Let me start this post by telling you a few stories. I think stories are powerful and can serve as good illustrations. I also think that they have the power to change people and to change circumstances. At Northside Bible Church, where I serve as Communications Director, we're really big on testimonies and personal stories of grace, redemption, and hope. In fact, we have a monthly worship event called Testimonies On The Lawn. The name is a bit misleading because it's held indoors, but if you know the history behind the event — and the fact that it all started in a small backyard in southern Alabama — then it makes a little more sense. This event highlights stories of redemption and never fails to encourage and bless everyone in attendance.
But the stories I want to share with you right now are from my Church Communications Facebook Group, a group that was started in 2015 by a girl named Katie Allred. Katie is a graduate of The University of Mobile and went off to work as the Web Content Manager for Brentwood Baptist Church in Tennessee for a while. She later returned here to Mobile in 2018 and is now an assistant professor at UM, teaching digital media and software development to the students there. Our group is comprised of over 29,000 church tech directors, media directors, graphic designers, pastors, volunteers, audio engineers, lighting and video experts, all spread out across the continental United States. And we're all in this one group where we can bounce ideas and questions off of one another, ask for feedback on designs, and other related topics.
Before I gave my speech at our recent Shepherd's Summit pastoral conference here in Mobile, I polled my group and asked them to share a personal story about a time when the digital or social media ministry of their church had a positive impact or led to a victory. I was overwhelmed by the amount of feedback that I received. Here are the four that I chose to share with the pastors at the conference:
From Rie Collett: "I had posted a prayer request asking that our congregants pray for The Marriage Course that we were launching that evening and a person asked in the comments whether it was too late to join. I said no problem, but was curious because I thought he was divorced already. Turns out he and his wife had been separated for 4.5 years, heartbreaking because they had three young kids. But they did the course together and decided to reconcile and get re-married!"
From Brandon Rodgers: "Guy was invited to church, but was afraid to come and watched 6-8 weeks online before giving his life to Christ. Came the very next week and was baptized soon after."
From Marcy Carico: "A few years ago I was posting our church's Sunday set list every Friday to our church page. I didn't see too much reach, or engagement, but our people liked it and I didn't have to put too much thought into content on my day off... I got a DM [direct message] from a guy at a small church plant in another state. They were so small and so new that they didn't have the people/budget for a real worship ministry. He said he was using our set list to load YouTube lyric videos for his congregation every week. I realized we were having an impact on a whole other body of believers without even knowing it."
From Justin Nava: "A student who was having suicidal thoughts saw our Instagram post of a Bible verse [Ecclesiastes 3:1-2] and called the student pastor for counseling that night."
Whether you're a Church Comms Director, a pastor, an elder, or just a volunteer, I want to challenge you to see how church communications and everything it entails — print, digital, social media, website, audio/video/lighting — is not so much a function of your church, it is a ministry of your church. It has eternal, lasting impacts on people for the Kingdom of God. It's as much of a ministry wing or arm as your youth group, men's group, ladies ministry, small groups, etc.
I think oftentimes — at least what I find — is that many pastors (though not all) are hesitant to think of digital and social media and technology in this way. It could be for any number of reasons, but usually it's for reasons like this:
Captain James T. Kirk once famously said, "You know, the greatest danger facing us is ourselves, an irrational fear of the unknown. But there's no such thing as the unknown — only things temporarily hidden; temporarily not understood."
With all of that in mind, let me give you some quick statistics. Right now there are about 2.8 billion active monthly users on Facebook and over one billion monthly active users on Instagram. I'm not even going to bother mentioning Twitter because I might be the only nerd still using Twitter. I don't know. Is anyone still on Twitter? Comment below if you are. Anyway, there's also over 500 million monthly active users on Snapchat and over 100 million monthly active users on TikTok. So obviously the amount of time that people are spending online and on social media platforms has increased significantly within the last decade or two. This was all true pre-COVID, but the quarantine just amplified those numbers all the more because everyone was stuck indoors and glued to their gadgets, right? We all remember getting bored with the games on our cell phones. I mean, how many times can you really fling those birds into little green pigs? We were all texting a lot, e-mailing, working from home on our computers and our laptops.
