Digital church . . . friend or foe?
We talk with a lot of pastors, and a vast range of opinions exist on the subject of online/digital church vs. in-person/physical gatherings. Some leaders have fully bought into digital; others resent having to deal with it at all; some reject it outright; while most find themselves somewhere in the middle of those extremes.
Like it or not, the digital expression of church is here to stay for the foreseeable future.
Deep down I think most of these leaders are asking the question, what is digital doing to the local church? How is it helping? How is it hurting? Today’s post will attempt to answer these questions at a high level.
How is the digital church helping?
- It is expanding as a front door of the church you lead. For many years unchurched or de-churched people have checked out a church online prior to walking through the physical doors. This has never been truer than it is now. Pastors have relayed stories to us regarding newcomers who watched online for months before stepping foot inside their building.
- Digital offers continuity. It allows those who are ill or on vacation to still be a part of the faith community at some level. For example, Laura and I spent ten days on vacation in May, but still tuned in digitally to our church’s services. Digital afforded us a sense of continuity in terms of the sermon series and churchwide communication items.
- It creates opportunities room for brief touches throughout the week. Instead of connecting with people only on the weekends (and most members attend physically on the weekend 2x/month), digital allows for short but impactful connections during the week. These touch points give us the ability to encourage and/or challenge people more regularly.
- Digital reinforces the truth that the church is not a building . . . it’s people. I’ve heard the statement “the church is not a building, it’s people” almost from my first day as a Christian. But a quick glance at our collective behavior as the Church suggests otherwise. We’ve been building-centric in many ways. We’ve expected people to come to us to be fed spiritually. Digital is forcing us out of this entrenched pattern, and I think it’s helping the church to go where people are instead of only getting people to where the church is.
- Digital gives people options. The people you lead like options. How do I know? The supersize meals at McDonald’s. Fast-food chains figured out a long time ago that people love choices. As stated earlier, when on vacation or under the weather, people have the option to tune into your message and stay up-to-date with the goings-on at church.
How is digital potentially hurting the church?
- The distinct possibility of reduced accountability. It’s much easier to hide behind a screen. To play church. While physical attendance doesn’t guarantee accountability—it really makes it easier.
- Digital doesn’t replace our need for human touch. Loneliness is at epidemic proportions in our country, and is a key driver of record levels of anxiety and depression. The digital experience by itself is not addressing our need for human interaction. In Genesis 2:18 God said about Adam, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”
- Missing out on the impact of the corporate experience. Worshipping online is good. Worshiping in person with a group of like-minded believers is almost always better. The physical gathering dynamic cannot be duplicated digitally.
- Digital alone can stunt discipleship. Discipleship can happen digitally, but it’s harder to do. You can transact information digitally, but the life-on-life experience cannot be duplicated over the internet. Discipleship has a teaching component to it—but as Jesus demonstrated, there’s an in-person relational component to discipleship as well.
It remains to be seen how the digital church will both help and hurt the church in the long run. But this combo of physical and digital is not going away anytime soon. The “new normal” will be a combo of both for the foreseeable future.
What should we leaders do with digital? Ignore it? Criticize it? Go whole hog with it? You’ll have to answer that for your context, but can I encourage you to consider pouring fuel on how digital helps, while being aware of and addressing how it hurts? Let’s leverage the good parts of digital and combine them with the good parts of in-person.
We know this combination makes leading more complex . . . but who said leading was easy?
Every one of us here at Converge Coaching is rooting and praying for you as you work your way through the challenging marriage of physical and digital church!