianese: Words like "salvation," "lost," "believer," and "sanctification" are unnecessary barriers between you and the majority of your readers. Talk like you would talk to someone in a coffee shop. Avoid the "cringe factor."
Clarify the lesson: Hopefully, you have “shown” your lesson through the story details, but it doesn't hurt to also spell it out. When reading a blog post or hearing a talk, your audience won't want to work too hard to understand the point. Tell the story as well as you can, and then interpret it for them. Example: "May Nelsonnea's story inspire you in some small way today. And may we never forget his simple reminder: In the midst of life's smudges, 'there is so much to be happy about.'"
Add a call to action: Add a single call to action after your story so people know what to do next. Example: "The next time someone is rude to you, calm yourself and immediately name the behavior you witnessed. Wait for them to respond." You can also ask them to read something else or even answer a question, like "Comment below: What stands out to you?"
5. FRAME IT: Adding the finishing touches
Find a catchphrase or unifying metaphor. Example: "Are you standing in the center of your purpose?" was a repeated line in this presentation, and a "tipping point" was the metaphor in this keynote talk.
Add a headline or catchy first line: Example: “'Can I draw you?' asked Nelsonnea" or even the first of this post: "On February 11, 2019, I was attacked by a pit bull."
Add an image: Posts with pictures perform vastly better than those without. My favorite stock photo sites are Pexels, Unsplash, and Canva (all free). Pictures of faces perform best, such as the image above from the blog post: "How to Handle Conflict in 30 Seconds."
6. HANG IT: Delivering your message
Share it: Post your story publicly in a channel that makes sense, like Facebook, Medium, or LinkedIn (if there is a business context). This will and should feel scary. Is God behind this? Then step confidently forward. He's got this.
Prepare for crickets: Guess what? You might get no response. That's okay. God will STILL bless it. Maybe He wanted you to write it so you'll remember it in the future. Maybe it planted a seed, but others aren't ready to "like" it publicly. 80% of my writing gets crickets. Only 20% "lands" just right and takes root. Know that that's a great track record when it comes to content marketing. And I always learn and improve. God doesn't expect perfection. Get it out there, pray about it, and let it go.
My top three tips
Use sensory details.
Add a problem and tension.
Be humble and vulnerable (never be the hero of your own story).
God has given us powerful communication tools to share His message.
What blessings await if we take baby steps to use them.
Call to Action: Identify a powerful moment that illustrates Jesus in your life. Write it down, hone it, and share it publicly.
About Sue Warnke
Sue is the Senior Director of Content & Communications Experience at Salesforce and the President of Faithforce San Francisco, Salesforce's interfaith Employee Resource Group, and Christians at Salesforce. This post is adapted from Play #17 ("Learn to Tell Stories") in “Being a Christian in the Real World: A Playbook.”