While last month, I stepped away from the topic of fellowship for this piece in the newsletter, I want to now return to this topic. Over the past few months, we have spoken about fellowship. Specifically, we have spoken of how fellowship is broken and how to fix it. In this post, we are going to turn our attention to the issue of fellowship in the digital world that has been escalated and accelerated due to COVID. I write this article realizing we as the church still do not have all of this figured out, and to be honest we still have a way to go before we have fellowship in a digital age figured out.
Before I move any further, I want to make sure we are on the same page. I am not talking in this article about you as an individual but as a church. The point of this article series, as we move through the different purposes of the church (Fellowship, Ministry, Worship, Discipleship, Evangelism, and Prayer), is to engage the church with thoughts on these purposes, to the end of being a catalyst to get us on mission for Jesus.
Whether you like the church in this digital world or not is a debate for another time, the reality is digital is here to stay. Now please hear me, digital can never replace face-to-face. There will always be something missing in a purely digital format. Distance considered we have to figure out how to transition them from digital to the real world. With this being said we can either stick our heads in the sand or learn how to leverage the digital world for the Kingdom. For me, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. I believe that while there will be some missteps, under-steps, and over-steps, as we figure this thing out, we as the church need to figure out how we can best leverage this digital world for the gospel.
As an initial observation, COVID forced a significant number of churches to move toward some form of digital seemingly overnight. For the vast majority of churches, this was a scary but unavoidable move. Scary because we admittedly do not fully understand or appreciate this digital world, as it has pushed us into an uncomfortable and unknown world. Unavoidable because the move to some form of digital meant the difference between having church or not, as well as connecting and engaging with members or not. Some of these churches have wisely decided to keep a foot in the digital world as COVID has waned, yet some of the churches that started during COVID have reduced or cut out entirely their digital footprint.
A further initial observation is the Lord has given us a mission to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). To accomplish this task we are to leverage the tools He has placed at our disposal. Things in the past that we take for granted now such as the Gutenberg Press, roads, ships, trains, musical instruments from ancient to modern, microphones and speakers, radio, and TV have been and are tools that the church has leveraged to accomplish the mission. Now the tools for us to leverage tend to be more digital such as blogs, podcasts, and social media. Think about it this way when it comes to the Great Commission, the overwhelming majority of our world and our communities lives part of their lives in the digital world. To make it personal, my guess is you most likely have some level of footprint in the digital world with social media like Facebook, Youtube, email, text messages, and the like.
Now here is the problem and it is a significant problem that the church will have to figure out. We can choose to leverage the digital world, have professional-level content, and still miss the boat. While quality matters, it is more than quality. You see if we do not connect and engage those in the digital world we have failed. We must connect and engage when it comes to our teaching and time of praise, yet more to the point, it is just as important if not more so, to connect and engage people in fellowship.
Let me frame it like this, fellowship is defined as sharing life together. We share life together as a church when we laugh together, cry together, and celebrate together. Fellowship is simply being together and being on mission together in the ups and downs as we sojourn through life. How do we accomplish this in the digital world when your church may engage with people from great distances? How do we share life together if I am in NC and this other person is in Michigan or California or Alabama or Kentucky or the United Kingdom or Honduras (this was my situation as a pastor before coming to NBA) (I have heard similar situations from several NBA churches)?
While I am still trying to figure this out, just as you are; let me offer a few thoughts.
- Fellowship in the digital world must be intentional. How will you move them from being a number hidden behind the screen to individuals with which you can have a conversation within the digital world? While this may seem obvious, this transition will prove to be a challenge without a thought-through strategy.
- We must add value for them to start that fellowship engagement. In other words, we have to answer the ‘why’ they need to fellowship. This thought is tied into the thought above but it is also distinct. Without the ‘why’ it is too easy to hide behind a screen. For example, “I watch the worship celebration time from time to time, why should I engage more deeply?” (A freebie: those attending your worship time ask the same question when encouraged or invited to attend a Sunday School or Small Group.) My friends, we must answer the ‘why’ if we expect people to connect.
- In what format will you engage with them? This engagement will be digital, so will it be through social media, Zoom, Google Classroom, an app on a phone, some other type of chat board, or some other medium? There has to be someplace that is smooth and natural where we point them toward starting that fellowship engagement. With people online, if it is difficult, complicated, or too many steps they will ‘click’ away.
- Fellowship in the digital world will need a point person/s in your local church. In other words who will be the person/s that keeps things up and going, praying with, encouraging, and connecting? Think about it this way, you staff (lay or staff pastor) the different ministries of the church such as Sunday School, StudentMin, KidMin, and Senior Adult because you want things to run smoothly, efficiently, and efficiently; the same will go for your digital ministry, which includes fellowship in the digital world.