Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
In terms of who makes up the digital discipleship and evangelism team, our philosophy includes everyone. The integrated model utilizes every active member in a holistic approach that aims to scale up the traditional friend/community evangelism and discipleship models, not replace them.
What does this mean practically?
It’s not a digital approach attempting to subvert a traditional approach, but, rather, the entire church body using all its human resources, diversity of spiritual gifts, and available tools to work together for a common goal. Church growth is a product of promotion, experience, and personal connections. Digital technology is a powerful tool to guide more people into your church, but the on-site experience and personal connections is what will keep them coming. After all, it’s one challenge to attract new people; it’s another to get them to keep returning. To encourage people to remain in your community, whether online or in person, they must not only have a good experience, but also connect with the members on a personal level and become integrated as a participating member of the community.
If we understand the local church to be a community of believers, we must seek to create meaningful connections, reaching out to seekers whose experience often starts online, as well as to those already in our house of worship. Your church’s online interactions with potential visitors should make them want to experience your faith and mission in person. Then, when they do come for that on-site experience, it should be a continuation of the positive relationship you’ve built with them online. The same is true in reverse.
To achieve a continuity of experience and relationship building, everyone is part of the process. This means the 84-year-old greeter at the door is part of your digital discipleship and evangelism team just as much as the tech savvy youths who create video snippets and content for your social media. It includes the passionate and knowledgeable worship leaders who answer questions and host online bible studies. Remember, what starts in the digital space is not confined to the digital space. It may take weeks, months, or years, but eventually those people who have been touched by your digital voice may be moved by the Holy Spirit to walk in the door. From their perspective, it’s all one spiritual journey and experience, not digital versus traditional. They don’t view their experience in silos; therefore, we must break down the silos of how we go about discipleship and evangelism.
Every touchpoint matters and must tell a consistent story!
Look at this process of evangelism holistically. Consider all possible touchpoints in the list below and ask, “Where does the experience decelerate? Where is the breakdown in communication?”
Touchpoints by role groupings include but are not limited to:
With the digital discipleship and evangelism model shown above as a foundational concept, we can understand how the roles of creators, distributors, and engagers can fit into the overall seeker/visitor experience.
There may be an overlapping of functions that can occur at multiple touchpoints. Every church is different and has different human resources, and spiritual gifts to draw from. This concept is scalable and adaptable to your situation.
Make room for digital discipleship and evangelism.
Change can be difficult, especially for institutions grounded in tradition. However, the Adventist Church is also rooted in a movement that was led by young people. We must again empower talented youths in our churches to take the lead in areas where they naturally excel, such as digital communications and community building. In addition, we have not done a good job of recognizing and utilizing the spiritual gifts of tech savvy and creative members. These gifted individuals have a wealth of talent to offer mission work and should be encouraged to use their skills in service. We can change the culture in our faith communities to make them feel that the Church truly values their time and talents just as much as Bible workers, nurses, Bible study leaders, and speakers.
Form teams of content creators, distributors, and engagers. Each church likely has various members who could specialize or lead in certain areas. These can be powerful personal ministry opportunities, especially for empathetic persons who can facilitate positive conversations online and share stories of faith. Seek to create a culture of sharing and engaging with church social media content as a means for individuals to help fulfill the church’s mission and expand the reach of messages. Anyone who is on social media, has an email address, or is connected to the internet can share content.
It doesn’t matter if a person has four friends or 40,000, they have influence.
Find ways to leverage social influence. If people are connected to others through digital technologies, they have digital influence. Each impression/message received represents a person touched by your message and mission. “Social butterflies” can learn to use their online and offline influence to engage in practical mission work. There is a place for all skill levels.
Influencer groups in your church may include, but are not limited to:
Organize multi-generational training and mentorship opportunities. This will only strengthen your church body and improve cross-generational relationships. Young people yearn for mentorship, and the older generations can learn a lot form the natural skills of the youth. The church should be the ideal example of two-way mentorship in action. Ultimately technologies change, but people and their needs largely remain the same. Healthy communities involve multiple generations coexisting in a collaborative and supportive manner.
In summary, to make room for digital discipleship and evangelism in your church:
Utilize Digital Bible Workers.
If you are lucky enough to have a Bible worker, empower them to expand their efforts digitally. Social media and other digital technologies can be leveraged as lead generating tools. Remember, young people spend upwards of 9-18 hours a day behind a screen, and that affords the church a lot of opportunities to reach them with relevant content and conversations facilitated for seekers. Ideally this is someone who can ultimately lead a focused evangelistic effort, train others, build a dedicated team, and work with other groups and initiatives within your church.
Digital technologies allow a Bible worker to enter a person's life at the convenience and comfort level of the recipient by providing relevant online content, a degree of anonymity, a simple platform for question and answers, and opportunities to engage and form relationships.
What does a Digital Bible Worker Do?
Digital Bible workers utilize digital technologies to share the gospel and stimulate religious thought by creating and packaging content that addresses relevant needs/questions and encourages people to advance in their spiritual journey. Digital Bible workers build relationships with those in the broader community, online and offline, and usually within a specific geographic territory in order to create opportunities for one-on-one or small group Bibles studies held in person or via digital tools. They work in partnership with a local church and pastor to evaluate the needs of a community and determine relevant opportunities for outreach and service. They mentor converts in their development of Christian character and commitment to faith as well as train and equip new members for active discipleship roles. This role encompasses a mix of digital discipleship and evangelism to bridge the gap between working in the digital mission field and achieving real-world impact.
