Bringing the Gospel to TikTok

Family filming tiktok video

Ryan Hemelaar, Southeast Queensland leader of Operation 513, is no stranger to adversity. When the pandemic hit, the organisation’s street preaching tactics were suddenly out of the question. But they quickly pivoted, and just a few months later, the Gospel is a massive hit on TikTok.

Talking to Neil Johnson on Vision’s 20Twenty, Hemelaar explained how he’s been arrested multiple times for preaching in the Queen Street Maul after it was outlawed by the Brisbane City Council. Operation 513 pushed back against the Council’s attack on free speech, taking their challenge all the way to the High Court.

“Ultimately the High Court didn’t actually rule in our favour in that regard,” Hemelaar said. “But what I found is it meant the Gospel spread out further. So not only did it bring in more labourers to help share the Gospel for their teams, but it also enabled us to move location slightly as well.”

To their surprise, they found that operating in King George Square and surrounding areas, they reached more people, and often had longer conversations with those who were sitting down. “God works everything for His good, and for his glory. And so even when people try and oppose the Gospel, it usually makes the Gospel spread out further.”

When COVID-19 presented them a new challenge, Hemelaar and the leadership team at Operation 513 simply started thinking about how God wanted them to use this moment. The streets were empty, but cyberspace was full of people looking for answers. So they took their evangelism online.

Ryaan Hemelaar
Ryaan Hemelaar

They started by having conversations with people who were interested. “These people are listening. They’re ready to hear and talk about this stuff, and most of them have no idea about the things of God, because they just haven’t been taught. Maybe they even have Christian backgrounds, but they just don’t know the Gospel.

Soon they started live streaming these conversations, to encourage others with the way God is moving through this tough time. Now they’re producing video content seven days a week, keeping so busy that Ryan struggled to fit our interview into his schedule. But one of the most innovative aspects of their work is their use of TikTok. Controversial as it has been due to issues around privacy and safety, this is where young, unchurched people are right now.

As part of their process of experimentation they put up a post, expressing the Gospel message. “We were surprised. After the first hour, there was over a thousand people who had seen it. Next hour, it had gone up to like 3 thousand, 10 thousand. We’re like what’s happening here? We were just shocked. And now over 200 thousand people have seen that first video.”

Each TikTok video is now averaging 700 thousand views, and they’re posting two every day. In the comments, people are amazed that, even if they’re familiar with Christianity, they haven’t heard the message before. “Someone asks us a question, and we’ll give a Biblical response to it. And these are the videos in particular that have really exploded. And we make sure to include the Gospel in every single video.”

One of TikTok’s limitations is also one of its strengths. Each video can only be one minute long. This is a reminder to all of us that you don’t have to be a theological expert to be an evangelist. In one minute, you can change someone’s life, with the short, simple news they’ve been waiting to hear. Hemelaar puts it this way:
“God exists. We’re going to stand before Him one day and be judged based on how we’ve lived. And God’s law shows knowledge of sin, makes us realise that we’re a sinner, and therefore, we deserve hell for our sin. But that’s why Jesus came. He took that punishment that we deserve, on that cross, rising back to life three days later.

And that offer of forgiveness is actually available to anyone who would believe in Christ, trust in His sacrifice for their forgiveness. And once someone believes, that will result in a life change, a transformed way of living. Because they’re grateful for what He’s done for them.”

Feeling inspired? Listen to Ryan Hemelaar’s conversation with Neil Johnson on Vision’s 20Twenty to find out how you can become an online evangelist. Check out the group’s website at operation513.com to get involved. Or if you’re on TikTok, take a look at their channel.

Tune into 20Twenty and join the conversation with Neil Johnson, weekdays on Vision Christian Radio. Click here for your local times.

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Images via Shutterstock and Operation 513.

 

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