Theological understanding of digital ministry necessary for the church of the future

With 50-70% of churches committed to continuing online services, leaders need to be equipped to minister to congregants they may never see in person 

With studies showing that churches throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe will continue to conduct ministry online post-COVID-19, the Christian media ministry Premier Insight has partnered with Spurgeon’s College in the U.K. to create a digital theology master’s degree to equip leaders for this task.  For those segments of the audience for whom online church has become their preferred method of spiritual growth and connectivity, pastors need training in areas such as administering the sacraments online and encouraging discipleship in settings beyond weekly sermon delivery.

“The world beyond the COVID pandemic will be a different place for the global Church. It will be a place where people will gather around the scriptures, share fellowship with one another, and worship God both in church buildings and online,” said Pete Phillips, Ph.D., director of Premier’s Center for Digital Theology. “A hybrid model offers greater access for those new to the church and for those who cannot get to onsite worship for whatever reasons, and it requires the Church to go through its own digital transformation – training up worship pastors, preachers and discipleship leaders for a networked society.”

Barna shares in its recent State of the Church Report that 7 in 10 church-going adults (70%) agree that churches should use digital resources to reach and engage their neighborhoods, and that 63% believe churches should use digital resources for spiritual formation and discipleship. As such, Barna recommends that staff be trained and dedicated to that role of engaging digital users and reorienting online churchgoers from being solely content consumers to active participants: “The digital space requires a unique level of intentionality to engage users and still cultivate personal connections.”

Part of that training revolves around the idea of administering the sacraments virtually, such as exploring at-home communion, “Zoom” baptisms, and options such as chat rooms to take the place of in-person greeting time or “passing the peace,” Barna suggests.

With half of churchgoers still using the internet as a substitute for physical church since the pandemic, according to Barna, it’s clear that hybrid church models must expand their online offerings to include discipleship and spiritual growth resources like small groups, Bible studies and times of prayer, beyond merely streaming worship services. This also makes it possible for the full Body of Christ to participate, whereas before, elderly shut-ins or individuals with disabilities may have been excluded from all of these practices.

A church study out of Scotland actually showed substantially greater church participation and community involvement once these congregations began providing online worship and other content. With the Church of Scotland reporting as much as 430% growth as a result, it’s no wonder that 92% of these churches will continue offering some form of weekly online worship.

With most churches not expecting to reach pre-COVID attendance levels for some time, there has been a learning curve for pastors in figuring out how to handle those who have engaged with their message or mission outside of their facility, according to author and leadership expert Carey Nieuwhof. “Moving forward,” he writes, “many church leaders will realize that people who are engaging virtually will count just as much as those who are attending in a facility.”

This all highlights the need for Premier’s Centre for Digital Theology. Its Master’s in Digital Theology is the first degree of its kind across the world, offering a unique opportunity for theological reflection on digital culture and its impact on contemporary religious practice. The program prepares men and women for ministry and mission in a digital age. The degree can be taken online, onsite in London, or in a hybrid mode, both full-time over 2 years or part-time over 4. Topics explored during the course include:

  • How we think theologically about digital culture and how we might apply digital methodologies to our theological thinking
  • How key theological themes are impacted by serious engagement with digitality — what do we mean by incarnation in a digital world; how do we live ethically amidst digital technology?
  • How religious practice adapts within a dominant digital culture, and what the boundaries to that adaptation are

For more information about the digital theology course, see

About Premier Insight
Through its various programs, Premier Insight offers something unique, born from the largest Christian media organization in the U.K. with 25 years of ministry experience in a post-Christian context, combined with a tremendously rich Christian heritage. Premier Insight seeks to be both a connector and a facilitator that unapologetically points to the unchanging truth and insight of God’s Word in a culture in dire need of redemption.


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