The following is sample of what a job description could look like for local churches and conferences looking to hire a Bible worker to lead online evangelistic campaigns. This position can also be adapted to more appropriately reflect the role of a digital pastor. Feel free to adapt to your specific needs and HR requirements. View this template as a type of menu to guide you in the creation of a position that makes sense for your organization’s structure. These positions can be adapted for paid or volunteer workers based on the level of time commitment needed and budget available.
The Digital Bible Worker will implement a comprehensive, multi-channel digital evangelism strategy designed to meet the spiritual and social needs of teen, 18– to 35-year-old, collegiate, career-focused, single or married seekers (may include other target audiences based on the goals of the conference or church) in the local community. While engagement and relationship building will start in the digital space, the intent is to bring the target audience to an in-person experience. A secondary goal of this position is to mentor young people already in the church towards a deeper relationship with Jesus and greater community involvement—empowering them to also be effective digital disciples.
Objectives and Responsibilities:
Essential Job Functions:
Education and Experience:
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them. —Ecclesiastes 1:9-11 NIV
To gain insight into the drivers behind the collective shifts in society, read Pendulum: How Past Generations Shape Our Present and Predict Our Future, by Roy H. Williams and Michael R. Drew. These shifts impact communication and often drive technology and social change. I recommend that, as part of your efforts to understand how to communicate more effectively to your target audiences and fulfill their needs, you not only read and study this book, but also invest the time in reading Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069 by William Strauss and Neil Howe. Good communication requires speaking in a way our audience can appreciate. As a religious organization, we should be using digital technologies to fulfill our audiences’ needs, but to do that, we must first understand what those needs are (as discussed in the previous section), their unspoken expectations, and the forces for change that influence a generation. This section takes the 30,000-foot-view of broader trends that may also be acting upon your target audiences.
Generation Z and the Millennials have been leaving the Church at alarming rates; could it be that we simply don’t understand them? We know that people of any given cultural group are always the best suited to reach out and evangelize to their peers. I contend that the same is true with generations. Now, empowering and training members of the youth to reach their own does not permit us to abdicate our function as guides and mentors. We too must seek to understand and cultivate these relationships if we are to bridge the gap and secure the future of the Church in North America and promote the salvation of souls. Pendulum provides an analysis of the current shifts in society and their impact on marketing, technology, and communication. The Social Media + Big Data department of the North American Division has repeatedly used these techniques across a broad range of messaging campaigns, consistently yielding successful results. Even if you don’t have time to read the 200-page book, what follows is a summary of what you need to know to understand and utilize these communication techniques.
Pendulum takes Strauss and Howe’s four “generations” (Idealist, Reactive, Civic, Adaptive) and reduces it to two generations covering forty years that oscillate between the “Me” philosophy of individuality, freedom, uniqueness, and potential (peaked in 1983) to the collective “We,” working together for the common good, fixing society’s greatest problems, and adopting a philosophy of authenticity and transparency. Sound familiar? According to this model, we are currently in the upswing of the “We” that should reach its zenith in 2023. Both ideals are always present in society but shifts in dominance occur. Optimal balance is found between the two extremes, and either extreme has negative consequences.
The main point is that group behavior is predictable, and we can use this predictability to speak to the masses in a relevant way.
There will always be exceptions, and as the authors point out:
For deeper insight into the pros and cons of each swing of the “pendulum,” read the book.
To communicate, we must ask, “What is driving the actions and attitudes of the group?”
Determine how your mission, programs, product and/or message fits or can be positioned into this paradigm. You may need to reevaluate what your ministry offers to better align with what is relevant to your target audience. See the previous section on understanding your target audience.
Figure: 2.3 Values and beliefs that motivate society in “WE” and “ME” cycles (Williams 17)
Drivers of a “WE” vs. drivers of a “ME”
This shift can be seen in successful advertising campaigns that target a worldview/attitude instead of an age group.
In other words, instead of targeting people based on surface level demographics, they are speaking to a shared value that transcends age and race as discussed in the previous section.
In Pendulum, the authors point out a well-known example. “Remember L’Oréal’s famous ‘Me’ slogan, ‘Because I’m worth it?’ As society passed the tipping point of 2003 and the ‘Me’ became fully unwound, the old slogan was replaced with, ‘Because you’re worth it’” (Williams 172).
During this same period, the successful Army slogan “Be All You Can Be” (1980-2001) changed to “Army of One” (2001-2006) but didn’t perform well because it was “contrary to the idea of teamwork” said Frank Luntz, American political consultant, pollster, and public opinion guru (Ball). The current, more “WE” focused, slogan is “Army Strong.”
Figure 16.3 Mindset and values in society during a “WE” cycle (Williams 168)
Social media is a powerful tool for member care and service. Never before has “truth in advertising” been so important. The younger generations are the most connected, more than any before them, and they naturally turn to social media to voice their displeasure with a brand or experience.
“Your advertising [messaging] may fool one of us. But that one will tell the rest of us,” says Roy H. Williams (172).
Figure 16.5 Tips to create a serious Internet presence during a “WE” cycle (Williams 172)
Self-effacing transparency is utterly disarming.
“We want the truth, even if it’s ugly. Shrink-wrapped, sugar-coated, phony posing [of the 80’s through mid-90’s] is no longer acceptable” (Williams 163). Humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view is what the Adventist Church and its ministries need to embrace; we see the effectiveness of this strategy in the success of initiatives like Gorgeous2God. Gorgeous2God is a community of young Christian women tackling real issues from a godly perspective. True stories from the experiences of real girls are shared and communicated in a candid way that the Church has not embraced previously. Topics include rape, self-harm, sex before marriage, depression, abuse, and other “uncomfortable” topics. Recognizing the underlying cultural principles in a “WE” generation provides guidance and strengthens our abilities to reach our target audience with relevant content, increasing meaningful impact. As a result of continued audience-focused messaging and content development, Gorgeous2God has grown to over 45K followers on social media, with over 20K visitors to the website a year, countless interactions and hundreds of direct messages (as of July 2019).
