The coronavirus pandemic has led churches of all sizes to discover the digital world. Platforms such as Facebook Live, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Zoom are now common in church language and literature. Many churches that had no interest in digital media before COVID-19 are finding amazing platforms for the gospel.
However, a true gauge for success will be applying what we have learned and moving forward after the pandemic. Each church must ask itself, “What is our long-term biblical plan for engaging the digital world?” This question has many pastors and churches searching the Scriptures for how digital campuses fit into biblical ecclesiology.
Here are four common philosophies for digital use:
Some will take an anti-technology stance, attaching the digital world to a view of culture that is negative or even evil. However, God’s mandate in Genesis 1:26-28 for us to exercise dominion over the earth should lead us to recognize that culture is neutral and can be used, even post fall, for good or evil. We must, therefore, leverage technology for the gospel.
Some will assume that digital platforms can create viable stand-alone campuses in themselves. People in this camp will point to the changing culture to support their view. However, many Southern Baptists will cite Acts 2:42-47 and Hebrews 10:25, which establish the need for in-person fellowship as essential to a biblical church. These differences will lead many to identify with one of the final two categories.
- Leverage to in-person
Many churches will use their digital platforms to draw people into their in-person gatherings.
Some churches will not legitimize the digital campus as stand-alone, but do recognize that it is a complementary option in a skeptical and decentralized world.
Given the ever-changing nature of our world, each church should resist “going back to normal” and start or continue their digital presence. Searching the Scriptures for ecclesiological understanding is a great start to establishing and communicating the viability of a digital campus.
No matter which philosophy a church chooses, here are some key points to consider:
- Do a few things well.
Don’t try to be all things to all platforms. Choose a few platforms, based on your context and resources, and do them well.
- Have a champion for your digital platform.
This person can be paid or unpaid, but they are a necessity. The people connecting to your digital platforms are real people with real problems, not just a number on a screen. Faithfulness to the Lord means being a good steward of this opportunity and shepherding them well. Focus on the character of your digital champion. Technology can be learned. Make sure your champion has a pastor’s heart. This opportunity is also a great way to get younger adults involved in leadership (but pay attention to point 3).
- Have guidelines.
Guidelines will help guard against predators and staff trappings that are magnified in the digital world.
- Build community.
One key to a successful digital campus will be the use of relationships to build community and make disciples. This point will be a key to churches choosing to use their digital platforms to draw people into their in-person gatherings. Encourage current membership to participate in online discussion, Bible studies and worship services (in addition to their in-person attendance). Challenge them to build relationships that lead to invitations to in-person worship. Don’t be afraid to use hobbies to build bridges to on-campus worship.
- Online and in-person are here to stay.
Humans are relational beings. God made us this way (Genesis 2:18). Many have struggled with depression and even thoughts of suicide as the coronavirus pandemic has restricted in-person relationships. In-person worship is here to stay, but so is the digital world. The world has changed. Digital media is how many people find new relationships and inquire about a product before buying it. This is and will be the case with the church as well.
As Thom Rainer writes in “The Post-Quarantine Church,” the post-quarantine world will no doubt include churches that move to the extremes of only in-person or only digital gatherings. The church must see its mission as both.
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