At the start of this year, I was brought on as Ministry Development Leader at Innerfire. One of my first projects was preparing the Haiti Missionaries episode of our podcast for release. We were blessed with the opportunity to speak to some of the Mennonite missionaries who were held hostage in Haiti shortly after their escape from captivity (video link). It was a national news story, and we struck while the iron was hot. The episode boomed, far exceeding the reach of any content we had released at that point. We gained tens of thousands of views and hundreds of subscribers from that one video. This went on for a few months. Then one day, the gravy train came to a screeching halt. Seeing our growth slow down was hard for me as Ministry Development Leader, especially having enjoyed an exponential upward curve since my arrival. I anxiously scrambled to optimize our content, and then optimize it further, and then optimize it some more. I pored over our stats, got educated on keywords, and researched new gear, all in the name of getting the numbers up. But along that journey of endless optimization, I had a few moments of clarity.
Our mission is to inspire Christians to live the Word. We believe that a huge obstacle to that is overstimulation and distraction. These days, we consume huge amounts of data every day through platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube. Our use of these platforms rarely draws us closer to God, quite the contrary. It wastes our time, clutters our minds, distracts us from the things of God, and robs us of our joy, peace, and self-control (to name a few). It addicts us to mental stimulation, which makes simple, life-giving things like reading your Bible, praying, or just sitting quietly before God very difficult. At worst, these platforms are a breeding ground for the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life in our hearts. Despite the negative impact our usage of these platforms often has, we are very attached to it. Why is this?
There is a vicious competition for attention on the internet. Everyone wants you to click on their content and consume it for as long as possible. Why? Because it generates ad revenue. Your attention is their money. So, content creators have mastered the art of getting your attention (and keeping it). The platforms are happy to help the creators if it means keeping you on the platform longer (again, more ad revenue). They hijack your psychology to make you think you value something you really do not value at all. They can get you to buy something you do not need, maybe even something ultimately harmful to you (the currency being your time).
Secular creators are not the only culprits. There are plenty of Christian creators that use the same tactics. Perhaps they are unaware of the effect those tactics have, or perhaps they believe their content is so good and edifying that it justifies a little clickbait. That is the seeker-friendly model–attract people with the desires of the flesh, then share Jesus with them. The problem with that approach is it bears the underlying implication that Jesus alone is not as desirable as worldly things. It is the wrong message to be sending.
When Innerfire relaunched in 2020, we wanted the same thing all content creators want: views and subscribers on YouTube, likes and followers on Facebook and Instagram, engagements and subscribers on our mailing list, and so on. We had good intentions. We wanted to reach a lot of people so we could positively impact a lot of lives. So, we set out to learn how to do it. But we made the world our teacher. They said that we should lure people in with engaging titles, emotionally evocative and colorful thumbnails, and introductions that put them on the hook for the rest of the video. Eventually we realized, if we did not hit the brakes, we would become part of the problem, not the solution.
I shudder to think of someone missing their morning devotion because they got sucked into some of our content and lost track of time. To think of someone lying in bed at 2AM watching one of our videos instead of sleeping because that title and thumbnail looked too good to pass up. To think of watering down God’s Word to make it accessible to a broader range of people.
At this point, you may say, “If you think these platforms are so harmful, why are you even on them?” The truth is, we are here because you are here, and we want to help you. We believe the things we offer can help you live out your faith, have a more meaningful life, and store up treasures in heaven. So, what are we going to do? We want to produce excellent material with good titles, thumbnails, and descriptions—all of which reflect our content accurately. But there are some lines we refuse to cross. We do not expect others to do the same, and we recognize that our channel may fall behind as a result. That is a price we are willing to pay if it means we are helping and not hurting our brothers and sisters in Christ.
As of the writing of this article, we have about 700 subscribers on YouTube and about 450 followers on Facebook. On the internet, that is nothing. But what about in the real world? If only ten percent of those people regularly interact with our material, we have a following about the size of the median American church’s Sunday attendance (stat). We can be content with that. The Lord may choose to grow our audience, He may choose to dwindle it. That is in His hands. All we are going to do is what we believe He has called us to do, and that is inspire you to live out the Word.
So, Innerfire Ministries may never be “successful” by the world’s standards, but we hope and pray that it will always have integrity.