Analyze your audience; consider the factors discussed in this section and the previous section to then shape your communications in a way that aligns with the drivers behind the current (broad) shifts in society. Position your ministry for success. You will always have outliers within your target audience, but utilizing this knowledge allows your ministry to fish more effectively and increases the potential for a larger catch.
Ball, Molly (January 6, 2014) “The Agony of Frank Luntz.” The Atlantic.
Williams, R.H., & Drew, M. R. (2012). Pendulum: how past generations shape our present and predict our future. New York: Vanguard Press.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
Good communication is when you communicate in a way your audience understands.
You may feel like you know how to use social media platforms for personal sharing, but writing to achieve a marketing/evangelism goal requires much more thought and strategic planning. This section is designed to give you a framework for successfully defining your target audience and determining how to speak to them in a way that is relevant, encouraging meaningful engagements. It is essential that we not only communicate clearly, but that we also take the time to deeply understand our audience. It doesn’t matter if you know what you mean. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and speak to them accordingly. Speak to your audience in a way and with the words that enable them to understand and connect with your message. REMEMBER, EMPATHY FIRST.
This means that when we communicate in the digital space, we must speak the language of the platform and recognize the “cultural expectations” and “norms” prevalent in the space, as well as within the culture(s) of the people we are communicating to. Without careful research, our words and intentions can easily be taken the wrong way, inadvertently offending and pushing away the very people we are trying to reach.
As Christians, we want to reach and include everyone. This is our ultimate goal as disciples. However, from a specific ministry standpoint, this approach ends up reducing the relevancy of the message and spreads efforts too thin for significant impact. Afterall, a standard marketing rule of thumb states:
If you try to reach everyone all the time, you’ll end up
Each person, ministry, and local church is uniquely equipped and positioned to reach different types of people. Therefore, it is vital to understand who your audience is before you create content, write a single social media post, or spend any money on social advertisements. This section will help you learn how to effectively shape your messages and content to match your audience’s needs and reach them effectively, no matter their age, gender, ethnicity, location, or situation.
Determine Your Target Audience
The first step in reaching your audience is to develop a clear picture of who you are talking to. Begin with surface-level demographic information. Use the criteria below and fill in the information for your ministry’s target audience.
Surface-Level Demographic Information:
Once you’ve determined the surface-level characteristics of your target audience, work down to a deeper level which will help shape your messaging and the kind of content you’ll create.
Create deep connections by identifying with
People no longer fit into neat categories, so we must connect with them on a more profound level, transcending the standard marketing demographics of age, ethnicity, gender, language, location, and interests. If you can dig deeper, your audience will be loyal to your brand because you resonate with them at their core.
The best way to do that is to investigate their needs, experiences, values, and perceptions. Conducting surveys and interviews is one key way to collect more information. Then start asking yourself questions that will help you to get inside the minds of your audience members. What motivates their actions? What makes them who they are? What do they have in common? How can I speak and write in a way that my audience will find relatable? What do they value? What do they actually need?
Examples of needs may include: a spiritually supportive community, affordable education, employment, affordable medical care, safe spaces for their children, mentorship opportunities, a better future, healthier relationships, self-improvement, Christian guidance on real-life issues, food security, or practical life-skills training.
Use the criteria below and write down possible answers for your target audience.
Deep Level Characteristics:
”Cultural Empathy” in the Digital Mission Field
As discussed in the previous section, the concept of “cultural empathy” is well known in the physical mission field and its principles should be applied to the digital mission field. We live in a world of intersecting cultures or communities, and, therefore, our definition of culture must expand. Many now find themselves between cultures and functioning in multiple communities simultaneously. In order to identify the unifying threads between seemingly dissimilar people, we need to first unpack their many cultural influences.
These cultures are potentially endless in variety, but can include:
Now take the time to consider the potential overlap in cultures found within your church, community, ministry, or target audience. How might they influence behavior and needs? What unifying factors can you identify?
Internal v. External
Are you speaking to Adventists or non-Adventists? Your language may change based on the answer to this question. We must modify the way we communicate in order to effectively reach different audiences without creating barriers. For example, when we are talking to our friends we use certain vernacular that tends to be more playful and friendlier, but when we are talking to our boss or elders, our persona is more serious and professional. The same is true with evangelism and discipleship. We may commonly use certain words such as “Sabbath” or “haystacks” that could seem foreign or confusing to non-Adventists. The list below offers some guidelines on how to distinguish between internal and external audiences.
Audience Personas 101
When communicating to your audiences, visualize actual people—their interests, culture, wants, needs, and expectations—to refine your voice. You will probably need to create unique personas to represent different target groups within your audience. According to The Guardian, personas can be simply defined as:
A fictional character that communicates the primary characteristics of a group or segment of your audience and takes into consideration needs, demographics, motivations, and environments.
Determining your audience personas can help you develop and write content that will be relevant and useful to your audience. The best personas are often created by simply talking to your audience, but social media insights, website analytics, and surveys can also prove very useful. Personas give a human face to a collection of information, and they allow you to classify groups for different messaging campaigns and programs. The best personas combine both quantitative and qualitative information.
