Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist, Social Media + Big Data, North American Division
This might be heretical to ask, but are we too focused on church attendance, at least in the short term? I cannot help but wonder if the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic crisis is a wake-up call to the Church. Churches have been forced to shut their doors to help reduce the spread of the virus. Knowing what the Bible warns about end-time events, this is not going to be a unique historical moment but rather just a precursor to the time of trouble. The Church will need to rely more and more on digital technologies. The time to develop the necessary skills and shift our understanding of what church means is now. Remember, church is not a building, it’s a people. When fleeing persecution, the early Church took the gospel to new regions out of necessity. So, too, we must now take the gospel message to the digital mission field and spread our message of hope and wholeness when it is needed most.
Modern technologies have decentralized the gospel message.
It used to be that people would have to travel, sometimes long distances, to hear the gospel message from a preacher or evangelist. Now, we can browse speakers on YouTube from the comfort of our home. Until recently, the barrier to entry was so high in publishing that only the top theologians, pastors, and authors could get their writings into the public’s hands. With the advent of social media, blogs, and vlogs, we're all publishers now, and we can each be distribution centers within our areas of digital influence.
We don’t have a message problem
We have the gospel—the greatest story ever told—of Christ's birth, life, self-sacrificing death, resurrection, and soon return. As the Seventh-day Adventist Church, we also have the Three Angels’ Messages, sent to all of God's children in every nation, tribe, tongue, and people. We, as a people, have the gift of prophecy, the guidance of Ellen G. White, and a health message for better living.
We don't have a message problem; we have a distribution problem.
The role of distributors in the Digital Discipleship and Evangelism model is to use digital tools and technologies to share these messages within their sphere of digital influence.
Although we’re facing the biggest communication shift in 500 years, church communication hasn’t really changed in thirty years. I can’t help but wonder if God is using COVID-19 to push the Church into the digital age. While God doesn’t cause suffering, He can—just as when the early Church fled persecution and spread the gospel—use the pandemic to accomplish His will. Hopefully, in a few years time, we’ll look back and recognize this crisis as the catalyst that resulted in a major communication shift for the Church.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28, NASB).
Five hundred years ago, the Gutenberg press* was developed, and it revolutionized the world and helped rapidly spread the gospel. It dramatically sped up the process and reduced the cost of printing. It altered society through the unrestricted circulation of information and the increase in literacy. The printing of the Gutenberg Bible marked the start of the so-called “Gutenberg Revolution” and played a key role in the Protestant Reformation. Just as the Protestant reformers leveraged the printing press, we must use digital tools to share our message. Again, society and the way we communicate has been dramatically altered. It has never been easier to communicate, but it’s also never been harder to cut through the noise. Therefore, it is essential to be intentional and strategic with how we use digital tools to spread our message.
*Note: It’s only fair to mention that several Asian civilizations had developed a type of printing technology prior to the Gutenberg press. These cultures did not adopt it as rapidly nor as widely as Europe did. Therefore, these earlier versions did not impact civilization to the same extent as the European technology.
Digital as a distribution tool
I firmly believe the next great awakening will be a digital one. It will take each and every one of us acting as digital disciples to share the gospel and spread the Three Angels’ Messages, with a loud voice, to the ends of the earth. We can start by reaching those within our own spheres of digital influence. We use digital tools every day to communicate and share ideas, yet we have not leveraged their potential for kingdom building. We are all called to be disciples, to be distributors of the gospel. To share truth through these powerful technologies—this is our generation’s Great Commission.
The mission field is next door, and it’s just as legitimate.
Faith is on the decline in Western society. Put simply, we have become the mission field. Instead of hopping on a plane to reach people where they are, we can now go online and use the platforms people use to share hope and wholeness in a way that is accessible and comfortable for them.
But to reach the world, we must first reach our neighbors.
Challenge question: How well do you really know your neighbors and your community? It’s never been easier to connect, but as a society we’ve become disconnected from our immediate community. Why is it so hard to connect with and reach people?
The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.
People are busy. We're overworked, overloaded, and overwhelmed, trying to keep up with a constantly growing to-do list. Many people are just trying to get by and get through the day. How many of us feel this way? Why would we expect our target audiences to be any different? Perhaps we lack community because we do not have time or energy left for our neighbors. This, of course, is the Devil’s design; keep people busy enough that they don’t have time for each other or for God.
Amid the chaos, the younger generations feel safe behind their screens, which provide a degree of distance and anonymity. Remember, on average across all age groups, we spend almost three times as much time socializing on social media as we do socializing in person. This dramatically increases for individuals under 30 years old. Remember, if you want to reach people, you must go where they are and spend time with them. As I’ve said in previous sections, today, that means going online to share our messages.