Three Misunderstandings of Full-Service Digital Ministry in Church
Philip Yan is the founder of GenesisXD in Toronto, a mobile app design consultancy. He connects the dots with his design thinking, ministry experience and mobile technology to build a full-service digital ministry.
While digital communication is pervasive in all sectors of society, the church has been lagging in embracing digital technology in church-wide communication, operation and ministry practice. Caught off guard by the COVID-19 pandemic, all churches have to drop the old way of doing church drastically. An irreversible new normal of digital communication has begun.
Nevertheless, some leaders are still skeptical about the value of digital engagement in people-focused ministry. Why? It’s because of these common misunderstandings or fears of employing digital communication:
1. Digital communication is impersonal, it has no emotions.
Digital engagement is a versatile communication – a tool – to augment connectivity, productivity, efficiency, ministry reach… and more. The key to its effectiveness is in the leadership mindset, not the technology itself.
For example, survey results collected and summarized digitally presented in infographics would help ministry leaders see the broad picture of the ministry – its impact, areas of need and improvement, the voice of people… then address the gaps in service, what steps to take, etc. Ultimately, the data of engagement gives insight into what works and make some adjustment. It helps identify potentials to strengthen the church community and offer ways for individual and collective growth.
2. Digital communication lacks the value of human touch.
Digital communication can never replace our innate need of and the value of human touch. Just like any communication tool, ministry leaders can leverage the power of digital engagement as a bridge to enhance connectivity, which helps building the bond in real-time interaction.
For example, meaningful dialogues take place in the chat room of the church app, where the right Bible verse or emoji or visual is used, or a prayer-on-phone or prayer-on-zoom scheduled… such kind of engagement can also touch the heart and lift up the spirit of the recipient. When they meet in person they would feel already connected and dive in for a deeper conversation.
3. Pastors already have enough of work; they don’t need to be busier.
A strategically planned and executed digital engagement will shorten the time ministry staff spend on administrative duties and multiple back-and-forths on making one decision or connection. The time saved is to free them up to engage in more pastoral care.
For example, Pastor Dan goes to the church app and indicates his availability for private meetups this Thursday, 2-5 pm. John needs a personal meeting with Pastor Dan. John sees that Pastor Dan is available this Thursday at three timeslots. John selects the option to meet Pastor Dan from 2:00-3:00. The app immediately sends an email to Pastor Dan and John to confirm their meeting and a reminder a day prior. Now Pastor Dan’s schedule shows he is free Thursday 3:00-5:00 pm. This approach helps Pastor Dan efficiently plan for his availability, cutting off other steps in between. It makes it easy on John’s end in the process.
How else can digital engagement help?
John needs prayer. Consider how this experience will look like in the two different communication models.
John has a hard time staying in touch with the church community due to physical distancing restrictions. He feels awkward to reach out to someone for prayer or a lack of confidence in calling the church. Finally, John summons his courage to call the church office. But he has to go through a few more steps before he finally gets the pastor he wants.
John remembers he installed the church app some time ago and decides to request for prayer. He clicks on the ‘I Need Prayer’ button, which connects him to the prayer team. He can ask for a particular pastor to pray with him. This process bypasses multiple steps on the phone or via email. Digital engagement can allow the best person suited to connect with John.
Alpha Online – a success story
With the core value of physical gathering over dinner for relationship building, Alpha Course has moved their program online. The Alpha online sees record growth in participation with new believers more than ever.
Nicky Gumbel, the founder of Alpha Course, observed…
“I’ve never known a time in my life when people are more open [to the Gospel] than they are now...”
“People who would have never gone to church, the church is coming to them in their homes. People who would never have explored faith are coming to explore faith online. This is the most extraordinary time. This is not a moment to retreat, this is a moment for the Kingdom of God to advance.”
In each crisis, there’s an opportunity
Digital connection has made a difference to churches during the pandemic for apparent reasons.
In North America, 49% of churches saw a spike in their online engagement raised by 300%, and 1/4 of the U.K. population “attended” church during the hardest hit months with COVID.
The story’s flip side is the church attendance spike in North America died down after a while. Statistics show that one in three practicing Christians say that they completely stop attending church as the lockdown persists. Nevertheless, there are opportune moments in a crisis – the Gospel is there for the spiritually thirsty. Holy Spirit’s prompting doesn’t get locked down in the pandemic.
There’s no better time than now to make the best use of digital engagement to further kingdom impact. Are you ready for it?
P.S. Building a full-service digital ministry in the church is more than having a website and social media. To learn more, visit https://www.genesisxd.com/ichurch1maindoor to watch a recorded webinar on digital mindset for ministry, and download free eBooks.
What We Are Reading
The Minister as Moral Theologian & Practices for Serving Faithfully
Church leaders get themselves in trouble when they forget that they cannot and should not do everything. For congregations to flourish they need a good sense of both the hopeful possibilities and the healthy limitations of their pastoral offices. To help with this, in 2017 Sondra Wheeler offered a pair of indispensable books: firstly, The Minister as Moral Theologian: Ethical Dimensions of Pastoral Leadership; and secondly, Sustaining Ministry: Foundations and Practices for Serving Faithfully. The first of these puts church leadership in perspective as a vital part of the fabric of a congregations’ moral life together. The second offers theologically robust, practical wisdom on the perils and promise of church ministry. In its five compact chapters Wheeler provides guidance for navigating churchly power dynamics, accountability structures, and danger zones, which are counteracted by a reaffirmation of the moral and spiritual habits within which God sustains faithful ministry. For these reasons Sustaining Ministry has become a foundational text in our School of Ministry’s Pastoral Theology class, and is worthy of a spot on any church leadership bookshelf.
Buy The Minister as Moral Theologian
Buy Practices for Sustaining Ministry
Dr. Jon Coutts is Assistant Professor of Christian Theology at Ambrose University
Resources for Church Leaders
Researching the Impacts of Covid-19 on Congregations
Several research studies are emerging on the impacts of Covid-19 on congregations. Click Here to learn from these data-driven insights.