Below is an example of a persona:
About Bryce: Adventist College Persona
Education: High school senior
Interests: Business, sports, camping, meeting other young people, discipleship training
Salary: $3,000 a year
Location: Berkeley, Calif.
Family: Adopted, married parents, no siblings, Hispanic
Goals: Finding a good paying and meaningful job, mentoring younger peers, finding a girlfriend, finding a Christian friend group
Challenges: Finding friends with similar morals, avoiding drugs/alcohol, food insecure, feels rejected by his biological parents and struggles to connect, struggles with religious doubt
Values: Fair justice system, the environment, good reputation, strong character, fairness, good citizenship, technology and flexibility, diversity, leadership training and experience
Fears: The unknown, poor work-life balance, affording college, student loan debt, getting a good job, rejection, finding purpose/meaning
Preferred platforms for Media: Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube
Messages applicable to Bryce: We are all adopted into God’s family. Our church/school/ministry is a place to belong and a place to grow. Connection to others, connection to God. Diversity and purpose. Mentorship opportunities and support for leadership training or education.
Social media personas are developed based on your target audience as defined earlier in this section. The key is finding out what those people want and need; the rest is simply compiling those qualities into a made-up person. As a Church, we need to constantly find ways to reach our audience for the kingdom in the best, most efficient way possible. Creating social media personas is a valuable exercise that enables us, as communicators, to step into others’ shoes and view life from their perspective. Personas help us develop empathy with our audience.
Use the following framework to develop your own personas:
Special Note about Generation Z
The Church and the wider Christian community has become increasingly concerned with reaching Generation Z, people born approximately 1997-2012 (Pew Research Center). However, the Church has not yet adapted to meet the needs of the generation before them, Millennials. We should be concerned, as these two age groups represent the largest divergence from traditional Christian values and lowest participation in faith institutions we’ve seen. To reach and retain these generations, we must reframe our approach based on their perspectives.
Generation Z lives in a totally different world and interacts in a totally different way than any generation before them. When asked what the most important historical event in the USA in the last 20 years was, they responded, “The release of the iPhone.” Most older people would say the terrorist attacks of 9/11. (Adam Fenner, Director, Adventist Learning Community)
From Gen Z and Millenial perspectives, their answer makes sense given that technology and digital communications have completely reshaped society, how we connect with each other, how we shop, and how we live. They have grown up in an almost entirely digital world, and they relate to technology in a more integrated fashion than any other generation before them.
So who is Gen Z? What you should consider when targeting this age group:
What do Gen Z’s values mean for the Church? It means we must innovate for meaningful impact. If we don’t, we only have ourselves to blame for the continuous departures. Change is hard, and the Church is notoriously slow to adapt. Now is the time to act if we really are concerned for the salvation of the next generations. Institutions are not permanent. After all, in the words of W. Edwards Deming, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” The good news is that God never fails. He will always have a people, and He has called us to participate in His great work.
We must put our assumptions and judgements in the trash. Too often we create programs and content based on our own interests and passions or based on what we think people need, according to our own perspective and bias. Use the audience factors discussed in this section to make data-informed decisions about your audience, then create programs, messaging, and content based on what you discover. We’ll go into content creation in further detail later in the “Content Creators/Creatives” section of this guide. If you’re still not sure where to start, spend more time with your target audience and ask more questions. Find out directly from them what they need, what they feel will improve their lives, and what will inspire them to develop a closer relationship with God.
To reach people, we must become a student of their culture. No judgement, only acceptance and adaptation. No one should know more about your audience than you do. Strive to become an expert on the people you are trying to reach.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
I am often asked if digital communications can really make a global impact when only around 42% (as of June 2019) of the world’s population is on social media. This question always reminds me of one of my first campaigns for the Church.
In the summer of 2016, I worked with “Your Best Pathway to Health” to help create community awareness for the free mega-health clinic that was coming to Beckley, WV, the heart of Appalachia. A quick search in Facebook Ads manager revealed that around 200K people within 50 miles of the convention center where the clinic would take place, were on Facebook. With a small budget of $200, I started a community awareness ad campaign targeted at those living within driving distance of Beckley. This digital effort was part of a larger multi-channel campaign that included newspaper ads, 30K+ hand-out flyers, and other traditional media.
Can We Really Reach Those People?
It is said that “familiarity breeds contempt” or, at least, presumptuous behavior. Soon after launching the campaign, I received a call from a long-time friend who felt very strongly that I was out of line to use Church funds for this digital campaign, and that I was out of touch with the realities of this community. After all, “this was Appalachia, and those people don’t even have running water and electricity.” After two hours of conversation, I still call her friend, because this was a teaching and learning moment. I had an opportunity to share the potential this technology offers for our mission, as well as gain a better understanding of the cultural paradigm I was up against (in terms of encouraging the Church to embrace digital strategies and the perceptions that may result). What she didn’t know was that I made a decision based on data and not assumptions about the “least of these.” In fact, she didn’t know that I had been raised in the same economic class she felt I was so disconnected from.
I asked her one simple question: do you know someone who is not on social media? She said yes. I followed up with something like, “If you saw an online advertisement about free medical treatment with no strings attached, and you knew they needed help, would you tell them?” Without hesitation, she responded, “Of course!” One question and response summarized my strategy.
What I had done was make a strategic decision to activate the sharing power of the 200K people who were online and, most likely, connected to others in the community who were not on social media. It’s human nature to share a good thing when we see it, especially with those we care about who need the services offered.
According to an extensive study conducted by the New York Times, 94% of people share content online because “they feel the content will improve the lives” of others. This act of sharing goes beyond the digital space.
“Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?’ They came out of the town and made their way toward him” (John 4:28-30, New International Version).
