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How (Not) To Do Digital Ministry In Your Church

November 1st, 2023 | 4 min. read

By Ian Harber


How (Not) To Do Digital Ministry In Your Church

Churches tend to think about digital ministry primarily in one of two ways:

  1. It’s an afterthought. The church might make sure to get some social media posts up every now and then. It almost certainly has a podcast for sermons. Its website is more or less up-to-date with current info for events and general information about the church. But there is no thought given to what their digital presence is actually trying to accomplish—what role it plays in the overall programmatic structure of the church. There might be varying degrees of utilizing digital platforms, but it’s not a serious part of the church’s philosophy of ministry. “Oh yeah, we should probably put this on Facebook.” It’s an afterthought.

  2. It’s everything. The other extreme is that everything is digital ministry. Instead of Bible studies, small groups, classes, prayer meetings, church meals, and more, the church puts all of its energy and resources online. They produce podcasts and online training courses, have online pastors for their live stream, and have an impeccable social media strategy. There is lots of content to consume but little else.

If you’re in the first category, there are legitimate reasons why that might be the case. It could be a lack of funding and resources to purchase the equipment needed to produce digital media. It might be that few people in the church know how to create such content, so it's deprioritized simply because there isn’t anyone who can prioritize it.

If you’re in the second category, I’m not knocking any of the things I listed in that paragraph. Obviously, I care about online ministry, or I wouldn’t be writing this newsletter. I wish churches did more of those things. 

The problem arises when online ministry is the primary ministry model of a church. A digital-first strategy leaves congregants disconnected from flesh-and-blood community and embodied environments. This is a surefire way to make it easy for someone to disengage—either from your church or the Church entirely. A church must be more than a production studio making content to consume. 

If you’re going to do digital ministry, it needs to occupy its proper place. Your digital ministry has a specific role to play in your church. It has a particular function that accomplishes particular goals. Making it an afterthought risks missing out on the ways it can meet real needs in your church and community. Making it everything risks having a deficient ministry model that robs your congregants of a richer community and deeper discipleship. 

So, where does digital ministry fit in your church? At the bottom left.

Let me explain.

Dave Strunk and Ben Ruyack wrote an article for Mere Orthodoxy explaining how they saw the shifting levels of engagement with ministries in their church. They charted it on a 2x2 grid that looked like this:



Strunk and Ruyack define risk as expected life change. What they noticed both in culture and in their church was that post-pandemic, people were increasingly moving out from the center and to the extremes.

They plotted the ministries their church offered on this graph and realized that the majority of the ones whose engagement was falling off were near the middle. The ones that were growing and thriving were near the edges. So they started retooling current ministries and starting new ones on the edges of the Consumer and Platoon quadrants.

This means ministries that do well either ask a lot from participants, with a high expectation that their lives will change, or ask almost nothing from participants, except that they consume the content.

We often think of “consuming” as a bad thing, and it can be bad. But it’s not necessarily bad. About the Consumer Quadrant, they write:

“We don’t take the Consumer Quadrant to be an inherently negative space, though it may be in some instances. Rather, to ‘consume’ is a catch-all term we took to mean someone who didn’t have much time to give, was scared to risk, but didn’t mind receiving from some kind of program. For instance, sometimes people just need to come to a church to heal, and be seen, without much expected of them. This is especially true of those with prior church wounds. And so, they might benefit from more programming in the Consumer Quadrant.”

Your digital ministry should exist in the Consumer Quadrant as a balance to other ministries in your church that occupy the Platoon Quadrant. In fact, ideally, it might even be the start of a journey that leads someone into your Platoon Quadrant ministries.

When your digital content is rightly understood as the Consumer Quadrant part of your ministry (not an afterthought and not your entire ministry), then it can start to serve your church in specific ways. Here are some examples of how digital ministry can serve your church:

  1. Promote ongoing discipleship.
    • It can cover topics that can’t easily be addressed in a Sunday sermon but might not require a multi-week class. 
    • It can interrupt the algorithmic flow of content your congregants are consuming all week long with content that is spiritually edifying and connected to their local church. 
  1. Encourage in-person participation.
    • It can engage congregants in in-person Platoon Quadrant ministries by creating microcontent adjacent to the full program that makes them want to be involved (e.g., a podcast doing an overview of the book of Exodus that promotes your Men’s and Women’s Bible Studies that will be going through Exodus).
  1. Build trust with those not ready to commit.
    • It creates a connection even from afar. With so many people leaving the church right now (40 million over the last 20 years, in fact), having a digital touchpoint is critical. Some people are skeptical of the church and not sure if they will ever come back. Some are less skeptical and just need to know that a good church exists and that they are welcome there. Your digital ministry is a way for those people to engage with your church before ever setting foot in the door. You can build trust by shepherding them before you ever meet them. It might just be the nudge they need to come back.

Other goals could be set for digital ministries, but the most important thing is to think intentionally about the role it plays in your church. It does no good to have an online presence just because you think you should. And it does more harm than good to center your entire church around your online presence. 

When digital ministry is in its proper place and integrated with the church's overall structure, it can serve as another way to disciple your congregants in the way of Jesus in a distracted and confusing world.

Ian Harber

Ian is a marketing manager at Endeavor and is a digital marketing practitioner with 10 years of experience. He has written about faith and technology, deconstruction and reconstruction for The Gospel Coalition and Mere Orthodoxy as well as appearing on podcasts such as Reconstructing Faith, The Alisa Childers Podcast, Love Thy Neighborhood, The Living Room Disciple, Everything Just Changed, and more. Additionally, Ian has contributed to the book, Before You Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing Doubt in the Church (TGC, 2021) and is the author of an upcoming a forthcoming book about deconstruction with InterVarsity Press (2024). Ian lives in Denton, Texas with his wife, Katie, and son, Ezra and is a member at The Village Church Denton.

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