The world around us keeps going more toward digital everything. Nearly every relationship we have has some aspect of digital interaction, whether it be in work, friends, family, or other people. With an evergrowing digital world, how does the church, and us as Christian individuals, embrace and utilize digital discipleship? To start, we have to understand what digital discipleship is.
What is digital discipleship? Digital discipleship is a new form of teaching where the church and other Christians use digital resources, like blogs, articles, video, or social media, to further disciple Christians and non-Christians alike.
This a very broad definition, so I’m going to break this down further into the definitions, strategies, and warnings. But before we go into anything, we need to know why this is so important for Christians to use digital resources for discipleship.
Why Christians Should Use Digital Discipleship
In Matthew 28:19, Christ says “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.” Digital discipleship is important because as Christians, we are to be spiritually guiding people toward Christ. But first, that means we need to meet people where they are. Right now, thousands upon thousands of these people are online.
According to chrissniderdesign.com, Facebook has 2.5 billion monthly active users, Twitter as 152 million daily active users, and Youtube has 2 billion monthly active users. This is where billions of people who need Christian council are. Christians need to have an online presence to bring light to the dark parts of the web.
This is something that is close to my heart, and a reason I want to be involved with this website, Just Disciple. Christians need to go where there is a need for more of Christ, and the internet is in dire need of Him. Theologically sound answers to questions are needed for people who are asking, and Just Disciple strives to be that answer and to turn them toward Christ.
Digital discipleship can bring clarity to many topics, and spread it to more people in a shorter time than ever before in human history. Media in almost any form, whether it be video, blogging, social media, photos, or audio, is easier to share around than ever before, and the Lord can work in anyone’s hearts to become closer to Him.
As stated earlier, digital discipleship is a new form of teaching, so it is still being explored and defined on what this actually is.
According to Dictionary.com, the definition of “disciple” as a noun is “any follower of Christ” or “a person who is a pupil or an adherent of the doctrines of another; follower.” As a verb, the definition is ” to teach; train.”
The word “discipleship” aligns with the verb definition of “disciple”, and the noun definition is the goal; we are to teach or train others around us to follow the doctrines of Christ. So digital discipleship is to do exactly this, but using digital resources as our tool.
There are 3 main categories of digital discipleship according to sdadata.org:
Content creators are those who package the gospel message and teachings of Jesus into various digital friendly formats such as: video, blogs, images, podcasts, etc.
Distributors are organizations or individuals who use digital tools and technologies to share content within their sphere of digital influence.
Engagers are empathic individuals within an organization, or operating independently, who engage in online conversations for the purpose of building meaningful relationships, better understanding needs, and determining meaningful ways to serve others in the community.– sdadata.org
This article goes more extensively on how organizations can use this model. But these categories of digital discipleship are still valuable to the individual who is looking to figure out their role in this area.
I do want to touch on this topic before moving onto strategies of implementing digital discipleship.
Digital evangelism is a more focused subtopic of digital discipleship. This is specifically to reach people who are not Christians already. There are some organizations that are dedicated to this, and are a valuable part of digital discipleship. The article linked in the previous section also talks about digital evangelism more extensively.
Digital Discipleship Tools
Technology ministry can take many forms. Here’s a list for individuals who want to use digital tools for discipleship:
- Social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.)
- Blogging and writing articles
- Creating videos, short or long, narrative or documentary
- Bible app to study the Bible with people
The church can and should use all of the above resources, but I’ve created a separate list of digital discipleship tools that specifically relate to the church:
- Recorded sermons
- Church app for teachings and other resources
- Financial tithing online
- Church Website
Now that the tools are more clearly defined, now we need to know some strategies of how to implement digital discipleship.
I have separated the strategies into two categories: for the individual and for the church. However, I think both sections could be beneficial for both parties, especially if the individual is looking to be part of a church’s digital team.
For the Individual
Individuals can still make a big difference in many people’s lives all on their own. Here’s how you can disciple others:
Using One-On-One Connections
The best way to use digital resources to disciple those around you, in its most powerful form, is through the direct message. I truly believe that directly messaging someone to talk about Christ and encouraging them in the faith or to teach them more about who Jesus is, this will be more impactful and personal than any other resource. This can be used for people you know in person, or even someone you may only know online.
If you have an online-only acquaintance who is not a Christian, you will have to read the situation on the best way to introduce Jesus into the conversation. I would suggest building a relationship with the person before directly jumping into talks about God. But especially if they are interested in the faith, using apps like “Bible” from Life.Church to start a study plan where they can start reading the Word and discussing with you what they find is helpful. Sending them other articles and resources they can study on their own is also important. Encourage them to find a local church to attend so they can have more in-person connections because ultimately this will help them be part of a community and have more accountability for discipleship.