However, my ten years of digital marketing experience was entirely secular. I had never done an advertising campaign for a church project before, and consequently prayed a lot in the weeks leading up to the clinic. When the event began I was overjoyed at the testimonies of people who said their family member, friend, or neighbor saw an ad online and told them to come. According to the exit surveys, social media outperformed all the traditional advertising, and was second only to referral by friend or family member. Based on the anecdotal testimonies, word-of-mouth (friend/family) was also largely driven by the social media campaign. Click here to learn more about this case study in community awareness.
Social media is the modern School of Tyrannus, a place where the ancient Ephesians gathered to engage with new ideas, pass the time, share thoughts, and participate in discussions. Paul spoke at the School of Tyrannus in Greece for two years (Acts 19:8-9), essentially getting the gospel to go viral in his day. (A podcast about Paul’s influence at the School of Tyrannus by Dee Casper, Brand Evangelist, ARTV, can be found HERE).
“This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10, New American Standard Bible)
Paul stayed in one place, and yet his teachings spread. How did this happen?
Ephesus was an important port for trade and commerce (like the internet), attracting people from all over the Roman Empire. People would come and hear what he had to say, go home, and tell others what they’d learned. In today’s terminology, they hit “Like” and “Share” on social media, and their friends and family were exposed to Paul’s teachings of the gospel. Social media has the potential to do this on a much larger scale. By reaching the connected, we can reach the unreachable.
In other words, if approximately 42% of the world’s population is on social media, it’s highly likely that they know the other 58% of the world or know someone who is connected to someone who is not on social media. You get the idea.
What starts in the digital space, isn’t confined to the digital space.
We must put our assumptions about those people aside (whoever those people might be), and work with who we can reach.
Evangelism experts tell me that the best way to reach a community or people group is to empower a member of that community. Your average person is just as likely to have moved several times, as to have lived and died in the community they were born, surrounded by a homogeneous collective of people who share the same culture and life experiences. The "simple life" has given way to something more complicated, perhaps messy. Even for those who never change their geographical location, they are globally connected to people through social media in ways that were unheard of just twenty years ago. What this means is that we now live in a world of intersecting cultures and communities.
The city of Ephesus experience is now reflected in every major city in the world and online.
I, myself, am a mid-western transplant to the D.C. metropolitan area. There is still no cellphone reception in my home town. My parents access the internet and phone through satellite. Until recently, our roads were unpaved, and my family was on well water. I go home once or twice a year and call my parents regularly (when the satellite phone is working). I had never heard of Adventism until I went to college; now my parents are closely connected to two Adventists (me and my husband). During our conversations and interactions, I share my experiences and new ideas. While my home town is not as remote as some other countries or communities that still exist in the world, the concept is the same. We can reach people online who have migrated to the digitally connected parts of the world. These people probably maintain ties to their home communities in some way, and since they are from that community, they are in the best position to share the gospel within the cultural norms, language, and expectations of those communities. When they visit their friends and family, they can share the gospel just like the ancient citizens of the Roman empire did back in the first century.
This is how we can obtain global impact through digital communications. It’s the same strategy that Paul leveraged, but scaled up by modern technology.
According to Pew Research, the most racially diverse Christian denomination in North America is the Seventh-day Adventist Church. We are truly a global movement that has yet to realize the full potential of modern technologies. Our challenge is not to just reach those who are online, but to also activate the online and offline sharing power of those we connect with. The membership of the Adventist Church is perfectly positioned to reach the around the world to every nation, tribe, people, and tongue with the gospel message.
And for those isolated communities with, assumed, no access to the outside world, give the Holy Spirit a little credit for being able to carry the message the rest of the way.
If the message went global in Paul’s day without the help of modern technology, let’s not assume limitations on the Holy Spirit in our day.
We aren’t expected to accomplish this mission alone, but we are called to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15, NIV). The world now includes the digital space. We need to dream bigger when doing God's work. Can you imagine what would happen if each of us committed to sharing the gospel online for two years? And remember, it's not like we have to physically go somewhere, or even leave the couch for that matter! Who knows where God will lead us when we step out in faith.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Feel free to adjust to your community needs. Depending on your audience, you may want to consider a more casual tone.
We’re excited that you have decided to join our online small group/discussion forum. To make this a positive and safe environment for all, please consider the following guidelines and recommendations that will help us get the most out of our shared experience.
Appropriate action will be taken when these guidelines are violated. A warning may be given but is not guaranteed; in severe cases, violations can mean removal from the group. Community members should voice concerns and report behavior that violates the guidelines to the administrator via private message. The administrator reserves the right to remove inappropriate comments or content without notice.
By joining this community, you are considered to be in agreement with the terms and conditions listed above.
As the mediator/leader for this online group, I commit to:
For more social media policies and guidelines, click here.
The Center for Online Evangelism is a missionary project devoted to developing online mission stations.
We continue our overview of digital evangelism. If you haven’t already, read part one about the keywords in online evangelism.
Also, read part two where we cover the three main reasons why digital evangelism is very important.
In part three, we review the role that each person and institution play in advancing the mission of online evangelism.
The Role of the Holy Spirit
No doubt, digital evangelism (or digital discipleship) calls for the development of many skills such as writing, editing, design, and creativity. Though certain aptitudes help tremendously with creating content for people online, one may master these skills yet lack power.
We must never underestimate the need for the Holy Spirit.
Without the Holy Spirit, the biggest budget and most detailed strategy will not work in saving souls. A video may be perfectly edited and a blog post may be meticulously written, but without divine power, souls cannot be won.
