In my early 20s I lived in Guatemala for a year. Prior to that I had lived my entire life in a small town in Ohio… in a log cabin. I knew more Pennsylvania Dutch (a form of German that the Amish speak), than I did Spanish. But I packed my bags, hopped on a plane, and started a Spanish immersion program. After arriving in Guatemala City, I was assigned a host family, a Spanish teacher, and given my schedule. The program was set up in semester formats and each semester was divided in half. The first half was in classes and the second half each student had to enroll in a volunteer program of their choice. My first 3 months with the host family, I was a pretty poor house guest. They were a very kind, generous family, but I didn’t speak any Spanish. I mean any Spanish. Basic instructions were a challenge. Fortunately they were exceptionally patient, even when I made incredibly dumb mistakes. My main form of transportation was the public bus system. At the time, each bus ride cost 1 Quetzal (about $0.13). But on Sundays the fare was increased to 1.5 Quetzals. Unfortunately I didn’t know that, happily boarded the bus on Sunday, handed the driver 1 Quetzal and sat down. The bus driver kept talking to me, but I had no idea what he said, so I just smiled like an idiot and the driver eventually gave up and drove on. I didn’t realize my mistake until about 3 weeks later. Learning a new language means going through hundreds of embarrassing moments. It means frustratingly being unable to express yourself. But while I still wake up in a cold sweat remembering my many great embarrassments, I now speak Spanish! Those frustration were part of the growing pains. I grew from a contented idiot on the bus, to painfully embarrassed student, to a mostly competent person who was able to actually serve and benefit the community. Most pastors don’t want to mess around with social media, SEO, or the website because it isn’t really their thing. But the fact is, virtually everyone in any given congregation has at least some digital interaction with the church. It is time to learn the language.
  1. You Are Called To Your Local Community And Your Local Community Is Online How many people have computers? That’s how many people are online. How many church members have smartphones? That’s how many people are online all the time. Everyone in your community is speaking a digital language with varying degrees of fluency. If you genuinely believe that you are called to minister to that community then you are called to learn their language.
  2. It Time To Leave The Synagogue And Go To The Marketplace When Paul began his missionary journeys, each town that he stopped in, he would first visit the synagogues and reason from the Old Testament with the Jews. This was Paul’s native culture. He was a Jew, he understood Jews, he was comfortable with the Jews. But time and time again, the Jews rejected him. On top of that rejection, the Gentiles were more and more receptive to the Gospel. So when Paul went to Athens, he began a shift in his ministry. He was bothered by the large number of idols in Athens so he transitioned from the synagogues to the marketplace. There he preached to the Greeks. He didn’t focus on the Old Testament (because they didn’t recognize it as an authority). Instead he quoted their own poets and pointed to their own theologies. This wasn’t Paul’s comfort zone. Far from it! But he cared so much for these people that he left that comfort zone to share the Gospel in a way that they could understand it. So thousands of Greeks accepted Christ. Just kidding, the Bible says in Acts 17 that only a few followed. The majority misunderstood, or rejected, or even mocked! Leaving your comfort zone doesn’t mean that you will be successful, it just means that you are obedient. The success part is up to God.
  3. You Can’t Pay Someone To Do It For You I work with dozens of churches each year that hire me with the intention of just having me deal with it for them. The thinking behind this is that they would prefer to stick to their comfort zone and have a professional deal with the rest. But this reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of what digital ministry is. There is no difference between virtual ministry and real life. No matter what, there is a soul on the other end of the conversation, whether it is a phone call, a coffee shop conversation, or Facebook group. If you are in the ministry, you are in the business of discipling Christians. If you are paying someone else to just deal with it for you, then you are in the wrong business. What my job should be is to train pastors and staff. If your church is not in a position or infrastructure to get started or even manage volunteers, my team and I are happy to help you through that period, and train your staff. As Christians one of our primary jobs is to replace ourselves. My goal is to work myself out of a job with each church I deal with.
  4. Your Website And Social Media Are For Your Congregation Not For Your Church I have a KitchenAid Mixer at home. I enjoy cooking, but for the past several years haven’t done much baking. Right now, my KitchenAid mixer is a big expensive billboard for KitchenAid. The reason is because it is a tool that is not in use. Your church’s website isn’t just there to advertise your church. It isn’t just a billboard or business card for your ministry. Your church website is there to equip your church! It should be a tool and a resource for your church throughout the entire week. Not just teaching them, but empowering them. Your website can organize and manage volunteers. It can provide community assistance. It can be a place of accountability and discipleship. It should definitely be a tool for evangelism. If your site is just a billboard then you overpaid. It is time to get your money’s worth.
  5. The Internet Is Terrible Because No One Is Teaching The Church How To Act Online So many pastors just wish their congregation would stay off the internet. Church members are constantly saying terrible things on Facebook, misrepresenting the church online, or pestering church staff with emails. Why can’t they all just stay off the internet like the senior pastor? Maybe the church is acting like shepherdless sheep online because the senior pastor isn’t there? Maybe no one taught them how to love one another on Facebook, or how to avoid divisiveness and gossip. How many sermons has your church preached about showing the fruit of the Spirit on Facebook or Twitter? Maybe it is time for the pastor to go online and be an example.
9 months after my embarrassing bus episode I was working with a brand new church plant. A big part of our ministry to the community was an AWANA program (children’s program). A lot of the kids in the community were just hanging out in the streets after school (if they went to school) because any parental figures were still working. So the community was very receptive to this program. So receptive that on our church’s inaugural week we were putting on a VBS as well. It was my job to canvas a few neighborhoods with flyers for the event. I brought a large stack of flyers to an area school and asked the office if I could leave them there or even hand them out as the students were leaving for the day. But the school was so excited about the program that they instead called an assembly and asked if I would talk about it in front of the whole school. This one event had the biggest impact on the launch of our church. I wouldn’t have been able to speak in Spanish if I hadn’t gone through the whole 9 month immersion process and suffered all of the embarrassments and frustrating conversations, I would have missed out on the biggest opportunities of my entire time there. Pastors are called to their community. All pastors are. If you aren’t speaking the languages of your community then you are not fulfilling your calling. It is learning process, there will be many mistakes, but that is part of humble servanthood! All growth has an awkward period. If you look back to your earliest sermons, I will bet that you are probably glad they aren’t online right now. So gather up your staff and grow up together. It is time for you to go online and embarrass yourself… for the kingdom!