Creator, editor, and social media manager of Humans of Adventism.
I saw stage lights, wisps of smoke-machine smoke, and dozens of featureless audience heads as I heard the question. “How can we find community after college?” came the host’s voice from the speakers.
I hadn’t planned on being on stage that evening. Like everyone else attending the young adult conference that weekend, I’d grabbed a ticket online and made travel plans to attend, hoping to be inspired by the leaders the conference was bringing in. I was humbled when I got the call to appear as a guest on a live podcast recording they were producing Sabbath evening. See, I’ve developed a reputation now. When I attend events like this, I never walk into a room where I don’t know anyone. The series of handshakes and hugs as I greeted several of my friends--some I was meeting face-to-face for the first time--earned me a reasonable amount of teasing. But it hasn’t always been this way. On paper, I should be the person who doesn't know anyone. I live in a country town in South Carolina, far from the vast majority of my Adventist peers. I didn’t join my friends at Andrews, Southern, or any of the big SDA college areas, but moved away with my wife shortly after high school. Yet, if there’s one thing that I am increasingly known for these days, it’s for my love of building community.
I started Humans of Adventism from a cell phone in a work truck. Though my physical community was small at the time, I began to grow more and more relationships through what I had: my cell phone. It turned out that I was able to do quite a lot with that, and what was then a page with less than 100 readers developed over the next year and a half into one with over 5,000. No corporate sponsorship, no office, no additional equipment.
We underestimate the power we hold in our online content. Used correctly, social media can be used to connect and mobilize an unbelievable amount of people, and the community created there drives real-world changes.
Take, for instance, the shirts we designed from the website Teespring. The design was simple: two words, “Adventist. Human.” People read our content, bought the shirts, and wore the message in their own contexts. In Orlando one friend of ours was wearing his in the mall. A woman and her son stopped him and asked if he was familiar with any Adventist churches in the area. The man was able to guide them. Here in Orangeburg my grandparents wear theirs around town. Recently they spoke with someone working at a local fast food place about Adventism, they had questions about some of the content they had seen online. I’ve been stopped numerous times by both Adventists and others to talk about my shirt.
Several months ago I met a young man who had taken a new job at our conference. Though he didn’t know anyone there, he recognized one of his coworkers from her story on Humans of Adventism. It gave them common ground to begin a friendship. Non-Adventist friends point to the HoA community as a positive example of Christianity, share our posts, and offer meaningful insight into their own thoughts on religion and God.
This, in my opinion, is church. The relationships we are building and things we are doing to spread the gospel together online are a digital manifestation of many of the qualities the early church had.
Humans of Adventism is one of numerous emerging ministries that are both sharing the information about God and building relationships with His people. We’re one of many reaching back to and supporting others who are just now starting ministries of their own. Personally, my online church community is what drives me to be involved in my local church.
Because I am not dependent on my local church to provide my sense of community, I can reframe how I go about being involved.
My local church has become my mission field--a cause I care deeply about, because the pressure for it to fill my spiritual and personal needs is largely alleviated by being involved online.
Because of the power social media can have, it’s crucial that we consider the effects our content will have on our audience. Both our negativity and our positivity grow exponentially as they are spread by our audience and friends online. When it comes to church, we can create a community of people that attack or a community of people that heal. I know which one I’d like to be part of.