Our skills, experience, or ads will not convert hearts.
But Jesus promised to give power to His workers when they are filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).
Digital Missionaries must spend more time in prayer asking God for power to bring in a harvest. The Word of God must be constantly consumed. The content we create must flow from the Truth of His Word.
Allow the Holy Spirit to play His part.
The Role of Church Pastors and Leaders
If our ministers realized how soon the inhabitants of the world are to be arraigned before the judgment seat of God, to answer for the deeds done in the body, how earnestly they would work together with God to present the truth! – Letter 43, 1902.
Leaders must, with all diligence, encourage their members to take up their own portion of the Gospel work and do it with the power provided through the Holy Spirit.
If our leaders and pastors show an interest in the mission work being done online, their congregations will also follow suit.
Pastors, you could reach thousands more if you incorporated digital evangelism into your ministry.
Record your sermons and make them available online.
Encourage your department heads to create content that can be published on the web. Ensure that your communication department receives the budget to properly advertise the church’s services and events online.
Create online evangelism training opportunities for members. Make certain that your church has an effective online presence. Your church does not need to be active on all platforms. Choose one and effectively invest resources into that platform until the Spirit opens the way for you to expand your online reach.
By so doing, a church of 100 can grow to include thousands of online members who may not have access to a local Adventist church.
Use every opportunity to motivate your church members to use their devices for a greater purpose. If training is needed, there are workshops, webinars, and online resources available to churches and leaders.
The Role of Educational Institutions
True education is missionary training. Every son and daughter of God is called to be a missionary; we are called to the service of God and our fellow men; and to fit us for this service should be the object of our education.
The work of digital evangelism is specially crafted for today’s youth. Those who oversee their education can do a great deal to ensure that students are properly equipped to serve God online.
Remind students of the greater call on their lives to be missionaries in their career fields. Teach them to look beyond the temporal returns of a salary and promotion, toward a more glorious reward; the saving of souls. Instructors can wisely use their position to admonish students to be Godly influencers in their online circles.
Adventist schools have an opportunity like no other institution to help students untangle themselves from time-wasting habits and engage in intentional digital discipleship.
The Role of Parents
Parents are putting powerful tools in the hands of toddlers and children. Tablets and iPhones are fast becoming the gift of choice for teens. This generation does not know life without the internet, social media, iPads, and cellphones.
If youth are able to have their own device, they are also able to do online evangelism according to their ability. Parents and guardians can inspire their children to use their gadgets to positively influence their friends.
Instead of discouraging the use of social media, show your young ones how a noble use of their online powers can bring joy to their heavenly Father.
In an age of cyberbullying and suicide among teens, Adventist youth trained in online evangelism can help bring hope to other young people online.
The Responsibility of Every Disciple
The disciples were to teach what Christ had taught. That which He had spoken, not only in person, but through all the prophets and teachers of the Old Testament, is here included. - The Desire of Ages, p. 826.
Church members are disciples of Jesus. Disciples are continuously on the move, following Christ and calling other people to live as He did. They are actively engaged in or supporting mission work.
The online world is languishing because we are not doing enough individually as members and collectively as a church. You and I will be held responsible for not using every means necessary to share the Gospel with our relatives, neighbors, and friends.
Members must move on from the erroneous belief that evangelism is an event that is organized by specific individuals in the church. Evangelism is like a living portrait; every member of the local church must intentionally work in his colors so that each church can show a beautiful depiction of the Gospel.
As a member of the body of Christ, the Lord blessed you with an exceptionally precious truth for this time. With a sense of urgency, make decided steps today to be more diligent in online work.
Read part 4, where we explore practical steps you can take today to be a part of online evangelism.
Previous posts in this series:
The Center for Online Evangelism is a missionary project devoted to developing online mission stations.
Why is Online Evangelism Important?
In part 1 of the series, we covered the basics of online evangelism – what it is and some common key terms.
Now, we’re reviewing three main reasons why this branch of evangelism is critical, especially in the digital era.
Reason 1: We Need to Change the Online Story.
You can probably think of someone who researches Seventh-day Adventists online, only to conclude that we are a “cult” and follow the teachings of a “false prophet” more than the teaching of the Bible.
Why do so many people believe this? Because of negative content widely available on the internet.
60% of visitors stop attending evangelistic series because they, or someone they know, came across websites or videos that painted Adventism in a different light.
Online evangelism helps ensure that when people search for us online, they find credible websites about our church, beliefs, educational institutions, hospitals, and ministries.
Reason 2: We Need to Save More Souls.
So many people are living and dying without hope in Jesus.
Think of your relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, or classmates; have they all heard the Gospel? What about the people at your local grocery store or bank; are they saved? There are many of them who have yet to have their sins forgiven by Christ.
At the Second Coming, only those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior will be saved.
Homeowners are no longer opening their doors to canvassers as they used to and handbill invitations to attend church seem to go unnoticed. However, a video on YouTube or a blog post might be the key to pointing a friend or relative to Jesus. Online evangelism increases the likelihood of them coming across an opportunity to have a personal relationship with Jesus, thereby more people can be saved.
Reason 3: We Need to Be Relevant.
While the Gospel message never changes, how we deliver that message will change.
Today, no one would advocate traveling on horseback from state to state to preach the Gospel. This method was most effective during an era where a messenger traveled as fast as the fastest horse. Today, cars, trains, and planes have provided more effective ways to travel.
If we wish to remain relevant and effective in carrying out the Great Commission, we must learn how to use the platforms that will get us in touch with the masses.
Today’s evangelistic efforts must be appropriate to the current time, period, and circumstances.