And with more people — real people — being online, The Church has to leverage this space to build relationships and prompt the beginnings of discipleship, spiritual growth, church attendance, church involvement, etc. The very thing that Jesus told the Church — His core remaining Apostles — to do when He was leaving the Earth — was to go and make disciples. The Great Commission, right?
And I believe with all my heart — in fact it's one of the core reasons that I do what I do — that if people are online...on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, browsing websites...then the Local Church doesn't just have an opportunity, it has a responsibility to be there too, reaching them, talking to them, engaging them, making them into Christ-followers, making them Christ-pursuant and local church pursuant.
THIS IS DIGITAL MINISTRY.
It's really nothing complex. It's simply "ministry that happens digitally." It occurs when The Local Church takes advantage of technology and leverages it in order to spread the Gospel, thereby helping people grow in their faith; their knowledge of the Word; get involved in a local church and later become disciple-makers themselves. It's all part of the cyclical process.
I would venture to say that most church comm directors or pastors who are reading this are at least working at churches that are recording the Sunday morning sermons and sharing them in some way. I mean, even if you're just recording to CDs or tapes and passing them out to people like we did back in the Stone Age, that's STILL a form of content distribution. (And if you ARE still using tapes or CDs, please see me or see us at 6.14 Ministries and we can help get you out of the Stone Age.) So if you're recording or live-streaming your messages to your Facebook Page or YouTube channel or your website or posting the audio to your podcast platform, this is all the beginnings of digital ministry. You're impacting people for the Kingdom digitally through your teachings and through the Word of God which has the power fo change lives, right?
But since all of this stuff is two-dimensional, we need to do some important things and implement some strategies in order to shape digital ministry. Here are a few questions you need to be asking yourself as you go about working through this process:
Questions To Ask In Your Strategizing
What Do I Want Them To Know?
This is where you're going to decide on exactly what it is that you're posting or sharing. Are you posting one of your sermons? Are you posting a graphic with a Charles Spurgeon quote? Are you posting a Bible verse quote graphic related to your recent sermon or small group study topic? Whatever it is, you're posting it for a reason and for a specific purpose.
What Action Do I Want Them [My Audience] To Take?
If you're posting a meaningful quote, you're probably hoping that it will elicit some feedback in the comment threads, not to mention some likes on Facebook or Instagram and things of that nature. But ultimately, the real action that you want them to take is to SHARE these things (sermons, quotes, Bible verses, etc.) and not just share them digitally, but share them in their daily life — share them IN THE REAL WORLD outside of social media.
You want your church (and other social media followers) talking about the Sunday sermon or the devotional or the Bible verse at their workplace, in their classroom, among their friends, etc. Then ministry is happening all over in places you didn't even know or think that it would happen all because of your faithful efforts in the digital sphere. And you never know where is can lead or how it can impact someone for eternity. A student's life or soul could literally be saved because of an Instagram or Facebook post. The more digitally and readily accessible that content is, the easier it will be for your church to share the content in real life with their friends, family, coworkers, etc.
What Are The Next Steps?
This is what it all comes down to — using your digital platforms to not only bring people into church and regular attendance, but to bring them into regular discipleship and small group opportunities for spiritual growth. Next Steps is Ok, I found your church online and I really like it and want to attend now. What else can I do or what can I get involved in?
So just to wrap this out, I encourage all of you — communicator, techie, pastor, elder, teacher, volunteer — to have an understanding that the Communications Ministry of your church is precisely that: It's a ministry. It can be and so often is used by God to move the hearts and minds of people into pursuing a relationship with Him; and also provides a platform for your church to engage with and connect with people in a realm where the Enemy would love to devour them.
But we have the hope of the Gospel. And that's why we can be and must be a light there, pointing people toward Jesus, guiding them into church attendance and discipleship.