Digital is a New Chapter in a 2,000-Year-Old Mission
How can digital technology help churches fulfil the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations?
At the beginning of November I attended the Premier Digital Conference where speakers and church leaders were thinking through how churches can “seamlessly bridge both physical meetings and online participation” during the pandemic, and into the future. It was a well-run event with a wide range of speakers and seminars which helped start important conversations.
One speaker, Steve Fogg from City on a Hill Church in Melbourne, spoke of “hybrid church” as “a new chapter in a 2,000 year old mission”. Although we would differ on the prominence of ‘hybrid church’, I think the idea that digital is a new chapter in the mission of Jesus Christ is spot on.
Technology - techniques, skills, and methods used to produce something or achieve a goal - has featured throughout redemptive history (thanks to John Dyer’s (Dallas Seminary) talk for this point):
- Adam and Eve created coverings from natural materials, before God improved on their design (Genesis 3);
- Bezalel was the first to be filled with the Spirit of God - to enable him to make the tabernacle, the ark of the covenant, and the related clothing and furnishings (Genesis 31:1-6);
- Although not necessary for ministry, Paul was a tent-maker and Jesus was a craftsman (tektōn is usually translated carpenter but could cover all sorts of crafts).
Indeed, one of the biggest movements in church history was thanks to the invention of the printing press in the 15th century which enabled Bibles and other material to be shared far wider than before.
I’m convinced that digital technology is bringing in a new chapter in how we can fulfil the Great Commission in a way that other technological advances have done in the past.
Here are three ways I think that digital can complement our existing church ministry for the glory of God and furthering of his kingdom.
As you livestream your service or post a sermon on YouTube you might notice a larger number of views than expected. The nature of digital is that people can look in anonymously – as if they are lurking at the back of your church hall.
The internet lowers the bar for people to approach church: those who might not want to enter the building may be happy to watch online anonymously. This is a big step, by God’s grace, but we must think about how to engage with “digital lurkers” (coined by Steve Fogg) to help draw them into church life and faith in Jesus.
This might look like addressing those watching online during your sermon with ways they can find out more or get in touch. It will certainly look like setting up ways that people new to your church through an online channel can get involved in person. Maybe that will be through an online Bible study first, then progressing to in-person fellowship.
“Online church is always happening” John Dyer said. Think about it: every time a home group encourages one another with a Bible verse on WhatsApp during the week; when we share prayer requests on a Facebook group; when we make pastoral phone calls.
How could digital technology help us disciple and encourage one another more? You could post a devotional video to help the church reflect on Sunday’s sermon together through the week. Or you could set up a prayer group using PrayerMate to hold one another up in prayer, even when apart? Now we’re used to video calls, could they help with pastoral care?
This will look different for each church depending on your context, but it’s worth thinking about.
I’ve shared previously how churches can make the most of what they have learnt with digital technology during lockdown.
Online technology enables us to reach far more people with the gospel than ever before. This could be through church members sharing sermons or devotions on social media with their family and friends, or by location targeted advertising to reach your local community with a gospel message.
Digital also helps us be more inclusive to those within our churches. Many of us will have had experience of being unable to attend a meeting through self-isolation in 2020, yet this has been the experience for many of our brothers and sisters for years through ill health, disability, or old age (for example, my bed-bound grandmother who has felt connected to church this year in a way she hasn't for a long time). Digital technology can help us include these people who may be isolated from church life otherwise.
As an ‘early adopter’ of digital technology (I am a millennial after all), thinking about how it can serve the gospel excites me! I can’t wait to see how God is going to use the church to reach new people in this digital age.