Why Are We So Far Behind?
Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and hare gives an idea of why we are lagging behind when it comes to using the most revolutionary methods to share the Gospel. It seems we, as a church, became very comfortable with the progress we were making and mistakenly assumed that we could slow down. But in resting, we became lukewarm, not only in our own spiritual growth but in our efforts to win souls.
Also, we hesitated to accept emerging technology and failed to see how these new digital means of communication could be used for a higher, nobler purpose.
We are far behind in online evangelism because we are constantly shifting the mission responsibility to someone else instead of recognizing our own personal role to help finish the work. We’re playing Holy Volleyball; instead of dropping the ball, we’re getting worked up tossing it on the other side. Members toss the ball to leaders, leaders toss it to workers, workers toss it back to members, and so it continues.
But all hope is not lost.
Online Evangelism Is Growing.
As Seventh-day Adventists begin to see the significance of online evangelism, members are jumping at opportunities to become online missionaries. Today, digital disciples like Greg Serada, Mark Fox, Justin Khoe, and Dustin Pestlin are collectively accumulating millions of views on YouTubers. Jasper Ivan Iturriaga impacts the online world through stunning photography. Taj Pacleb and Kenisha Simms produce beautiful devotional videos. Santiago Nuñez creates inspiring graphics, Aleksandar Popovski uses his creativity, Kaleb Eisele shares our collective stories and builds community, Alistair Huong manages a hub for online sermons, and the Aus Table Talk team and other podcasters address relevant issues through their podcast. These are only a few among many others who are using their talents in the digital space for evangelism.
And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all (Acts 4:33 NIV).
The Clarion Call
Now, there is a clarion call to every member, worker, and leader to either be directly involved in online evangelism or to support digital missionaries. We must stay up to date with the times so that we can utilize all avenues possible to preach the Gospel and Three Angels Message to the ends of the world. We can no longer afford to remain on the sidelines of evangelism.
In part three, we'll explore the role each person can play in online evangelism. Click here for more resources on Digital Evangelism and Discipleship.
Previous post in this series:
The Center for Online Evangelism is a missionary project devoted to developing online mission stations.
We’re one day closer to the return of Jesus Christ! Now as awe-inspiring as that is, it also evokes a lot of thought about how many people have yet to know Him personally.
Online evangelism is one method that is proving to be very effective in pointing more people to the Savior. This series of articles will explore what online evangelism is, why it’s important and how you can get involved.
There are other key players to help us understand online missions. Check out this series by Jamie Domm from the North American Division and this descriptive blog post by Rachel Lemons-Aitkens from the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australia.
Also, we made this series available for download. Scroll down to the end and download the entire presentation for FREE!
Now let’s jump right in!
What is Online Evangelism?
Online evangelism is the systematic and intentional use of internet platforms to spread the Gospel to the online population. The goal is to introduce people to Christ and then connect them to a church family.
You may see the terms digital evangelism and online evangelism being used interchangeably. Both cover various evangelism strategies that require the use of the internet, cell phones, laptops, video cameras, and other modern technologies. Click here to see how these and other digital missionary terms are defined.
Traditional Methods Not to Be Replaced
It is important to note, digital evangelism should be incorporated with traditional forms of evangelism – it does not replace traditional methods such as canvassing, tent meetings, or distribution of tracts. Gospel workers should survey their field and use the methods that would be most effective.
Is Digital Discipleship Different?
Another term you may come across is digital discipleship. It is “a movement to make disciples and inspire people to grow in discipleship.” Rachel Lemons-Aitkens explains three categories of digital disciples; content creators, content distributors, and content engagers.
So whether you say online evangelism, digital evangelism, or digital discipleship, all of the terms involves working with people online (directly or indirectly) to propel them toward a strong relationship with Jesus Christ and bring them into a community of faith.
Key Terms in Online Evangelism
Digital Marketing incorporates strategies such as content marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), online ads, social media strategies, and other online methods to help churches and ministries rank higher in search results. That way, thousands more are blessed.
It is imperative to understand that online mission work must incorporate some form of digital marketing. For example, you may have an online Bible study group (your mission work) but you can get more people to join the study by running Facebook ads, creating social media graphics, or optimizing your website.
Content marketing refers to the production and distribution of online material that elicits interest in church or ministry services, rather than direct publicizing and promotion. Materials can be blogs, videos, podcasts, or graphics.
Search Engine Optimization
Proper SEO goes a long way to ensure that websites showcasing our churches and other institutions are found by online seekers. Without SEO, quality information about Adventists remains hidden away online. Learn more and download our SEO Guidebook.
Online ads (e.g. Facebook or Google ads) reach far more people than any other form of advertising. Churches can launch Facebook ad campaigns to promote evangelistic campaigns, community events, or any other program being hosted by the church. Ministries can recruit more supporters and get more donors through digital ads.
The truth will be made so prominent that he who runs may read. Means will be devised to reach hearts. Some of the methods used in this work will be different from the methods used in the work in the past; but let no one, because of this, block the way by criticism.– Review and Herald, Sept. 30, 1902.
In part two, we will further explore why digital evangelism is desperately needed. Click here for more resources on Digital Evangelism and Discipleship.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
Digital discipleship and evangelism are ways to activate the social influence of a church membership, building bridges to the local community, developing a meaningful understanding of felt needs, and determining relevant ways to serve the community (both in and outside the church). It's also a strategy to scale up friendship evangelism and empower individuals to be actively involved in the larger goals and mission of your church.
It’s a way to reach seekers, especially young seekers.
