By Beka Johnson
The last year was nothing short of incredible. From the pandemic, to economic and social unrest, to natural disasters, we were forced to confront some of the deepest, darkest parts of our culture, including the depths of our own hearts. And it wasn’t pretty.
The Church had to step into anxiety-filled moments, figuring out how to be present, nurturing, and gospel-forward in the midst of confusion, hurt, and division (sometimes within its own body).
And church staff had to figure out how to do all of it while keeping a safe distance. They had to figure out how to innovate with technology while preserving what matters most. In short, it was a stretching year for pastors and church workers.
But something really incredible also happened.
A giant leap of faith
You may not have noticed it, but in 2020 the Church made a monumental shift that has the potential to create a huge and lasting impact on how we do evangelism and discipleship from this moment forward.
If you know anything about technology adoption, you know it’s divided into five main groups: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards (the late majority and laggards making up 50%). And while there have certainly been many early adopters of church tech (with the early majority making a decent dent), there were still many church leaders who were either skeptical or uninterested in church technology at the beginning of 2020.
But the events of last year forced the shift to technology all at once. Even the laggards adopted some form of church tech in the last year, which is a big deal. Here’s why.
Amplified and accelerated
Throughout history, the Church has used modern innovations to amplify the gospel. Think about the Roman roads, the movable-type printing press, radio, TV, and now mobile phones. The vehicles for delivering the gospel have become more and more accessible and convenient, yet some church leaders have still shied away from embracing the most gospel-forward church tech available today.
“We don’t grow the church, God does!” is a common retort I’ve heard throughout my years working in church tech. And, of course, I agree. The Holy Spirit changes hearts and minds through the faithful proclamation of the gospel. This is one of those core truths we do not compromise. But I’m reminded of the verse, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom 10:14)
Not to add to Scripture, but one could just as easily ask, How will they hear the preacher if they’re not in the building or able to stream the sermon online? How will they find the church without a website or directions? How will they find the church website if it’s not optimized for search engines?
I could go on, but my point is that there are lots of strategic, practical things we can do to help people take that first step into the church building where they’ll have an opportunity to be changed by the preaching of the Word. In fact, I would argue this is all a part of what it means to do evangelism well.
Working together for good
We all know the verse. But this past year is an example of Romans 8:28 in action. Here are just a few examples of how the shakeup of 2020 has impacted digital discipleship for good:
1. Hybrid Worship Services
As mentioned above, many churches were forced to adopt some sort of live stream or video technology to allow people to participate in worship when they weren’t able to gather in person. And this adoption alone has allowed churches to amplify their reach well beyond the four walls.
Church members everywhere were suddenly able to invite friends to church online with the click of a button, they were able to worship in real time with fellow believers, share prayer requests with one another, and keep up some level of community even while apart. And it sure was a beautiful thing to scroll through Facebook on Sunday morning during the height of the pandemic and see social media just flooded with worship services.
That said, online-only church services have their limits. We’re called to gather and commune together, which isn’t possible in an online-only format. Online-only services are something we do when we don’t have any other choice, but they ultimately cannot and should not replace in-person worship. However, hybrid worship services (that is in-person services with a live stream) are very much worth doing because they are an incredible evangelism and discipleship tool. They provide good context and understanding to people who may be thinking about visiting in person soon, and they allow those who are nervous or anxious to become comfortable with a church before setting foot through the front door.
Hybrid services are also great for bringing together those who may be sick, on bedrest, or unable to attend in person for some other reason. From this moment in history forward, there’s no longer any excuse for sidelining these folks in our churches. We must continue to find ways to help them participate in the life of the local church.
2. Small-Group Accessibility
While some small groups continued meeting in person or in modified, socially-distanced ways, many small groups adopted some sort of online model to allow those who were social distancing to participate from afar.
This opened the door for those who weren’t able to participate pre-pandemic to participate in midweek activities from anywhere for the very first time. And it opened the eyes of church and small group leaders as to how they’d been failing this subset of their community previously.
Nothing can quite replace in-person small group gatherings. However, creating new accessibility options for those who are home-bound, traveling, or hindered from commuting to still join in and be a part of something meaningful each week has proven to be a big step forward for churches. Not to mention, life is hectic and midweek meetings are tough. Sometimes having an online option will be the difference between someone being able to join in or having to skip.
Tools like Faithlife Equip can help facilitate online and hybrid small groups beautifully with their online community groups, calendar and event scheduling, group and video chat, and digital content library of theological reads, documentaries, courses, and more.
3. Bible Study Tools for All
With some schools and libraries shutting down temporarily during the pandemic, students, scholars, and pastors were forced to find digital ways of completing their studies and sermon preparation. Faithlife was able to immediately give seminary students temporary access to a robust digital theological library for free. But this particular problem again highlighted the struggle those without access experience on a regular basis.
This is one of the reasons Dallas Theological Seminary completely moved their student base to Logos Bible Software. They wanted all of their students to have access to the same books and resources and eliminate disparity.
Church members may have a similar accessibility problem. Do the people in our congregations have access to Bible study tools and resources to truly dig in and learn? Is this something the church could help to facilitate? We are, after all, in the midst of a biblical literacy crisis. Thanks to Faithlife Equip, empowering church members with books and Bible study tools is well within reach (and doesn’t need to break the bank, either).
Best of all, these resources are accessible anytime, anywhere. Pandemic or not, at home or standing in line, or traveling across the world, studying Scripture and reading, listening, or watching theological content is now as accessible as binging Netflix (and a whole lot more edifying).
4. Entertaining and Educating Screen Time
One of the ways Faithlife churches assisted their members during the pandemic was by providing them access to Christian video content through Faithlife TV.
Faithlife TV Church (included in Faithlife Equip) offers churches the opportunity to provide all congregants access to a plethora of choices from respected Bible teachers such as Michael Heiser, Mark Ward, and Elyse Fitzpatrick, as well as shows for kids and families.
As mentioned above, some churches incorporated this content into their small group activities, but others simply offered this edifying content to their members as a way to help them learn and grow during the extra downtime at home.
All in all, it’s been a wild 15 months. None of us could have anticipated everything that happened in the last year. It’s been difficult, lonely, and frustrating, but it hasn’t been all bad. God has been able to turn so much of it to our good. And pushing the Church headfirst into technology it previously feared is just one benefit that will have a lasting impact for the Kingdom.
We can’t go back now. We must go forward. This year, church leaders need to think about what life in the post-pandemic world will be like for their church. The world is opening back up, and we’ll never get this moment back. Let’s step into it strategically positioned to disciple and nurture our communities better than ever before.
Beka Johnson is the Director of Content Marketing at Faithlife and previously ran Lifecycle Marketing at Pushpay. Beka loves helping churches think through their digital discipleship funnels. She has been a speaker and writer in the church tech space since 2015.