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Insert Emoji Here

Earlier this month, Sony Pictures released The Emoji Movie.

Emoji, the successors to emoticons, were invented in Japan in the late 1990s. Their popularity rose along with the widespread use of social media and smartphones. They’re the ideal tool for a generation who want their communications to be as rapid as possible, whilst maintaining personality – an emoji speaks a thousand words. They’re a powerful way of interacting too; studies have found that people react to emoji and emoticons depicting faces in the same way that they do to real human faces.

Such is the emoji’s cultural dominance that the Oxford English Dictionary controversially selected ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ as its Word of the Year for 2015. Their statement said: ‘emoji have come to embody a core aspect of living in a digital world that is visually driven, emotionally expressive, and obsessively immediate.’ And now they even have their own film.

Many Christians have adopted the use of emoji, commandeering the ‘folded hands’ to mean ‘prayer’, and the ‘celebration hands’ to mean ‘praise the lord’. Sending an emoji is a speedy way to empathise with someone and tell them you’re praying for them or thanking the Lord on their behalf. Using one of the popular heart icons is a quick way to express your love. As responses, they offer an easy and effective way to ‘rejoice with those who rejoice’ and ‘mourn with those who mourn’ (Romans 12:15). In these moments, emoji are a fantastic tool to help us communicate.

But sometimes they’re a little too easy. The ease and immediacy of sending a quick emoji can sometimes lead us to forget that we are to be genuine in our love (Romans 12:9) and faithful in our prayers (12:12). We can be drawn in by the immediacy of the communication offered by emoji and forget that some emotions require more than two taps of our finger to express.

Sometimes to love is not easy, to rejoice is not easy, to pray is not easy. Some emotions are simply too complex to convey in a single image. In those moments, let’s take the time to step outside of the digital world to share our emotions. Where and when we can, let’s show our real human faces to each other, and share our joys and sorrows using words – thousands if necessary.


Rachel Helen Smith
Rachel works in marketing and attends Kings Church, Durham


  1. ??

    By Chris  -  18 Aug 2017
  2. I am so thankful for this article which reminds me to remind myself that what I have first expressed with an emoji needs follow up, face to face encounter and, if necessary, ‘a thousand words’..

    By Annie Wintour  -  18 Aug 2017
  3. Rachel: A provoking article, thank you! Real emotions demand something from me. The use of an emoji can be a way of avoiding or a way of sharing that intense response: it is up to me which it is. Hoping that real community will not be obliterated by electronic communication any time soon but not certain that all the signs are that positive and always aware of the temptation to walk past on the other side!

    By John Evans  -  18 Aug 2017
  4. Amen. I haven’t a clue about emojis! Where have I been living this last 20 years! BUT I do know that whilst it is easier to text, email and emoji, a voice at the end of the ‘phone, a card through a letter box or a hug in the street is often more uplifting and means more to the recipient. So let’s go on doing all the new things but not forget the old. Thank the Lord we have all these means available to us to cheer and empathise with each other!

    By Sue Wymer  -  18 Aug 2017
  5. Thank you for your final paragraph, I was beginning to think i was totally out of step with this culture. I have thought many times that much more depth is required in our interactions with each other,

    By Margaret Scott  -  18 Aug 2017
  6. I’m old school and yes emojis are great but you are right – some things are just too too desperately sad for an emoji – words convey a lot more – and some are so overwhelmingly happy I need words for those too!! (Seeing my beloved grandchild who has a life shortening disease but is always full of joy and happiness)

    By M Stannard  -  18 Aug 2017
  7. To be honest I’m a bit frustrated that this ‘post comment’ box doesn’t have the option to include an emoji to express how I feel about this excellent article (face with tears of joy) Rachel, thanks for the challenge – I have so often fired back a quick (Hands clasped together) and not actually taken the time to pray seriously! So many reactions today are too quick! (Smiley Face)

    By Steve  -  18 Aug 2017
  8. love it 🙂

    By Bruce Gulland  -  18 Aug 2017
  9. Thought provoking. Thank you. The one undeniable aspect of virtual reality is that it is virtual. It’s not real. So for research to show that peoples’ reaction to an emoji is the same as their reaction to a human face suggests two things. One, that the research didn’t dig deep enough to find the differences between the virtual and the real. Two, that people have lost their ability to know the difference. Either way we have more to learn about ourselves and the world in which we live.

    By Paul Aganski  -  18 Aug 2017
  10. So glad to read the final paragraph. Comments have said the same. Be careful not to be drawn more and more into the anonymous depersonalising thrust of the digital age.

    By J MacDonald  -  18 Aug 2017
  11. Thank you for these well articulated and good thoughts. Having recently arrived back in the US from Rwanda I am challenged to deepen relationships with others. I have never experienced relationships as deep as those among the people of Rwanda. Certainly having been created in God’s image requires relationship in ways that emojis can express best when I have spent time with another listening and sharing and working together. May we all seek to cultivate encouraging and challenging relationships with others that express God’s glory and further direct us to know our Savior.

    By Gary Jewell  -  18 Aug 2017
  12. Some modern mission partners are using email, text, facebook and twitter to great effect – a picture, a joke, a pun, a line of prayer request and so on – used to telling effect to maintain communication and instant prayer support. These compliment the traditional letter home very well.

    By David Child  -  20 Aug 2017

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