As of 2017, the average person spends around two hours a day on social media, which adds up to 5 years and 4 months spent over a lifetime. When social media was ranked against other daily activities, it revealed that the average person will spend almost three times as much time socializing on social media as opposed to socializing in person. The average adult spends most of their waking hours behind a screen for work, entertainment, education, and socializing.
These averages are across all age demographics. When we only look at people under 30, a dramatic increase in social and screen time spent is observed. Teens can occupy upwards of 9 hours a day on social media or behind a screen. However, millennials can spend up to 18 hours a day consuming media in the form of movies, podcasts, social media, video games, reading, etc. This is an astounding amount of time spent on digital devices. Research studies vary, but it’s clear that increased use is only limited by the confines of a 24-hour day, and basic human needs such as sleep.
Only 20% of Americans regularly attend church, and only 2 in 10 millennials consider regular church attendance important. If we consider time spent “in church,” a member who attends twice a week for a worship service and one other event only engages for four to five hours a week. How we respond to this reality either represents a challenge or an untapped opportunity. These statistics may seem bleak for our mission, but there’s another way to look at the situation.
How can we reach the 80%? Simple. We go and meet them where they spend their time, not where we want them to be. We have nine or more hours a day to connect with them. Part of this effort must utilize digital technologies to better understand behavior and needs before creating programs or resources that satisfy our assumptions about our target audience.
People are googling for God.
Each year there are millions of Google searches for answers to questions like:
Thirty thousand people search the keywords “church online” every month, and they mostly find opportunities to watch people in a building. People searching for answers need more than a program to watch.
At any given time, 22-28% of people are in crisis in the United States and Canada, says Samuel Neves, Associate Director of Communications, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. This amounts to 80 million+ people who need support. Crisis can be defined as loss of a loved one, illness, divorce, loss of a job, depression, drug addition, food insecurity, etc. For those who search for answers and comfort online, who is there to answer their questions and help them spiritually?
In addition, Neves says, the two main content categories people search online alone are religion and pornography. Both search categories are related to the need for relationships and connection. How can we steer seekers in a healthy direction?
90% of surveyed people have used social media to communicate with a brand, and millennials prefer to reach out to an organization via social media rather than traditional channels like phone or email. This brings me to my next point: not everyone is ready to come to church; some are not even ready to discuss their issues in person. Over four million people visit North American Division church/ministry websites each year, and countless more engage on social media. The Church can be a voice that answers back to those seeking help through these channels and help open a door for a seeker’s spiritual experience.
The digital mission field is vast and not restricted by geographical locations. 42% of the world’s population is on social media, and 77% of Americans are on social media. Every inhabited continent is represented in the digital space. While Christianity is on the decline in the West, it has never been easier to reach people. I believe the next Great Awakening will be a digital one, and reaching the digital mission field is our generation’s great commission.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).
With immense love... how many church members does it take to change a light bulb?
No, really. All kidding aside here. Is it something that anyone can do? Or does it require filling out forms? Perhaps a committee?
Yes, a little absurd and over the top, but a satirical article in the Babylon Bee used this example to point to a more serious cycle that many churches and ministries are caught up in.
As the article explains, a church deacon noticed a faulty light bulb in the church’s foyer area. He turned in the required “light bulb change request” paperwork for discussion at the next business meeting. After some cancellations due to winter weather, a meeting finally took place and the members voted unanimously to change the bulb. Now, as the article reports, all that needs to be done “is pass a vote to create a light bulb committee, elect a committee chair, and then get out of the way and let them do their job.”
Sound familiar? Sure it does.
Churches and ministries want, and in fact need, to be accountable. After all, they should be good stewards of the resources they have received—often people’s hard-earned donations.
So, there is usually some type of management hierarchy, perhaps a Board of Governors. Often, a manual is created with procedures and forms. It makes sense because, again, it’s not a one-person show. It’s not a ‘you-based’ organization. It’s a God-based one.
Clearly, though, there can be some overkill. And that’s what we’re talking about here. Situations which are out of balance. In other words, despite your place on the church spectrum, how often does your approval process cost you more than the relative cost of the item you are voting to approve?
Let’s go back to the light bulb for just a minute or two…
Picture a church foyer. A modest, 5-light chandelier hangs at the center with one dark bulb. At the moment, an energy saver light bulb to fit that light fixture would cost between $10-20.
Now picture the business committee meeting. Five people sit around a table. Each has donated the time to travel to church and back home (let’s call it a 30 minute round trip) + the meeting time—perhaps somewhere between 1-2 hours. At a minimum, that’s about 8 people hours. The table they are seated around has coffee, tea, water, juice and two kinds of cookies. Someone took the time to buy those items and set them up—more people time.
All this time has a cost: time away from work, family, hobbies and rest; time which could have be spent spreading the Good Word and/or ministering to those in need…..not to mention the cost of the refreshments. (Now we are kidding...a little.)
Granted, the meeting may deal with other things besides a faulty light bulb but how many of those things are similar?
So, does this approach serve our goals? We suggest that it does not and would like to propose a path in addition to the committee methodology which, again, IS an appropriate one for big and/or relatively expensive decisions.
Another way for consideration.
Let’s call it “Short and Simple”: a protocol in place to make quick decisions—which are cheap relative to your resource budget—without affecting your general governance policies and procedures.
A category where Short and Simple would work excellently is new ideas, especially adoption of digital technologies and strategies.
The Short and Simple procedure could be something like this:
This protocol allows you to maximize your goals by facilitating a lot of free, or minimal cost, trials and errors. In addition, it frees up a lot of people time that can be spent doing more relevant things to build God’s kingdom.