The Digital Age of Church: Ask the Right Question

I recently did some work with a great church that was looking to up their digital game.

But I couldn’t figure out why they were so far behind in the digital arena than other churches their size and budget. Being such a strong ministry, it didn’t make much sense. Until, that is, I heard a passing comment about their culture and technology.

Over the years they adopted a culture that downplayed the use of technology. This aversion created a mismatch between how the church uses technology and the way many in the church, and in the community around the church, uses technology.

The good news is, they began to recognize this and are now asking the right questions and are making great progress.

Asking the Right Questions

One of the things that makes digital satisfying is that you can see the results in real time and understand how people are engaging with the church, God’s Word, and the community. Sometimes all it takes is asking the right questions.

However, we can also get stuck in how we interact digitally and believe that our church is doing great because we have this many likes on Facebook or so many views on Instagram stories or X number of people watching our weekend video stream. It’s so important to line up our use of technology with our mission as a church. That way we reach people where they are, no matter what platforms change.

If we ask the right questions and keep up with technology through the lens of our church’s mission, we can be extremely effective.

Determining What Is Foundational

The other day I was having a discussion with a colleague about online ministry. It was a long conversation but fruitful. We asked each other theological questions, strategy questions, staffing questions, what tools are the right tools, and so on.

We talked about the origins of online church, online campuses, social media, email, text messaging, websites, and apps. We debated back and forth what are best practices, what churches are leveraging their online presence the best, and who the innovators are in this space.

I remember having conversations like this in college when we thought we were solving the world’s problems, but it usually ended with, “It’s 2am, and I have a 7:45am class,” and I wasn’t able to even remember what the results were of our discussion.

Being a little older and a little wiser than when we were in college, we kept coming back to determine the one question that was paramount, trying to zero in on which was the foundational question that really matters.

If we ask the right questions and keep up with technology through the lens of our church’s mission, we can be extremely effective. —@drewstats

First we came up with several key questions that, as a church leader, you need to ask in order to examine how you are using the tools that God has laid out in front of you. Never before in history has there been the chance to spread the story of Christ so quickly; never before in history have you been able to help your congregation grow more consistently in their journey of faith.

Second, we were unpacking all of the different pieces for a church to be effective online. Like many things in our lives, our view of the digital directly relates to our own experiences. Often an organization will take on the personality and habits of its leader, so many times we believe we are doing really good online ministry because it matches our own online experiences.

The reality, though, is probably much different.

But we skipped over the starting question that lays the basis for even having a digital footprint and presence online. Our discussion kept coming back to the one question that fuels all the others; like many “ah ha” moments, it was a quick comment that made sense to both of us. It was simple and direct.

The question is: Do you pastor the data?

Pastoring Your Digital World

Pastoring the data means understanding that you have multiple times more interaction with people digitally than in person. Every text message, every email, every service streamed online, a church app, digital giving, social media, etc. all have need to be pastored. When you understand this and ask it in your church’s context, you are in the right place to improve.

Just like every church has its own unique style and values, your online efforts and results will also. Your online presence will not match those of other churches. But you still must be able to answer the key question. Do you pastor the data?

Numbers matter because each number represents a person that Christ died for. With attendance at church now at only 3 in every 8 weeks, we are catching the average attender less than 20 times a year. We must become more effective at communicating and leading people on their journey of following Christ, and asking if you are pastoring the data is the right question to be asking.

Every like, every text message, every email, every stream is a person. How are you pastoring these people? Are you pastoring the data? Start here. Ask the question and then go find the answer. Pastor your digital world with the same passion you pastor in person.

What challenges are you facing when it comes to how you pastor the data? Where do you find yourself with the most traction and results?

Read more from Andrew on this topic: The Digital Age of Church: Stories of Online Transformation.

Read more from The Cornerstone Summer 2019

We hope that you are inspired by the stories in the issue of The Cornerstone. Thanks for being a part of God's work to transform churches and lives.