This article originally appeared on Leadership Network.
- Fact: There are currently more active Facebook users worldwide than people in India and China combined.
- Fact: There are 3.09 billion “gamers” on planet Earth.
- Fact: 86.29% of the world’s population owns a smartphone.
Digital is not going anywhere. What if we, the Church, viewed digital as a mission field?
We discussed Leadership Network’s metaverse mission trips in an earlier blog post. We’ve even drawn the attention of Relevant Magazine, talking about one of our churches going on a mission trip to the metaverse this August. As big an opportunity as the metaverse is missionally, let’s discuss how we, the Church, must embrace the digital mission field. But to be missional and reach people digitally, we have to do something different.
EMBRACING THE DIGITAL MISSION FIELD
Today, there are missional opportunities within digital that most churches are unfortunately missing. For churches to embrace—and, dare I say, engage—the lost in digital space, we need to move beyond broadcasting church services. Beyond content. For churches to be influential digitally, our content has to lead towards community, either in physical or digital space. Much has been written on discipleship being more effective in physical communities, and the importance of community holds true digitally as well. Content without community is meaningless, just as community without discipleship is pointless.
Content is vital for any church, in physical or digital space. Sermons and teachings play a role. But in digital ministry, as in physical ministry, content is rarely enough to impact someone’s life, especially in some nuanced digital communities. When was the last time a TV show changed your life? Or even that you remembered a sermon from two weeks ago? Our content is only valuable—especially digitally—when it leads into community. This is probably not a surprise, but I would also suggest that a church’s online chat room is not an effective ongoing discipleship community, just as sitting next to someone in a pew is not grounds for an effective discipleship relationship. Church online chat is the first, and sometimes necessary, step to something more.
SIMPLY: To effectively reach and disciple people digitally, your church has to be in digital community.
CONTEXTUALIZING THE DIGITAL MISSION FIELD
Digital community is one thing, but let’s back up.
Let’s say your church is going on a mission trip to… oh, I don’t know… Argentina. You’d like to go on the trip, but you don’t know anything about Argentina. Your church is partnering with a church in Argentina. As a mission trip participant, you need to learn the culture. You need to adapt your mindset. What works for your church in America does not automatically work in Argentina because South America is different from North America. Recognizing the differences, the American church may need to adapt its strategy to the community of Argentina. Right?
Maybe your church is also going on a mission trip to war-torn Ukraine. Yes, it’s a similar mission trip with similar goals, but 2023 Ukraine is entirely different from 2023 Argentina, and neither option looks anything like 2023 North America. So, for us to be effective in ministry, we have to contextualize.
The same works digitally. The digital mission field is very contextualized. Connecting with gamers is very different from connecting with VR users, Facebook users, or TikTokers. Even though the video format (shorts) is similar, there are separate, contextualized audiences for Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, and TikTok. Don’t even get me started with Twitter. Omnichannel (the same content on all channels) died when COVID began. Instead, contextualization will open many opportunities. The more we can focus on our audience and craft a message for them, the more effectively the gospel will be received.
Who does your church want to reach digitally? If the answer is “everyone,” then unfortunately, you will likely reach no one. Make your message for someone and see how a target audience makes your ministry effective. Find the type of person you want to impact who is within your reach, or examine who you are currently reaching and expand on the opportunity.
SIMPLY: To connect with people digitally, your church mustcontextualize towards a target audience.
GOING ON A DIGITAL MISSION TRIP
For your church to effectively do ministry in Argentina, you have to board the plane and go on the trip. You have to block time off your calendar, take vacation time so you can be away from work, and get a passport and visa… you’ll even need to get a dog sitter! What I want to point out here is that going on mission is very intentional and not that convenient.
Oftentimes digital ministry is viewed as convenient. I can’t tell you how many pastors have joked with me personally about not even getting out of my pajamas in order to do digital ministry. (I’ve never gone to work in digital ministry in my pajamas by the way.) The reality is you have to be intentional about going on ministry. Truthfully, in 2023 the more convenient or easier the strategy is, the less effective the strategy will be. Posting pretty pictures with Scriptures on Instagram will encourage Christians, but these may not connect with in America’s post-Christian 2023 culture., a Scripture means very little. In our book Sharing Jesus Online, Dr. John Harris and I discuss what it is to be a digital missionary, and what it means to utilize our relationships for the kingdom.
Put in the work—not to create the cheesy graphics, but to have conversations. Don’t use the praying-hands emoji when a written prayer means more. It’s very easy to say “I’ll be more relational”—but then we are too busy to write out that prayer, and the praying-hands emoji is just so easy…
Similarly, it’s easy and convenient to fall back on an online broadcast of a physical church service rather than intentionally examining your target audience. Trying to reach everyone, unfortunately, is the equivalent of showing up to church in your pajamas. It’s actually lazy. Digital is not icing on the cake. It’s not an add-on that will multiply your church’s missional efforts 10x magically. Digital is a new opportunity that you will have to intentionally put work into.
SIMPLY: To relate with people digitally, your church (and you!) have to be intentionally relational.
GO ON A DIGITAL MISSION TRIP: LET’S DO THIS!
Leadership Network is helping churches like yours engage the digital mission field, not just broadcast church services. If your church wants to take a next step in digital ministry, check out Leadership Network’s Digital Discipleship as well as our VR and the Metaverse cohorts. Coming in fall 2023, both of these learning communities are a great opportunity for churches like yours to learn how to look at the metaverse, and even digital, as a mission field… and we will help your church develop a missional approach in these spaces that even gets to planting a campus/church in digital or metaverse space. For more information, check out the Learning Community links above.
What do you think? Share your ideas below or on social media.
Through the Digital Church Network we are helping physical and digital churches better understand the discipleship process, and helping churches and church planters understand this and other decentralized mindset shifts. Joining the DCN is free and be encouraged!
Check out Leadership Network’s Digital Discipleship Learning Community and discover how evangelism and discipleship can be strengthened digitally.
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