Learning from BuzzFeed
You can’t logon to Facebook today without seeing something from Buzzfeed. Be it a list of celebrities who have a doppelganger (who is also a celebrity) or a “which color of unicorn is your favorite movie’s best friend?” type of quiz result, you see links pointing back to Buzzfeed. Every day. Every hour, I’d wager. People love this website, and they are willing to point people toward it all hours of the day and night. What can the Church learn from Buzzfeed?
Buzzfeed may be best known for its ubiquitous quizzes. People love the interactive, colorfully-cubed quizzes that deliver a bite-sized assessment of their personality and personhood. They’re more than fun results, however. Essentially, these quizzes allow us to tell the world how valuable we are. Through the guise of a silly quiz result, we really do find a measure of value in knowing that some secret personality trait or thing we admire actually can be used to identify ourselves. And because it’s a quiz result, we get to broadcast it proudly without being viewed as arrogant. “Hey guys! I’m a genius! I don’t think so, of course, but this quiz says so, and I’m playfully posting it so…validation!” Maybe at times, it is just mindless fun, but the reality of the draw of these quizzes is the need for validation. The need for identification. The need to be understood, accepted, and praised for who we are.
You should be seeing some overlap with the mission of Christ here. Of course, He was attractive to the masses, those shunned by religion, because He came to them—speaking their language, and saying, “I see you. All of you, to the core. And I love you unconditionally.”
When I put these two observations side by side, I see an opportunity for the Church. We need to take a lesson from Jesus and from Buzzfeed and start speaking the language of the people we are trying to reach. People want to know more about themselves, but they want to do it on their own, through engaging and probably technological means. People want to read stories, watch gifs, look at pictures. These articles they read on Buzzfeed and similar sites aren’t five-second reads, by the way. They are often in list form, but the lists are long; “21 People Who ____________” (fill in the blank!). That’s around 1,000 words per article. The Church loves to bemoan the fact that we’ve lost our collective attention span—that nobody reads anymore. But clearly that isn’t true. I guarantee you, if you present your well-written message in an engaging, interactive format, you’ll have an audience. The numbers don’t lie.
Buzzfeed is more than quizzes, just like following Christ is more than being accepted. (Bear with me). The other content on Buzzfeed is a digital smorgasbord of nostalgia, celebrity gossip, write-ups on personality stereotypes, and shocking/hilarious videos and photos. Anything that will grab your attention and keep you hungry for more. Feeling tired of being responsible? Look at all of these commercials from the ‘90s! Remember the freedom of youth! Feeling sad or anxious about life circumstances? Look at these celebrities! Live vicariously!
I may be painting the material on Buzzfeed in a snarky light. But at the heart of it, they are doing a fantastic job at recognizing people’s emotional states of being and the accompanying needs. They are acknowledging that no matter what stage of life you’re in, no matter your social class or how many letters are after your name, there are times when you’re going to be sad, lonely, bored, or frustrated. And they are offering you a haven—albeit a temporary one. It’s successful not because it’s the truth or because it offers healing; Buzzfeed doesn’t do that (and as far as I know would never claim to). It’s successful because it’s a quick and easy fix tailored to these very real needs—even if it’s temporary.
Historically, the Church has done a great job at recognizing where people are. Stages of dissatisfaction, sadness, confusion, etc. are timeless. The Church has always known and proclaimed Jesus as the answer to life’s troubles. But is the Church getting deep enough? Is the Church, like Buzzfeed, offering a smorgasbord of ways to connect with Christ and community? Do we have a variety of ways for our members to express and address their emotional needs? If we did, we could offer something Buzzfeed doesn’t: healing. We are uniquely positioned to offer a message of eternal hope, and if we create the opportunities to live that out—serving our communities, restoring beauty to what’s been broken, breaking bread, laughing, crying, connecting—through Christ, we can fulfill and heal the needs that so consistently push us to seek refuge.
In the past, people followed Jesus around, pointing at Him as their validation, their source of good news, their joy. What are people pointing at today? The same thing, in a degree; people share what validates them, what news they want to broadcast, and what makes them laugh. It’s about connection and identity. For the Church to present the Truth to the world is not revolutionary. But for them to take a lesson from the culture and present it in a language and method that is understood may be.