We live in a rapidly changing world, where people are digitally connected.
Social networks and media channels and platforms of all shapes and sizes (with names like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, WhatsApp, WeChat etc.) have facilitated and accelerated this process of connecting digitally.
These social networks have not only invaded our lives, but have dramatically changed the way we live, work, play, and also the way we (need to) do ministry.
It is estimated that by 2020 there will be more than 7.7 billion smartphones in the hands of the world’s people. All these people could potentially have access to the gospel in the palm of their hands!
This is the setting in which God has called us to bear witness.
God’s call for us (as the church) has remained the same, even though the world continues to change. It is essentially about bringing the unchanging gospel to a changing generation.
Our hope in God is steadfast. It is still very real and desperately needed. We are entrusted to bring this message of unchanging hope through culturally-relevant and engaging ways so that our changing world has the opportunity to listen, interact, consider, and be changed by it.
German theologian Helmut Thielicke puts it well:
“ The Gospel must be constantly forwarded to a new address because its recipient is repeatedly changing his place of residence.”
We go where people are
I’m constantly reminded that the heart of missions is to ‘go where the people are,’ to learn, understand and use the ‘language’ and culture of the people we are trying to connect with to reach them. Often that requires me to lay down my ‘old ways’ and methods of doing things (that I’ve grown accustomed to), and be willing to try new approaches.
How can we, like Apostle Paul, “become all things to all people,” (1 Cor 9:22) so that by all possible means we might save some?
What are the opportunities afforded to us in this increasingly digital and socially connected world? Consider these ideas and examples. And as you do, I trust that it would challenge you to ‘think outside the box’ as well, in whatever context God has placed you, to bring His hope, love and life.
We live in a very visual, story-oriented generation. Author Leonard Sweet describes it as E.P.I.C. (Experiential, Participatory, Image-based, Connective). Instagram (as a social media network) checks all of those boxes.
Images on Instagram, coupled with a thoughtful question, can provide a great way to spark conversations that have the potential to lead to spiritual topics/interests.
Brittany, a campus ministry staff discovered it’s also a helpful way, and a less traditional approach to discover students at a campus. She said: "We had 50+ students pack out a room after I reached out to them on Instagram. Several students were reached that we would never be able to talk to if it weren’t for Instagram.”
Are you on Instagram? How do you (intentionally) use your pictures/images to engage with those who follow you? What are some creative risks you could take to draw out some meaningful (or even spiritual) conversations?
"I want to die"
Did you know that in the Netherlands, every day, about 2000 people Google the phrase, ‘I want to die’? What do you think are the top results they find? Make a guess. The truth is heart-breaking − the top answers they find basically instruct them on ways to end their lives! What would you do if you’re confronted with this fact in your own city or country? Thankfully, the ministry of Jesus.net, in partnership with local churches and ministries, decided they needed to do something about it. Working with Christian technologists and digital specialists who understand Search Engine Optimization (SEO), they put up a website that now, by God’s grace, is the top search result when someone who is desperate, searches for help. This is an example of a very tangible and do-able digital strategy, with clear digital engagement and pathways, and powerful life-saving results.
There’s such a great need and opportunity for the Church to rise up to consider how it can be more thoughtful and intentional in similar digital strategies like this.
Do you know what people search for in your city? What are the trending topics? What does it tell us about their desires, their worries, their fears? Are we able to offer them any ‘spiritual pathways’ when they are searching for these things?
Launching a Student Ministry via Facebook
A few years ago, a Cru ministry in Europe literally used Facebook to help launch a student movement in the Netherlands. Simply by using targeted ads (on Facebook or Google), they were able to surface (find?) the ‘persons of peace’ that God had already prepared, who had already been praying about how to launch a student movement on their campus. Since then, the same concept/strategy has been applied to Mission Trips, where teams begin 'meeting’ interested contacts (online!) even before they fly to the city, and set foot on the campus. Can you imagine how this dramatically changes the way we approach ministry/outreach/missions? And also how it increases the effectiveness of launching movements everywhere?
As you can see, many of these approaches are not necessarily complicated, nor are they expensive. They just require creative approaches that leverage our digitally, socially connected world. Whenever specialised knowledge or expertise are required, it’s an opportunity for followers of Christ in the digital space to rise up to contribute and apply their skills or talents to meaningful missional projects. Indigitous.org is one such global movement that is seeing success as the collaborative space for digital practitioners and missions/field specialists to work together for greater impact.
We all need to leverage our growing understanding of our socially connected world to help ‘bring the unchanging gospel to our changing generation.'
Inspired? Where do I start?
1. Visit www.Indigitous.org/blog Discover what others are doing, pick one idea, try something!
2. Put some useful digital tools in your hand. You never know when you might need them.
GodTools app - very simple way to share/present the gospel
JesusFilm app - Jesus film clips, short-films, in 1300+ languages
3. Pray about your personal digital strategy, or 'digital engagement plan.' How would the Lord use you to be an influence in and through your digital networks? As a friend of mine once put it, ‘Rise up to own and meaningfully occupy the digital space God has entrusted to you!’
Simon Seow is a creative catalyst and communicator who loves Prezi, Trello, and Macs! He's passionate about empowering God's people to use God-given tools and resources for greater impact. He is on staff with Cru Singapore, and currently serves in the Global Digital Strategies Vice President's team in Orlando, where he coaches leaders around the world to develop strategies that help offer the gospel 24/7, lead in pioneering movements where there is no digital presence, help, find and create tools that will empower these ministries and collaborate with others to develop such platforms. He's married and the shepherd of three kids.