Blogging is also a great way if you want to reach more people even if you are only one person. I use blogging as a broad term, because there are different ways to do this. I believe that the most effective way to reach people with “blogging” is through social media, like Facebook and Instagram. Posting about personal experiences and thoughts about God can impact other people who need encouragement or are going through similar situations as you. Be careful to not boast through social media; remember that this is to reach Christians and non-Christians alike, and that God is to get all of the glory. And always remember to keep your private messaging open if people want to talk about Jesus with you directly.
Vlogging on Youtube is another great way to reach people for Christ, and has a similar impact to using blogging, but can reach a different audience. If you are more of a creative storyteller, you could create narrative videos that show Jesus’s love for others, tell stories that you’ve experienced, or many other different things. Videos are a great resource for those who do not have the patience to read but still have a desire to learn.
The last content type I will address is podcasting. Many people listen to podcasts while working or driving around or even to unwind for the evening. This is a valuable asset to those who still crave learning while being unable to sit down to watch a video or read a blog post. If you are camera shy but enjoy talking, think about what you could teach about in audio form.
For the Local Church
The church should absolutely use digital resources for the benefit of their members. Every church should have a website, use email, and engage with others on social media.
Every church should have a website. This is the best way for people to find your church, build initial connections with the leadership, and find details about the church’s theology, location, and other resources. Adding a tab for online donations and tithing is also very helpful to those who don’t carry cash or checks with them while attending church.
Posting sermons from Sundays are also very helpful for people who like to have personal studies of previous sermons that the church has had. People from all over the world would have the opportunity to learn more about Christ through these sermons, so utilizing this is helpful.
Email is a way for the church to send discipleship resources to members during the week. This is a great way for the church’s members and non-members alike to still feel like they are part of the church. It shows that the church leadership cares about their well being not just on Sundays, but during the week as well.
Churches should also use social media to promote their church and have a broader online presence. This is a way to post sermons, discipleship resources, promote events at the church and in the community, and to connect with those who are interested in the church. Some may be afraid to show up at a church they’ve never been to before, so reaching out through social media may be their first move to get connected.
Digital discipleship is not, and will never be, flawless. We have to use digital resources with careful thought and caution. Here are some things to look out for.
Digital Isolation—It’s a Real Thing
There have been countless studies on digital, particularly social media, isolation.
It turns out that the people who reported spending the most time on social media—more than two hours a day—had twice the odds of perceived social isolation than those who said they spent a half hour per day or less on those sites. And people who visited social media platforms most frequently, 58 visits per week or more, had more than three times the odds of perceived social isolation than those who visited fewer than nine times per week.– NPR
Christians need to use caution when using these resources to further the Kingdom. Technology, especially the internet, is highly addictive, which can cause loss of focus on Christ.
When reaching out directly to someone, always encourage in-person interactions. I’ve personally gone through a three-year-long season of my life where I used the internet as a way to escape the real world but also try to find people on online communities to interact with and try to find someone who noticed me. I didn’t go to church or have an in-person community at all to ground my thoughts or to talk about Christianity with, so it was hard to be accountable for my actions or do things with my life. When I moved to the school I am at now, I found it was much healthier to spend less time online and to be around people who reflected the image of God. In-person community is absolutely crucial.
I do believe that there are Christians who are called to not use the internet or to not even have a smartphone, but I also believe there are Christians are called to use digital resources to disciple others. I myself believe that the Lord has given me many gifts and talents that are computer and technology related, and I feel called to contribute to Christian resources online, but I know I need to have a solid foundation of Christian friendships in person that can hold me accountable to my actions and don’t let me get lost in a confusing and anxiety-driven digital world.
Livestreaming: Replacing the Local Church
Everyone needs a community to be a part of to be healthy. Churches should be aware of this. In this case, I would recommend that churches not live stream their sermons each week.
When I was first entering high-school age, my family and I went through a ton of church drama that left a lot of pain and confusion when our church we had been attending for my whole life up to that point was starting to fall apart. We tried attending other churches, but ultimately, we ended up just watching live streams from a local church whose sermons were great but the community was hard to connect to.
I can look back now and see how we were missing a big part of what the purpose of the church is. Yes, a big part of going to church is to worship God and learn more about Him, but a huge, if not most important, part of attending church is to do this alongside other believers of Christ. To have a community around us to support us, talk with us, and worship God with us would have had added greater accountability and joy in going to church than by only watching a live stream of the service.
So to churches, I would recommend to not live stream every service. The church I currently attend does not live stream, and I will say, I have a much greater drive to attend the in-person service without the temptation to sleep in a while longer on a Sunday morning until a live stream would start.
I still would say to record and document the service to post later that evening or during the week in case there was someone who was not able to attend on that Sunday, and for in their own time to listen and learn from the service. That’s the beauty of digital discipleship tools! I would also say that perhaps live streaming special occasion services, like baptisms, commissionings, and baby dedications could be a nice gesture for those who have families who live far away, for their families to still see and worship the Lord for their loved ones who live many miles away.