When I came on board as Director for Evangelical Mission at the Northeastern Iowa Synod, I was all about Social Media. Social media is the new mission field and we need to be there, “showing ‘em Jesus” in the midst of that world as well as everywhere else we are called to bring the good news of God’s mercy and love for all people.
I still believe that but today I’ve broadened my view and now I talk about Digital Ministry. Digital Ministry certainly includes social media but it is more encompassing and takes in the whole picture.
Digital Ministry is about more than getting a Facebook page.
Literally, “digital” is a technical term referring to technology which only understands and processes numbers or digits, ie , computers. So when we talk about “digital” we are referring to everything that happens with the aid of computers. Which nowadays, is pretty much everything.
On a basic level, digital ministry is about using the tools and technology available today. However, as Marshal McLuhan pointed out back in 1964, “The medium is the message.”
In his groundbreaking book, “Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man”, McLuhan explored how the *way* a message is delivered, influences how the message is perceived and ultimately, the message itself. It’s a good read today.
Digital Ministry is not just about using the tools and technology available to us, it’s also understanding and being fluent in the cultural changes that come with the digital revolution.
Digital Ministry is Evangelical
It’s not about being trendy or cool or having the latest technology. We use the digital tools to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the language of the people we are preaching to. If people are using their phones, social media, and Google to work and play, then the church needs to be there, in their digital worlds with them, proclaiming the Gospel.
Digital Ministry is Incarnational
God shows up where we are, in earthly elements like bread and water. Incarnation means in the flesh. Digital vs. “real” or “in the flesh” is a false dichotomy. Flesh and blood people are online. Real people with real feelings, real hurts and needs are interacting, forming and sustaining real, meaningful relationships with digital tools. Real ministry to real people takes place through digital tools.
The digital pastor is actually more available. She is no longer holed up in her office bound by “office hours.” He can be out and about in the community, hanging out in the coffee shop but also available to anyone anywhere because of digital communication.
Note – this “uber” availability can be overwhelming and requires discretion and boundary negotiating skills that were not so essential in the past when office hours set those boundaries for you.
Digital Ministry is Relational
Digital Ministry is about building and strengthening relationships within the body of Christ.
Digital ministry allows us to be connected in ways not possible before.
Many church members have commented that they know more about fellow members through social media. Before they saw them once a week and maybe had a five-minute conversation at coffee. Now they see their grandchildren and discover they like gardening. Someone may be reluctant to initiate a prayer phone tree (if a congregation even has one) but they can ask for prayers on a Facebook status.
Digital ministry allows the church and its leaders to listen and not just announce and proclaim. Listening allows our proclamation to speak more clearly to the needs and longings of our hearers.
Digital Ministry is Responsive
In many ways, we live in an instant world. If you have a question, the answer is available instantly on Google. People expect pretty quick responses to emails and texts. The church certainly can offer a word of challenge and caution to our demand for instant answers. But if people have just heard of another shooting or bombing, the church also needs to be prepared to respond quickly through social media with a prayer, a word of comfort and hope. Digital Ministry doesn’t insist they wait until Sunday morning for that word of hope.
It’s a Digital World. We need to be a Digital Church. You need to be about Digital Ministry.
About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-HansonThe Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.
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