Updated: Jul 14
If you've been watching our four-part mini series called "Has the Church Fallen Out of Love with Digital", then you'll know there is widespread feeling that people are tired. (If you haven't, then start by watching the video below.)
People are not tired of digital, they are just tired. They aren't scared of digital, they are just tired.
The rest of the videos are in the Video Library
Challenge 24 - is a campaign we'll be running this summer to encourage two shifts in church practice:
A shift back to digital
A shift to resource digital leaders
Why Challenge 24?
Research that the Centre for Digital Theology (now based at Premier and Spurgeon's College in London) did back in lockdown with SevantaComRes showed that between 24 and 28 percent of the UK's general population said they had been watching online worship during the lockdown. Seeing that only about 2.5million attend regularly onsite, that's the equivalent of an extra 16-18 million people engaging with online church ministry.
You read that right - a potential new congregation for online church engagement 7 times higher than the existing onsite church congregations across the whole of the UK today. Of course, established online church projects like Coffee Shop Sunday saw their congregation grow from well below 100 to over 750 so far in the pandemic. This demonstrates the massive potential that digital engagement offers for churches who take it seriously by supporting and equipping their digital teams.
a potential new audience attending online church which is 7 times higher than the existing onsite church congregations across the whole of the UK today
Who are the 24%?
But it is important to realise who these 18 million are: we found more young people said that they attended online organised worship, with up to half talking about engagement with digital. In other words, digital was the new way to engage with the church. Already, prior to the pandemic, leaders at Rediscover Church in Exeter and Everyday Church in London were talking about people attending online for a number of weeks as they gathered the courage to come along to onsite church - online as a gateway to onsite engagement. But the question is whether online is now the preferred place to seek spiritual engagement and worship. Indeed, in BARNA's latest research in the US, where fewer churches actually closed, most age groups shifted towards online engagement for faith activities during the COVID period and beyond.
Indeed, during the lockdowns, people talked regularly of online engagement as the comfy sofa which the church had set up behind the back pew. A place where they could come along and see the church at worship, engage with the church if they wanted, got to see people from their local community or who they had seen at the school gate. People with disabilities could watch when they wanted to without keeping to able-ist timetables and able-ist buildings. The housebound were able to connect back into a church which they could no longer get to. People socially distanced could socially engage.
And that's not just a new audience during the (ongoing) pandemic.
Digital is a shop window for the Church all the time.
Digital is a place to gather, to engage, to worship. Digital as a place where two or three are gathered in a place where Jesus has promised to be present. Livestreamed, zoomed, visual or audio, even in the metaverse, church is church is church. Digital isn't church lite - or a gnostic form of church. Digital as a place where we worship God, where we sing praises to God, where we listen to the Word and share the sacraments is church. Nothing less, nothing more.
Digital is a place to gather, to engage, to worship. Digital as a place where two or three are gathered in a place where Jesus has promised to be present.
Rebuilding the Walls
When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, the first thing he noted was the crumbing city walls. He set about bringing together people from all over the region to rebuild them. But they were not without opposition. Sanballat railed against them and Nehemiah had to urge the rebuilders to carry swords and for people to stand in the literal gaps in the city walls to keep the enemy out. Nehemiah 3 simply lists all the people who rebuilt the walls in 52 days. Nehemiah 4 talks about the opposition and of people assigned to stand in the gaps.
Rebuilding/re-sourcing tired leaders
As we rebuild from the pandemic, we find ourselves in a similar predicament. The walls are crumbling. We worry we don't have enough people to fill the gaps. We worry about the resources to do the work. We worry about the skills gaps we know need filling. As we pointed out above, Nehemiah 3 is a list of people who helped sort out the resources. The church doesn't need people to critique digital leaders for being tired. She needs people:
to resource digital leaders to do the work they need to do
to resource digital leaders financially but also to equip them with the tools and expertise they need.
to recreate the church for a digital age
We'll give some examples below how you could stand in the gap for such digital leaders as they equip your church to engage with the 24%.
Re-orientating the Church to look beyond the walls
But we also need to call on those on working parties, committees, management groups to reorientate the church to address to needs and aspirations of the 24% rather than the 4% who attend the church already.
We see this in the current Tory party leadership debate. Candidates are developing their policies with the 100,000 official members of the Tory Party in mind and the electorate looks on in horror - polls for the Tories are crashing as this happens.
Similarly, we have created a church for those who attend church.
We need to rebuild the church for those beyond the walls, for those who live in our towns and villages, our city centres, our countryside. We need a church for all rather than a church for the few. How can we work with authorities within the church to reach out beyond the church to share the good news?
We need to rebuild the church for those beyond the walls
An Action Plan
What could you do?
Build a team at your church to explore digital engagement
Sponsor (often = pay for!!!) a member of your digital team to learn more
through Spurgeons "Equipped for Digital Ministry" online course
through the MA in Digital Ministry
through the DMin in Digital Church for Ministry and Mission based in the US
through the other courses available through your own church structures
Use Premier's Digital Library to look back at all the advice so many people have given in webinars about how to develop digital ministry
Take your church pastor/minister/vicar for a drink and discuss how they are thinking of engaging with the 24%
Table a business agenda item at your PCC/Church Council/Church Meeting to explore digital outreach as a fixed agenda item for future discussion
Five simple ideas. They aren't rocket science but they could revolutionise the digital church in the UK.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to TechCityChristians. A group run by James Doc and James Poulter of Christian techies working/living in and around London. Great pizza, great talk by Andy Geers from PrayerMate...
There were lots of young people there engaged in tech. Very few of them were being asked by their local churches to be involved in leadership or digital engagement. I was shocked! Imagine not asking these experts in the field to be involved. Lie forgetting to ask Billy Graham to be an evangelist!
Go read Nehemiah.
Apply it to today's situation.
Take up Challenge 24!