Thoughts on “Digital Ministry” from Faith & Leadership

Duke Divinity School’s Faith & Leadership website regularly features fascinating, thought-provoking articles and interviews related to some aspect of leadership. Recently, Faith & Leadership published an interview with the Rev. Keith Anderson, a Lutheran pastor and co-author of Click 2 Save: The Digital Ministry Bible (with Elizabeth Drescher). I found Anderson’s comments on “digital ministry” to be worth considering, and also worth sharing with you. I recommend the whole interview, which can be found here. I’ve highlighted the sentences I find particularly engaging.

Q: The book [Click 2 Save] uses the term “digital ministry.” What is that?

Most social media advice tends to be around marketing. It’s repackaged business advice, . . . . Digital ministry is more of a ministry- oriented, relationship-building approach to social media. . . .

Digital ministry is networked, relational and incarnational, so it’s developing relationships over time and pointing to how God is at work in our daily lives. And in the midst of that, we’re developing relationships online and then hopefully extending offline and then back online again.

Q: You and Elizabeth say that digital ministry is about establishing “real presence.” What does that look like in the digital world?

It looks like authentic and human presence. Often, churches and ministry leaders see these new technologies and think it’s another broadcast medium where I can tell you all about me and my church. But what people really want is to develop a relationship. . . .

Digital ministry is about taking ministry — the ministry that we’ve been trained to do in seminaries or divinity schools — and extending it into digital spaces. . . .

Digital ministry isn’t different from face-to-face ministry. It calls forth the best in us and our training and the best of being in ministry.

Q: Why is it important that churches be active in social media?

Social media is the place where people are meeting, connecting, learning and getting news, and keeping track of their interests. As somebody in ministry who wants to share the gospel, I need to be in that digital space just as much as I need to be in the church office or in my community. Also, it’s a place where young adults are gathering, a group that the church finds difficult to reach.

Q: You weren’t using social media to send out messages but to listen to your new community and learn about it.

Yes. The first rule of social media is “Listen.” We often blow right by the listening and get to sharing and broadcasting. So what I did and what I continue to do is listen to what’s going on and what people are interested in. Now that I’m here, we’re trying to respond to people.

Final Thoughts from Keith Anderson

Often, social media gets knocked because, well, it’s so mundane. It’s about what people had for breakfast or what they’re doing. Who wants to know about that?

Well, I want to know about that, because God is there, and I get to bear witness to that. I can help people to see that, which is one of my favorite roles as a ministry leader.

My Reflections

I’m impressed by Anderson’s observation that digital ministry is much more than marketing or even just putting out content. It’s about building relationships. It’s based on listening. This is certainly a different approach than the common use of digital technology for ministry.

I’m not sure I agree with him, however, when he says: “Digital ministry isn’t different from face-to-face ministry.” This deserves more unpacking. There are profound similarities and profound differences, I think. Attention to these will enhance both digital and face-to-face ministry efforts.

If, indeed, we believe that God is in the small things, the stuff of daily life, then this means God is somehow present in our digital world. I wonder what it means to envision God’s presence in this way. If we are seeking to share God’s presence digitally, how might we do this?

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  • RevBill

    To update John 1:14, “The word became digital and went online.” At best electronic media can only weakly supplement face-to-face ministry. A real friend who is with me in person is many times more valuable than any facebook friend, email, or twit.

  • markdroberts

    Thanks for your comment, RevBill.