Engaging Culture

Why Aren’t We Taking The Digital Mission Field Seriously?

By population, Facebook has now become the largest country in the world. In that scenario, the question for the Church becomes “Who’s sending missionaries to that country?” Or “Who’s planting churches in that country?” Certainly many churches, ministries, and their leaders have a social media presence, but are we really thinking deeply about how we can engage this new “digital mission field” with our message?  Other than trying to amp up our “likes,” how many organizations have a strategic plan for evangelism through social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? 

I believe it’s time to shift from primarily thinking about missions in terms of geographical boundaries, and start thinking in terms of digital boundaries.  What do you think? From my perspective, that’s a massive country just waiting to hear our message. Why are we sitting on the sidelines?

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      1. Phil, thanks for your article… for imploring us to think in terms of ‘digital boundaries’. Couldn’t agree more!

        Thanks Karl for sharing about Indigitous.

        By God’s grace, our conference last week in Hong Kong saw 105 gifted and talented digital strategists, coders, UI/UX designers, writers, filmmakers and really creative people from 12 nations, representing 25 organizations, who in 2 days produced 2 new apps, 2 evangelistic short-films (1 in Chinese, 1 in English), and move several strategic digital outreach/projects forward.

        Here’s a quick overview of what God did in Hong Kong – http://www.indigitous.org/hong-kong-review

  1. Absolutely. I’ve been teaching and writing about this for years. I always exhort people that “we are digital missionaries.” As a matter of fact, I’ll be speaking on this at the Going Digital social media conferences around the country this year. I’d encourage your readers to come hear us both speak at this conference: http://goingdigitalforhiskingdom.com/

  2. Good stuff. Equally important as recognizing that the digital ecosystem is a field worth engaging is the question of “how.”

    Both Christian and mainstream brands are still struggling in this department, often because they spend the bulk of their resources inserting traditional tactics into inherently disruptive platforms.

    A while ago our team created an online video series called SOUNDS LIKE A MOVEMENT The series gives artists and culture makers an opportunity to share their story of how they’re creating meaning in the world (complete with risks, struggles, and all). It’s always amazing to run into people who have been inspired by these videos. Quite often this leads to a bigger conversation about the source of creativity, risk, and meaning: God himself.

    Is it a Christian video series? No. Do we only showcase Christian artists? Absolutely not. Yet SOUNDS LIKE A MOVEMENT feels more like the kind of church we all long for: one where the brave and adventurous sit right beside the doubtful and afraid, and together practice what it means to pursue a life that creates meaning.

    We’ve since helped others spread their message online, creating content for folks like XXX Church, Willow Creek, and Sevenly. We’ve found that a good rule of thumb for influencing those across the digital ecosystem is to apply the same rules we value in all relationships:

    1. Listen better than anyone else.
    2. Tell the best story.
    3. Be authentic.

  3. Great post Phil. This was part of the reason Jeff Moors and I started THiNK International in 2010, and some of our earlier content reflects that. However, we later FOCUSED THiNK to be purely Church Leadership content.

    After that, I began to experiment on youtube.com/seanTHiNKs with Lifestyle Videos and Creative Videos focusing on the “YouTube Community” as a whole and not “Christian/Ministry Focused Content.” Often times my faith and connection to the local church community comes up, but it’s not the focus on the content. I simply want to create great content and relationships in the process.

    The cool thing is, people have visited and gotten connected to our main church in Las Vegas over the past 3 years DIRECTLY from those online relationships.

    Now I live in Irvine, CA, and just today we had a guest visit our church and join a small group from a —> YouTube —> Instagram —> “Whoa, I live near there… I’m going to check that church out…” —-> Process.

    I suppose this is taking the Relational Evangelism idea into the online space. It could look something like this…

    #1 Discover and Hone Your Voice Online
    #2 Create Great Content on your Main Social Platform and Ancillary Platforms
    #3 Make New Connections and Relationships Over Time
    #4 Share Your Faith Online and Invite People to Get Connected to Your Faith Community

    I have not written about this before, so I would love your feedback and thoughts!

    Talk Soon.

