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Stop Trying To Go Viral

October 4th, 2023 | 4 min. read

By Ian Harber


For many people in the digital media space, the biggest win is having a piece of viral content. But going viral is not the goal — and if you are trying to go viral or are pressuring someone on your team to “make us go viral,” you might be missing the point. Our friend Michael Whittle shared this screenshot from a Christian influencer that captures this:


First, I probably need to write another newsletter about what “viral” even is because, while these numbers look nice, and it’s neat that they gained 1,000 new followers, I would argue this isn’t going viral.

Second, this just simply isn’t the goal of digital ministry. The goal of digital ministry—I’d argue ministry in general—isn’t growth for the sake of growth; it’s transformation. We should be seeking the spiritual transformation and well-being of the person on the other side of the screen more than we’re seeking to have big numbers on our analytics dashboard. Numbers are good insofar as they show us that we’re actually on to something. Steady growth is a good thing. We don’t want to be shouting into the void. But growth for the sake of growth isn’t ministry; it’s mere platform-building. Being a viral sensation isn’t the goal. Long-term transformation is.

A Case Study

Here’s a case study: BibleProject. The organization released its first video nearly ten years ago, back in 2014. In that decade, can you name one piece of content BibleProject has produced that has gone viral? Personally, I can’t think of one. I’ve never seen anything they’ve produced be endlessly shared, racking up a disproportionate number of views in a short period of time. Their 2022 annual report shows that nearly 165 million people engaged with something that they put out last year, but that impressive number still seems small compared to the random videos that pop off every day on TikTok.

But here’s the thing: despite BibleProject’s apparent failure to be a viral hit, the odds are that you had heard of them before you read this newsletter and have probably watched one of their videos or listened to their podcast. They have so many supporters that they’ve started developing free seminary-level online courses. So clearly, they’re a success, but not because they shoot for virality. As their CEO, Steve Atkinson, wrote in the organization’s annual report, “We’re committed to our mission to help people experience the Bible as a unified story that leads to Jesus.” Not a number in sight — their eyes are locked on a transformative goal. They want to help people. I’m sure they have benchmarks they pay attention to internally to know if what they’re doing is working. But their success hasn’t been from viral hit after viral hit (they published just three English videos last year). It’s come through the steady drip of content, year after year for a decade, focusing on their audience’s transformation.

Which brings me to the drip vs. the flash.

The Flash

Viral content is like a flash. It’s bright, it’s attention-grabbing, and it’s genuinely helpful for finding a wider audience. But it’s also here for a moment and gone the next. In fact, almost all content on the internet is here for a moment and gone the next. And that’s the point.

Being able to find that wider audience is why viral content isn’t bad. It’s good to be able to reach people with your message. Viral pieces of content can be helpful for drawing people to your newsletter, channel, website, or profile where you have other content that is designed to take people deeper.

There’s a big difference between viral content being helpful and it being the key indicator of success. Remember Kony 2012? Hyper-viral, helpful for brand awareness, but the organization and the co-founder couldn’t hold the weight of the attention and it collapsed. They aimed for the wrong thing. 

The truth is that very rarely is someone’s life ever transformed by a flashy moment or piece of content. You could argue that Paul’s was, and certainly some people have powerful moments as part of their stories that changed their life. But more often than not, transformation doesn’t happen in a singular moment, but in a steady drip over time.

The Drip

This is why we need to think about our content strategy more as a drip than a flash. We shouldn’t expect that a single piece of content is going to change someone’s life forever, but that the slow and steady immersion in content has the ability to reshape someone’s imagination and transform their life almost unnoticeably.

This is much more akin to why BibleProject has been so successful. Between their videos, podcasts, articles, and Classroom, you can immerse yourself in their content until it begins to affect your thinking and imagination about what it means to read the Bible and be a Christian. That’s part of my testimony. And I personally know others who have had their faith positively transformed by immersing themselves in BibleProject’s content for an extended season of their life. I’m sure you do too. I’ve also seen people lose their faith by immersing themselves in particular content for years (mine included, for a season and, again, I’m sure you know someone who has too).

That’s also part of the reason why, when I wanted to compile resources for people who are deconstructing to help them reconstruct their faith, I didn’t recommend one or two podcasts, but curated a Spotify playlist with almost 200 podcasts. Because one podcast isn’t going to transform someone’s life the way being immersed in a world will. It’s the exact same thing that used to make universities formative institutions. It was more than the classes you took; you moved in and lived there and immersed yourself in the university’s world. It’s also why universities are now struggling to be formative institutions in our digital age, because social media is so much more immersive than universities. Instead of moving in, you take social media with you. Instead of willingly giving it your attention for a hefty (read: crippling) price tag with high expectations, it steals your attention for free and expects nothing of you. That’s the reality we’re up against.

There’s a place for viral content, but it shouldn’t be your goal. Transformation comes from slow drips over time, drop by drop. As Christian content creators and churches, we’re not trying to steal people’s attention with no expectations; we’re trying to transform people’s imagination so they are immersed in God’s love and their lives look more like Christ’s. Viral content can’t do that. But a steady, faithful drip of the good, true, and beautiful over the course of time might just help.

Ian Harber

Ian is a marketing manager at Endeavor and is a digital marketing practitioner with 10 years of experience. He has written about faith and technology, deconstruction and reconstruction for The Gospel Coalition and Mere Orthodoxy as well as appearing on podcasts such as Reconstructing Faith, The Alisa Childers Podcast, Love Thy Neighborhood, The Living Room Disciple, Everything Just Changed, and more. Additionally, Ian has contributed to the book, Before You Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing Doubt in the Church (TGC, 2021) and is the author of an upcoming a forthcoming book about deconstruction with InterVarsity Press (2024). Ian lives in Denton, Texas with his wife, Katie, and son, Ezra and is a member at The Village Church Denton.

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