DIGITAL IS BIBLICAL
Digital technology has revolutionized how we do church. Congregations livestream their services. Pastors are active on Twitter. Websites are mobile compatible and ministries use Instagram and Facebook to spread important announcements and words of encouragement. Some see digital technology entering the sphere of the church as an attempt to be relevant or “cool” and reach the younger generations. But when you consider scripture and the biblical call to discipleship, churches going digital is about much more than relevance; it’s obedience to a biblical command.
Jesus’s command to us in scripture is clear: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). In Acts 1:8, he gives us the strategy for making those disciples: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Discipleship begins by being a witness in our concentric circles of influence:
- Our local community (Jerusalem)
- Our near-local community (Judea and Samaria)
- The global community (the ends of the earth)
Discipleship becomes effective when we intentionally and tangibly reach into these three areas with the love of Christ. In order to do this, we have to know where our community is.
Where is your community?
In the U.S., 207 million people have smartphones and the ability to receive HD video and digital content. Globally, that number is 2.16 billion. The U.S. Census Bureau reported (2013) that 74.4 percent of Americans people have access to the Internet. The percentage of Americans who now own smart TVs is up to 49 percent.
People are online, streaming video on their mobile devices and at home. If we want to meet them where they are, we must show up on their screens. We should take our church community online, not because we want to be relevant and cool, but because we take the call to discipleship seriously.
THE DIGITAL STRATEGY
In order for a church to use digital technology effectively, it must have a digital strategy in place.
A common mistake in digital strategy for churches is to take on too much too soon. Each church needs to start where it is and build its digital strategy from the ground up. Life.Church, based in Oklahoma City, has been at the forefront of the digital movement in churches for over a decade. A major part of their digital strategy has been developing and fostering an active community at Life.Church Online, an online church they originally launched in 2006. Since then, Life.Church Online has grown to over 100,000 people who tune in each week.
But Life.Church didn’t start out as a technologically progressive body. In fact, before Pastor and Innovation Leader Bobby Gruenewald came on staff in 2001, Life.Church wasn’t even using email.
With a background in technology and business, Gruenewald got to work brainstorming how the church could use technology to reach and disciple people. After email was securely in place, the next step, he says, was content sharing: “We progressed from that to making our content available and widely available for free. We had video and audio, streaming, on-demand, podcasts downloads, whatever was available at the time . . . essentially we wanted to have high availability of the teaching and any content we produced.”
Every church’s progression through the digital landscape is different, and necessarily so, but the Digital Maturity Model provides an overview of digital strategy. Figure out where your church is today, and work your way around the cycle.
Audio podcasts/audio streaming
Before you buy a camera, master the art of audio. Start posting weekly sermons online that are organized, easy to find and high quality. You won’t be ready for video or streaming until you have this step down.
Video on Demand
Once your audio is solid, then you can start thinking about video. Invest in the right equipment and start experimenting by filming the weekend message and posting it on your website the day after.
When a church has been successfully posting audio and video online and feels ready for the next step, it’s time to start livestreaming the weekend service and other events. This is one of the best ways to engage your community and allow them to feel like they’re at church on the days they can’t be at church.
Stream to Over the Top
Over the top streaming is simply taking the livestream to mediums like Amazon Fire TV, Roku and Apple TV. By adding your stream to these services, you’ll be able to reach an even broader audience.
The next step after taking live stream OTT, is using live stream on a more intimate level by streaming mid-week content for those who want to go deeper in their faith. For example, this could be a video from the pastor about week’s sermon or video content for small-group studies.
This is the ultimate in livestream technology for churches. Online church is a virtual church campus with 24/7 worship services, its own staff, and online chat capabilities. After mastering audio, video and livestream, some churches decide to take the leap to a full-time online church.
Today, Life.Church has cycled through the digital maturity model. With the use of livestream technology, Life.Church Online now offers everything a physical church would without having to step foot through the church’s doors: worship, prayer, tithing, serving and even small groups.
Though it’s tempting to be in awe of the technology that Life.Church has developed and utilized, Gruenewald stresses that technology is simply a means to a gospel end.“ Things like church online or ministry online is not about technology,” he says. “It’s completely about people. Technology is merely a tool that you’re using to either bring people together, to communicate with people, [or] to help connect with people who otherwise you couldn’t physically connect with.
“I do agree that churches have to map out a strategy that fits their abilities to some degree, but I also don’t necessarily believe that people have to go back and take the same linear path to progression. Because technology has this amazing leapfrog ability that’s built into it, where someone can come in today and do so much more than what we were doing when we got started. And it so much easier to do it today than when we did it before.”
Digital is easier than it’s ever been before for churches. It’s also cheaper than it’s ever been.
WHAT’S YOUR NEXT STEP?
Making disciples is a clear biblical command. The church has been instructed to start by making disciples in their local community, then in their near-local community and finally, in the global community. In order to do that in the year 2016, the church must go where the community already is: online.
Maybe your church is ready for livestream. Maybe your church is just now considering putting sermons up online. No matter where you are in your digital journey, it’s crucial to have a digital strategy in place. You don’t have to jump into online church right away. Do what’s right for your community and do what makes sense.
“I think God placed all of us here at this time in history for a purpose,” says Gruenewald. “We get to be a part of this exciting time when there are more people alive than ever before, and we have these amazing tools and technologies that have the potential to knit us together as a population like never before in human history.”
The command is clear. The technology is there. The community is waiting. Is your church ready and willing to be a part of history?