If you are on the wrong side of 30 like me, then you are probably familiar with the cult comedy classic The Princess Bride. It’s a delightful slapstick bedtime story that comes to life on the silver screen. But unfortunately, the story’s antagonist, Vizzini, has a penchant for using the word “inconceivable” so often that he has become insensitive to its true meaning. As the master swordsman, Inigo Montoya, astutely points out, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Keenly aware of the need for a digital presence, many church leaders use the term “digital ministry” to describe their version of Sunday broadcasts. But like Inigo confronting Vizzini, If we are going to become effective at “digital ministry,” we probably need to be more aware of what the proper definition of “digital ministry” is before we attach the tactical approach to Sunday morning with such a label.
So, what is digital ministry, really? To understand digital ministry, we must dive into a cursory overview of digital platforms and how this applies to our faith communities.
Digital Platforms Power the Decentralized World.
In their groundbreaking book, The Platform Revolution, Sangeet Choudary, Marshall Van Alstyne, and Geoffrey Parker explain that platforms are software services that serve a two-sided market. That’s academic terminology for bringing a service provider and a service recipient together. This matters because their businesses aren’t about providing the service but are intentionally built on the need for connection. Google became the go-to platform to connect knowledge seekers with information. Amazon became the go-to platform to connect consumers with products. Apple became the go-to platform to connect mobile device users with applications. Pick your social media preference. It connects users to relationships with like-minded people. And now, blockchain is taking this concept to a new level by creating a technology that allows the tech to be the middle man, not an organization.
Because of this disruptive technology, we have been able to detach from geography and “IRL” relationships into networks of relationships where we can customize our entire lives into a digital matrix of our choosing without leaving the four walls of our home, making us simultaneously more isolated and more connected than at any other time in the history of humankind. So the town squares and the marketplaces of yesteryear that created a closed economy in land-locked municipalities now give way to a global marketplace and a global town square. A better picture would be the high school lunchroom, where all networks of relationships are on full display in cliques and friend groups. We created the world’s largest virtual lunchrooms, the TRUE power of digital platforms.
Platforms Provide Infrastructure.
Furthermore, platforms also provide administrative applications to manage systems and people without needing a centralized location. Offices become the local coffee shop, cubicles become laptops, water coolers become meme threads, meeting rooms become zoom rooms, mailrooms become email, sales teams become funnels, and marketing departments become automation. Project management meetings become slack and asana channels… the list goes on.
The truth is, today, the reason for physical presence is human connection. I find that beautiful.
The True Meaning of Digital Ministry
So, this brings me to the true definition of “digital ministry.” Digital ministry uses digital platforms to reach, connect, serve and empower others with the Good news of Jesus and his people. It is not merely a broadcast of your services. It is the infusion and administering of community, devotion, and mission. Suppose we continue to misrepresent what digital ministry is. In that case, we will see it as an inferior strategy for the Church. Still, by defining it correctly, we begin to understand the ubiquity and usefulness of technology as it aids us in living out the Great Commission.
So, I challenge you, leader, to not cheapen “digital” by relegating its meaning to a YouTube stream, and don’t cheapen “ministry” by relegating its significance to a filmed event. Instead, let’s use our imagination to utilize digital platforms to create an ecosystem leading to the gospel transformation of a world needing faith, hope, and love.
First published on StartChurch.com. Used by permission.