Unplug or Upgrade?
Discerning your church’s need for a post-pandemic digital ministry.
“The answers are all out there, we just need to ask the right questions.” ~Oscar Wilde
“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” ~Proverbs 15:22
I do not know of a single church that did not engage in some form of online ministry during the pandemic. Some had shoestring and duct tape effort, some made significant investments in technology and IT staff. Every pastor or lay church leader I spoke to recently felt their online ministry, whether via livestream, YouTube or Zoom, was a good tool for expanding and extending their ministry reach.
Now that we are rising from the ashes of the COVID pandemic, every churched person knows that the landscape within and outside their church community has changed. Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz captures this sense of transition best when she quipped, “Toto, I’ve got a feeling that we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Indeed, what we have today is in palpable ways the dramatic fallout from profound membership migration, significant pastoral and church leadership burnout or resignation, and the fact that a large segment of our faith community has become indifferent toward mission and ministry. One this last point, Christian author and U.S. church culture commentator Carey Nieuwhof writes:
“What I’m picking up from people who haven’t gone back to church (and even among some who have) isn’t fear…it’s indifference. They know what church is, and after the habit disruption that happened during COVID, they grew indifferent to in-person attendance. Indifference is defined as a lack of interest, concern, sympathy, or unimportance. They don’t hate in-person church; there’s no surge of strong emotions. It’s just no longer important. Many former regular church attenders aren’t mad, nor are they afraid. They’re just indifferent to whether they come back to church or not. It’s like they’ve assessed their life, reconsidered what matters, and decided that attending church just wasn’t that important in the end.”
As churches look to the future there is a strong conviction among believers that going back to a church practice utilized before the pandemic is simply a non-starter. The digital ministry is here to stay remains the consistent refrain. However, when pressed about the reasons for continuing or upgrading a digital presence, the responses seem poorly discerned. The most oft claim is that it makes ‘church’ convenient. In sum, members can watch the church’s goings-on in their pajamas at any time of the day, for an exact amount of time, just like watching their favourite reality drama on TV. If this response is widespread and accurate, we need to ask, “Is this sentiment, or something even remotely similar, good justification for upgrading a digital ministry or even continuing one?” Maybe unplugging from a virtual church presence is best if a ‘convenient church’ is the sought-after outcome. My point in writing is not to argue for or against an online ministry, but to have pastors and church leaders take the time to conduct their own due diligence on the matter. To that end, here are some questions one should be asking:
- Does an online digital ministry fit with what God is calling us to do as a church in our setting? Does it fit with our present mission and vision? Does it align with the reason we exist?
- Have we spent sufficient time seeking the counsel of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of Scripture? Have we submitted this matter to prayer?
- Have we sought the counsel of our congregation? Have we asked our grassroots members and adherents for their thoughts, ideas or concerns?
- Do we have the resources? Do we have the people and finances to conduct a sustainable quality digital ministry?
- What outcomes are we expecting? Who will benefit from a continued digital ministry? Who are we attempting to reach? Who are we hoping to serve? How will an ongoing or upgraded digital ministry impact in-person engagement?
- What consequences are we expecting? Every change in ministry has pros and cons. What are the cons here?
- Have we asked our target audience what they think of an ongoing or upgraded digital ministry? Who is calling for an enhanced online presence? Are we meeting the specific expressed needs?
- What is the experience of other similar sized churches who have ramped up their digital ministry? There is an abundance of churches who have experimented with a wide spectrum og online ministry. What counsel do they have for us?
- Have we tested the claims of those who promote a robust on-going or upgraded digital ministry? Conversely, have we tested the claims of those who advocate for limiting or eliminating a digital ministry?
- How will we define success? How will we measure success? What are our benchmarks and what will we do if we don’t reach them?
As you engage these questions, it is my hope that wherever you land on the digital ministry landscape, you will have done so through wise discernment with an eye to being at the centre of God’s will and missions, the mission of making disciples who make disciples.
Rev. Philip A. Gunther
A Word from the DM
Hello SKMB Family,
We live in turbulent times, indeed. Russia’s military attack upon Ukraine is disturbing to us and devastating the people of this nation. The Ukraine is the birthplace of the Mennonite Brethren
denomination, specifically the Molotschna Settlement known today as the Zaporizhzhia Oblast. This community is southwest of the present-day city Donetsk. The MB document of Secession was written to the Molotschna Mennonite Church in 1860.
I have been asked by some of our churches what they could do in response to the news of this military attack on the Ukraine.
Here are several suggestions:
- Pray for the people and churches of Ukraine. Pray for wisdom among the leaders of all countries involved in this conflict. May the Lord have mercy upon this nation. May the Gospel be advanced even in this dark time and place.
- Reach out to members of the Ukrainian community in your setting or church who have ties to their homeland. Ask how you can support them.
- Consider the efforts of Multiply as well as MCC’s efforts to help this nation.