    You can check out THiNK International here: http://thinkintl.tv/

    You can can out seanTHiNKs here: https://www.youtube.com/user/seanTHiNKs

    “Commit your actions to the LORD, and your plans will succeed.” Proverbs 16:3

  4. Love your quote “Who’s sending missionaries to that country?…. and start thinking in terms of digital boundaries.”

    Best articulation of what we are trying to do I’ve read so far.

    We are currently in coming to the end of a 2 year social strategy to make this happen in the Asia Pac region. Implementation begins in 2015!

  5. Great article Phil. In 2012 I set out to To change the way we do and think about ministry. Yes I have an agenda… Understanding the meaning of “reaching people where they are” I realized that in the 21st century, they are on the Internet? iTEACH Ministry understands that social media is a virtual mission field and leverages this technology to minister to online faith communities via twitter with our #biblechat connecting with millennials across the country. Still have a way to go but getting there. http://www.iteachministry.com/

  6. This is what http://www.yesHEis.com was made for! We have been encouraging and resourcing Christians to go “to the country of Facebook” for many years now. Check out the needs based and evangelistic videos you can share with your unsaved family and friends in a way that is natural, sensitive and appropriate. All videos are linked to a gospel video that the viewer can elect to watch after the main video and then discipled if they make a decision for Christ. We are even have apps available for iPhone, Android and Windows phones. Use us – it’s free and all for His glory!

  7. Great call to action! One of my client pastors Shane Bishop, whose church just crossed the 2K attendance barrier spends an hour a day on FB. He posts goofy stuff like weather updates, Cardinal baseball news, questions about cultural trends as well as info about his church. He says it is the best time spent connecting with people. If this busy pastor can find the time to engage people on Social Media any pastor can find the time. Social Media is America’s new front porch!

  8. Love this post Phil. As we work to break down barriers in Hollywood, specifically in TV but also Film I like to think of us as missionaries going out to all the nations and part of that is using social media not only promote projects but also to promote the idea that there is opportunity through media and entertainment to reach the lost with a positive message of hope and love. As a former entertainment executive the “risks” have been high and deeply felt but the calling feels just as strong as when I went to Namibia to reach the orphan children there. Media sets culture and culture is on a crazy path right now so why not strive to meet them where they are. Using social media to capture the lost is imperative because it is the core of culture right now and the easiest way to reach the masses across the world and not just one “tribe” at a time. If Jesus were here today, I fully believe He would be walking the streets of Hollywood throughout His journey and I think he would probably have a well visited Facebook page!

  9. Yes. Glorystone.tv developed the “eStation” to connect the terrestrial media and digital media mission fields. There’s nothing but upside in the opportunity to reach souls everywhere with the gospel online.

    The eStation enables any Christian enterprise to start their own branded Internet TV/Radio station or network on the fly in the cloud.

    We also started the Glorystone Content Network that provides eStations with access to a library consisting of video and audio titles across dozens of categories from more than 100 of the country’s leading media ministries, churches, filmmakers and storytellers.

    Viewers and listeners are able to use the eStation’s integrated private chat feature to connect instantly with trained spiritual coaches in 52 languages on a 24/7 basis.

    From April 14-19, you can see a demonstration of the platform during a Sneak Preview of CLATV, the new Internet TV/Radio station of the Christian Leadership Alliance.


  10. Stumbled on this article a year late it appears. There has a lot that has happened over the last decade or so as far realizing that social media is a real mission field. Love what you say here about “it’s time to shift from primarily thinking about missions in terms of geographical boundaries, and start thinking in terms of digital boundaries.”

    Since 2009 World Prayr has worked as an online global mission team. The team ranges anywhere from 118 to 125 at any given time, with team members all around the world. Offering prayer, encouragement, and working to reconnect to a church offline. While supporting other ministries and churches around the world. As far as I know World Prayr is still the only true mission team on the web where more than one person works on our accounts. As, most would be reluctant to allow so many to be on their accounts.

    It has a serious need help team which addresses the more serious needs we see. We really have taken the concept of mission teams online. http://worldprayr.org/. Thanks for bringing this to light.

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