From what the research is showing, church growth as a whole across the nation has spiked at a 300% increase over the last month because of the outbreak! Wow!! No one would have seen that coming, right? In fact, the research also shows that 49% of all churches are growing right now because of a digital presence. Knowing what we know and where we want to go, what is the wise thing for us to do? What we have to begin exploring is not only how to utilize our digital presence better but also how to make digital disciples. I’d like to encourage you moving forward with making digital disciples and how we can still and perhaps even better accomplish this mission: “Making (digital) disciples, who make (digital) disciples of all nations”.
1) Develop your digital presence
I know everyone may not be comfortable with having a digital presence. However, there isn’t a tool that’s better equipped us to reach around the world than the internet. In a matter of moments, a message can literally reach billions! This isn’t an attempt to say everyone MUST use the internet to reach people but that ANYONE CAN! Just think about the implications. People who have never been to another place around the world, can now very easily share an experience and worship Jesus together, from your own homes.
The internet can be a scary tool for some…learning phones, computers and a new “language” as such can be intimidating. However, lest we go the way of the dinosaur, we need to shift, adapt and accelerate our use of every tool in our arsenal. This doesn’t mean that every picture in your instagram feed (or whatever your social media platform may be) needs to be “about Jesus” but it does need to create an authentic window into your world.
Carey Nieuwhof says: “Church leaders need to realize (fast) that the people joining you online are not just your people, they’re new people. Curious people. Unchurched people. Lapsed Christians. Atheists. Agnostics” (careynieuwhof.com April 13, 2020). With this being the case, we have a greater opportunity to show people who are watching us what it means to be a real Christian, dealing with real problems in a real crisis. We have the chance to show them the real Jesus as we worship our real God, albeit through a virtual window. Maybe all “virtual reality” doesn’t have to make believe?
Jesus said where two or more are gathered, He is in the midst. Jesus was talking in the physical realm to them at that point. However, Jesus left them…physically. Isn’t it possible that just as Jesus is with us when we are at church or the grocery store that He is with us when we are gathered online?
2) Nurture your digital fruit
Jesus left physically but He gave us Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit is with us wherever we are, including the internet. Just as there is physical fruit there should be digital fruit. What does digital fruit look like? I would suppose that it should accurately and authentically reflect who we are in the real world. The same fruit of the spirit applies to us online as we make digital disciples. (Galatians 5:22-23)
TV programming has shifted to being filmed from homes, with live broadcasting being much more of a “staple” now. People are doing the news, weather and late night comedy monologues with their children in tow. I’m not saying it’s going to stay like this, but couldn’t we learn a few things about the authenticity value here?
In the same way that we would nurture real fruit, we must take care to nurture digital fruit. This means we plant with intentionality and we prune with purpose. Operating in a digital space allows us to create and craft in a much more nuanced way, but we must be careful to not be artificial. Fake fruit still isn’t fruit. Remembering that our goal is to make (digital) disciples, we must be committed to conversations about life and not just making glib comments on a post. The digital church must move from being curators and commentators to conversationalists once again. We do not need more debates…we need better and more meaningful dialogue. Digital disciples will be “made” just like physical disciples, through meaningful life-on-life shared experiences. It’s just these shared experiences will happen online instead of in a building or on “mission trip”. To borrow from Carey Nieuwhof again, he says: “Online church transcends geographic, physical and time barriers in a way that physical church simply can’t” (careynieuwhof.com April 13, 2020). How we use this opportunity at our fingertips right now can have a great impact in the future.