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Megabytes and Magnifying Messiah


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By Arielle Rothbard

As he routinely sorted through his e-mails last December, Jews for Jesus missionary Aaron Trank had a spark of inspiration when an e-mail from Zac, a young, Jewish guy, popped up.

As our Jews for Jesus minister-at-large, Trank oversees a team whose job is to address those Jewish individuals (not near any of our missionary branches) who contact us and are interested in knowing more. Zac was genuinely questioning Jesus’ messianic claims. This time, rather than sticking to a written response, Trank decided to go online and record a casual but personal video, which he then sent Zac as a link, welcoming him to watch.

Although titled, “A Message for Zac,” the video was public. Over 70 views allowed gospel interactions for multiple video watchers. Trank created a non-traditional, broadcast-able response, which then became a good tool from which believers could learn and share, and unsaved Jewish viewers could be educated and challenged.

Trank explained, “We want to bring a more contextualized response within social media to those individuals asking questions.” In other words, rather than e-mailing a “Frequently Asked Questions” page off our website — or even tweeting the link out and mentioning the questioner — we prefer to personalize a sharable, searchable response.

As a ministry, we value risk and innovation, particularly in new media, to better reach our Jewish people. I split tasks, brainstorm, and toss around ideas with our communications director, Susan Perlman, to help ensure Jews for Jesus remains progressive in online outreach. She’s been around since day one and still hasn’t lost the fire in spreading the message of Messiah. Says Meghan Jimenez, our front-end Web developer: “We strive to be on the forefront when it comes to reaching out to Jews with the gospel through technology.”

Technology is only starting to quench our thirst. We want to do everything in our power online and electronically to make the “messiahship” of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide. This is our mission. I’m blessed to be able to propel it further with the push of a button or the swipe of a finger.

Social media is a large component of the work of our multi-media department and full-time missionaries. The two functions of social media — raising an image and building an audience — fit well with our goals to make Jews aware of Jesus and to build a caseload. Our goal in social media is to make something “remarkable” worth dialoguing over. (As Seth Godin noted in his February 2003 TED talk “How to Get Your Ideas to Spread,” remarkable is defined as something that is worthy of making a remark — such as a purple cow in a field of regular cows.) Thankfully Jews believing in Jesus usually fit this bill.

Our Jews for Jesus Facebook page has more than 330,000 fans and is growing. These fans, in turn, help share articles, videos, and updates that we post on a regular basis. Most often, we post branded Scripture verses that in turn build our fan base. Our hope is that many of the Jewish friends and family of our Facebook fans will see these Scriptures and other ministry-specific content and be moved to respond to those posts.

On an individual level, we also encourage our missionaries to be “out there” in social media land. We want them to have a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and others. Even Pinterest can be a vehicle to creatively share the gospel. Dan Tasman, one of our missionaries-in-training in New York City, “pinned” one of our evangelistic postcards we handed out en masse over the summer. There’s no end to the possibilities of broadcasting Jesus in social media. I’m always enthused to think that I (and strangers who see me) can Insta-gram the literature I hand out in the street while wearing a clearly labeled “Jews for Jesus” T-shirt.

Some might be wary of encouraging so much individualized use of social media for ministry. However, Adam and Christine Jeske said in a May 14, 2013, Relevant magazine article that, “Social media, in fact, reveals our character. If I think too highly of myself, lack self-control, or lack integrity, these will be visible in my Facebook posts.” Transparency and authenticity is a key on any mission field. To this aim, blogging and tweeting and posting and pinning can be a missionary’s best friend.

We want to talk to people where they are and in the way they want to interact with us, but ultimately our aim is to have face-to-face conversations, taking relationships offline. Our best interactions happen where the seeker connects with God and a thriving community through the help of a missionary — often, at first, in a coffee shop. Cyber friends are not enough. “High tech to high touch,” says Perlman. “That’s what we want.”

Our wish list for the future includes the ability to give every missionary a tablet computer to increase their ease in sharing our evangelistic tools online with seekers that we meet. Additionally, while all the functions of a Jews for Jesus missionary can theoretically be done on a mobile device, we have yet to see the majority of our staff embrace such a radical shift in engaging and following up with those Jewish seekers to whom they minister. We would like to have all our publications available for free through the iTunes app store and continue pursuing e-communications, particularly in additional languages.

Presently we are blessed with exceedingly full hands.

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Arielle Rothbard is the cross-platform communications specialist at Jews for Jesus headquarters in San Francisco, CA. She is a second-generation Jewish believer in Jesus, from New York City. This post is an excerpt from the 2013 Winter edition of Outcomes Magazine.

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