+Pr. Dee Pederson, D.Min., Director for Evangelical Mission
Many of us wish we’d taken steps toward having an online presence years ago. But we were busy. And mainly, we didn’t know where to begin. Stay-at-Home pushed people out of the comfort of the sanctuary and into the comfort of home. For clergy and worship leaders trying to provide some form of online worship, it was uncomfortable. For worshipers, it was great in many ways! Viewing numbers spiked. People from across the country have joined in, and many are interested in connecting with you online forever.
They call it virtual, but it’s real. Worship moved online. Became digital. As one of my colleagues, DEM Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Nelson suggests, digital ministry can be Evangelical, Incarnational, Relational, Networked, and Responsive. It is:
- Evangelical – As I have joined in your online worship services and devotional reflections over the past 3 months, I’ve heard you bringing GOOD NEWS – like you always do. We are GOOD News people, and your online presence is living out our ELCA identity so clearly. In addition, your congregation members are inviting friends, family, and acquaintances to join in. New people have found that they can enter digital space more comfortably and unobtrusively than walking into a church building as strangers.
- Incarnational – You and your congregation show up right where people are, just as they are – whether on FB Live, YouTube, or Zoom. Your presence is portable and available 24/7.
- Relational – People are strengthening their sense of community by texting, messaging, lifting-up prayer concerns in real time on FB Live. You have invited your people near and far to offer readings, music, or share their faith stories, flattening the curve of leadership and strengthening the priesthood of all believers in new ways.
- Networked – People have been alone together, but they’re also connected digitally across time zones and geography. Folks who never could have entered your building are with you online.
- Responsive – You’re there for your people digitally 24/7, and you have responded to people’s needs for care during the greatest crises of our lifetimes.
These are qualities the world can see in your digital ministry.
- How else would you describe the gifts and assets of your digital presence or online worship?
Of course, there have been downsides……
- Learning new skills in technology at breakneck speed and doing tons of additional work
- Discovering what your area internet connections can and cannot do
- Speaking to a live assembly of no one
- Discovering that Zoom works great for smaller communities, but is too intimate for new people
- Discovering that FB Live is a great tool for outreach, but limits conversation to brief comments or emoji
- Kids are only “adjacent” when a family joins in pre-recorded worship
- We recognize that the old normal isn’t coming back, but we don’t know what the next normal will be.
These are challenges that make us feel exhausted and wondering what to do next.
- What other challenges have you discovered?
As congregations begin to consider how to move toward worship in a building again, many are recognizing that continuing to have some kind of digital ministry is vital to our members and to connecting with new people.
- Elders know how to use FB to see their grandkids’ photos, and they actually ARE connecting digitally.
- People in high risk situations for COVID-19 simply will not be comfortable entering a church building.
- New people are hearing the Good News of Jesus Christ from you for the first time.
- People have gotten to know their pastors in a much more personal way, just as they are; and while that can be terrifying for pastors as professional leaders, the appreciation of many congregations for their pastors has never been greater.
Stewing and strategizing this summer about moving forward
Wherever you are, now is a time to pray, think, and talk with congregational leaders about your digital ministry.
- Start with God’s mission and your mission, vision, and values. How does a digital presence support this?
- Maybe you moved to a digital presence as a way to get by in the pandemic, or the internet connection in your area isn’t good, and you’re done with it.
- Maybe you learned that having some kind of digital presence supports your mission – and God’s mission.
- Maybe you’ve discovered new people who found you online.
- Is this something you will fold? Continue in a modest way, such as with a FB devotion?
- Is it something that God’s mission in your context is nudging you to grow?
- Who is your audience? What do they need to grow as a follower of Jesus?
- Study the watch data to discover some clues.
- Check out the digital ministry of other congregations near and far for ideas. What ideas nourish you? What would your congregation appreciate and grow from?
- What is your congregation’s story? What do people “not you” need to know about you – and Jesus?!
- What is your message? You don’t need to write a ton of new material in order to remain online. Every week you write a sermon. How can you utilize your work in a variety of ways? Consider:
- Online Bible studies on the texts early in the week to invite people to contribute their insights and add creativity to your thought/preparation process
- Devotional reflections
- Posting the sermon itself
- Which platforms are working for you? Which need updating? What would you like to start?
- This is your congregation’s front door. Does it need to be updated?
- These can be topic-centered. They welcome strangers.
- Social Media. What do you have now? What do you want to add – or not?
- Moving forward
- Who will be responsible for updating messaging and material? This is the congregation’s message and story, so it should not be one person. And it can’t be only the pastor. Call on the gifts God’s given the congregation. The new leaders here may be students in high school.
- What policies will you have about what’s published, especially regarding privacy?
- Dream about and then create a long-range calendar to think about content and the persons responsible for creating it.
At this point in 2020, many of us may find ourselves at various places:
- We’re just beginning and want to know and learn more.
- We want to grow. We’re changing with the culture and also need to upgrade hardware and/or software.
We’re all in and have no immediate need.
We feel good about what we’re doing and could be a resource for others.
In the near future, synod leadership would like to host webinars for lay ministry teams and pastors to grow in their digital ministry. This could include a #101 track, best info on technology tools, and ideas for fund-raising for technology to grow in the future. We’re here to walk with you!
 Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson, Director for Evangelical Mission, Northeastern Iowa Synod, ELCA. “Developing Your Digital Ministry Strategy.”