Creator of The Bible Facebook page quits social media
The death of his son – and growing disconnection – sent Mark Brown offline
The man who created The Bible Facebook page has walked away from social media after more than a decade, following growing discontent over the ways it was impacting his relationship with God.
“I had become disconnected in the immediate community.”
“I started to answer the fundamental question: ‘is this taking me away from God or drawing me near?’ And I realised that actually it was taking me away from God; that I was starting to not be present with the people around me, and I could see it affected the way I expected things to happen in my life, that it had to be instant,” Mark Brown tells Eternity over the phone from his home in Houston, Texas.
“I had become disconnected in the immediate community.”
He hasn’t always felt like this.
Brown created The Bible Facebook page (now the Digital Bible page) while serving as CEO of Bible Society New Zealand from 2008 to 2010.
Suspecting that not many people were reading the Bible regularly, he began to research Bible engagement and Bible reading statistics which confirmed his suspicions.
“This was a new problem that needed a new answer; the old answers weren’t working.” – Mark Brown
At first he thought if he could get an individual Christian to read the Bible and fall in love with it. He hoped they would realise the word of God is transformative in their heart, which can also lead to changes in their family and, then, their community.
But it didn’t work. Brown says, “I’d chatted to the leaders, they were all giving me lip service. I spoke to big congregations, at conferences, I did all the usual stuff but this was a new problem that needed a new answer; the old answers weren’t working.”
So he took a sabbatical week and began thinking about Bible engagement in a digital world. And that’s when he started to get a sense of social media being a useful tool.
“Back then there was about a million or so people on Facebook,” says Brown. “It was tiny, not everyone was talking about it, and no one I knew was on it.”
Inspired by a book called What Would Google Do? By Jeff Jarvis, Brown thought, “I cannot have a product – and this is so antithetical to the Bible Society, like you know, we’ve got a new translation, and a new gimmicky campaign; we’re product obsessed. As CEO of Bible Society New Zealand I said ‘No, actually that’s wrong, it’s not working, what we need is not another Bible translation for today’s generation, what we need is to actually create a following. And then out of that community, we understand what their needs are and then, further down the chain, we create products – if that’s what is needed.’”
With no budget for television, Brown started experimenting with social media. In his words, “I really started experimenting … I created, I did lots of things that didn’t work, it was embarrassingly bad.”
But then he created The Bible page. The first post on the page was John 3:16. A few months later, Brown posted that his goal was that The Bible Facebook page would have one million followers.
“That took 18 months. And then the second million was a year. And it just took off. It wasn’t just that there were millions of people following it; at its peak we had half a billion engagements. It wasn’t just that there were lots of people following it – they were sharing it.”
“I just love it when you can do great things for God and it doesn’t cost the world.” – Mark Brown
When Brown left the Bible Society of New Zealand, the page was handed over to the United Bible Societies and is now followed by nearly 11 million people.
In the intervening years, Brown has served as President of Scripture Union USA, as well as founded a company that helped Christian ministries leverage social media platforms to connect with the world.
“It’s extraordinary that you can reach so many people with so little money in such a short amount of time. I just love it when you can do great things for God and it doesn’t cost the world.”
“The other thing [that brought me joy] was seeing people come alive in the word of God, seeing this as a way of being fed, being guided, being instructed, deepening their relationship, and transforming their lives. I saw it endlessly and countlessly; it was just a wonderful stream of beautiful experiences.”
In announcing his decision to quit social media, Brown wrote, “I love how God has used me through social media, I have found instruction, encouragement and much joy. I have also been stunned by how rude people can be, how easily misled we often are, and how myopic and entrenched we have become. But this isn’t why I am finishing social media, the time has come to focus on those around me, to step away from the world of clever quotes and funny memes, towards real, hands-on service, advocacy, teaching and care.”
“I did CPR on him, and it kept his heart going but his lungs were full of water …” – Mark Brown
While he says the discontent he was feeling had been growing for some time, the drowning death of his three-year-old son Judah contributed to the decision to finally quit social media.
On that day in September 2016, Mark and his family were at a BBQ with some friends when Judah was pulled from the pool, not breathing.
“I did CPR on him, and it kept his heart going but his lungs were full of water, and then I tired and went into shock and my friend continued CPR. About nine minutes later the first responders turned up and they rushed in with sirens, rushed in and started working on Judah,” Mark recalls.
“And my wife is screaming, she’s just completely losing it. My children are screaming; there’s just chaos and bedlam and then they took him – I guess they worked on him for about five or so minutes – and they took him out of the apartment complex and had him in the back of the ambulance and they were working on him.
“I had a police officer approach me, wanting a quick statement. I remember that. And then I just remember thinking, I gotta get prayer. I gotta get the saints praying here. And so I pulled my phone out and standing behind the ambulance watching them around his little body I put something like, ‘Judah has just drowned, please pray.’”
For the next two days Mark and his wife Christi lived at the hospital, posting photos and giving updates on Judah’s condition to their community.
After a couple of days, Judah died.
“I’m sure there were people who found it tasteless and others that thought it was too much. And I’m okay with that. I’m comfortable. I did it because I had built a large community and I needed all the prayer I could get. That was the motivation,” Brown tells Eternity.
But Judah’s death sparked a journey of understanding about how best to relate to people, and Brown is convinced that for him, “I am in a new stage of life, where I am going to focus on immediate relationships, people I can talk to in person, call on the phone or write a personal note to.”
“I am going to focus on serving and leading in the local and the immediate context.
“There is that sense of wanting to be more present with my children, with the people that I love, and with the people I minister to and with.”