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From the Roman roads to Gutenberg’s printing press to the broadcast ministry of Billy Graham, technology in all its forms has been instrumental in sharing the gospel.
But what does it look like for churches to wisely leverage the tools of today—such as social media, mobile apps, and the internet—to make more and better disciples?
For many pastors who are evaluating a new technology for the first time, it can be tempting to skip to practical matters without first asking more foundational and strategic questions.
“The first question Evangelicals tend to ask about technology,” says Brett McCracken, author of The Wisdom Pyramid and senior editor at The Gospel Coalition, “is usually, ‘How can we use this to meet people where they’re at? How can we have a presence?’”
In our podcast with Brett, he goes on to observe that most church leaders simply want to reach people with whatever tools are available. But however well-intentioned, this approach often produces a discipleship model that’s more pragmatic than it is wise.
Making a meaningful impact online begins with asking the right questions.
When the average person spends about seven hours a day consuming online media, and 233 million Americans browse social media on their mobile devices, it’s safe to say that we’re all being digitally formed like never before.
The 2021 documentary The Social Dilemma highlighted this phenomenon in the words of some of Silicon Valley’s most influential founders, designers, and engineers:
“We’re training and conditioning a whole new generation of people that when we are uncomfortable or lonely or uncertain or afraid we have a digital pacifier for ourselves that is kind of atrophying our own ability to deal with that.”
—Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google and co-founder of Center for Humane Technology
If the creators of online platforms are worried about formation, pastors should be too. Before adopting any new digital tool, make sure you’ve considered how it will shape your community and others that use it. This principle goes beyond the content on the platform—it’s about the very nature of the platform.
In Brett’s words, “We need to ask the formation questions about technology. How does it form us? Not just the content on Twitter or TikTok, but the form itself. How are these things shaping Christians?”
While there are impactful ways for churches to use social media, if your church’s engagement strategy depends heavily on channels like Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter, have you asked how the nature of those channels is shaping your community?
Today, “consumer culture” is understood to be much more than an economic trend—it’s a defining characteristic of our society, and it’s alive and well in the church. But for pastors, wisely using technology should mean making disciples, not competing for the attention of consumers.
During our interview, Brett breaks it down like this:
“When churches start thinking they’re ‘competing’ with YouTube or TikTok, it’s an admission that we as the church are substantively the same as those things—we’re just all part of this crowded marketplace of attention, competing for eyeballs. I think that’s the losing strategy. We’re never going to be able to compete if we position ourselves as one among many consumeristic diversions people can choose.”
The truth is that the message of hope churches have to share is substantively different than anything else on social media. That’s why it’s important for churches to leverage technology that doesn’t “flatten” gospel-centered content onto a single plane for people to consume.
“The risk when we blur those lines,” Brett continues, “is that we feed the consumeristic religion where people are like, ‘I’ll have a little bit of religion in my feed, a little bit of this guru, and some who-knows-what.’”
Instead, the most effective tools for digital discipleship—like custom mobile apps and ad-free media players—are intentionally designed as a haven away from the noise and distraction of social platforms.
Never before have churches and church leaders needed to exist in two realms simultaneously: in person and online. So if this is the reality for today’s pastors, how do they create a space that’s less jarring and more focused on the distinct mission of their church community?
Remember: The point of technology isn’t to get more clicks, likes, or shares—or even to replace in-person experiences. Instead, it’s about cultivating a greater sense of belonging with your community and a deeper resonance with the gospel.
“The target isn’t to deliver content to an end-user or to make donors,” says Equip & Engage co-host Nick Bogardus. “The target is to make disciples.” It’s all about discipleship, and the responsibility of pastors is to guide their people to deeper, truer experiences—both offline and online.
Imagining the possibilities for digital discipleship, Brett asks, “Might there be an argument for reserving Christian content for a more sacred space?”
Brett’s question gets at the heart of how pastors can wisely leverage technology to make more and better disciples.
We believe the best technology for churches allows communities to stay connected in a safe, focused environment centered on the truth of Jesus. To find out more about using digital tools on the Subsplash Platform to grow and disciple your community, [.blog-contact-cta]let’s chat![.blog-contact-cta]