Pastors today are facing a discipleship crisis. Whether they realize it or not, their communities are being “discipled” by a dizzying array of voices, most of which come from outside their church.
This leaves many church leaders wondering, “How can we disciple our congregation in the midst of all these digital messages, and how can we reduce distractions to keep them engaged with the mission of the church?”
Let’s take a look at the importance of discipleship, dive into the unique challenges of today, and gain insights into how churches can truly disciple their congregations in the digital age.
Jesus himself helped us understand the importance of discipleship. During his earthly ministry, he called twelve ordinary men to be his disciples, or followers. Simply put, a disciple is a student or apprentice whose ultimate goal is to become like their teacher. The process of becoming a disciple is called discipleship.
For the next three years, Jesus’ disciples would spend nearly every waking hour with their teacher walking, talking, eating, sleeping, praying, ministering, and studying together. They watched as Jesus performed miracles, and they witnessed his death and resurrection. The time spent as disciples of Jesus profoundly influenced these men, transformed their understanding, created the Church, and changed the world.
Discipleship is a process that still holds great importance for Christians today. Churches know that the more their congregations learn about Jesus’ life, his teachings, and the power of the gospel, the more they will reflect Christ in their thoughts, actions, relationships, and lives.
The question is “Who—or what—is your congregation following and spending time with every day? Who are they “apprenticing under?”
The power of discipleship is this: you become like who you follow. With the average person spending over 7 hours a day consuming online media, it’s safe to say that we’re all being digitally formed like never before. We are bombarded with constant messages telling us how to act, think, and treat others—even who to worship. Digital media has a profound influence on our lives today.
In the midst of this, pastors are striving to ensure that their congregation is becoming more like Jesus. Today’s discipleship challenge is that your church only has your congregation’s attention for a couple of hours each weekend, and maybe an additional hour or two throughout the week if you have small groups or Bible studies.
Some church leaders lean into social media platforms, trying to compete with the other voices influencing their followers. However, in a recent episode of Equip & Engage, Brett McCracken (senior editor at The Gospel Coalition) warns how easy it can be to accidentally blur the lines on social media:
“The minute churches start thinking about this as we are competing against YouTube and TikTok, it’s an admission that we as the Church are substantively the same as those things. As if we’re just all part of this crowded marketplace of attention, and that we’re just competing for eyeballs. I think that’s the losing strategy.”
The good news is that there are powerful strategies that leverage digital tools for eliminating distractions and building disciples. Let’s take a look at some of these and how your church can implement them right away.
All too often, attempting to replicate or compete with mainstream digital platforms merely dilutes the gospel message. Instead, your church has an amazing opportunity to raise the bar and provide discipleship tools that are fundamentally different than what the world offers.
The most important strategy of all is Bible-based discipleship. In fact, scientific research shows that a person who reads the Bible four times or more each week is:
These results are transformational! Many people, however, don’t know how to read the Bible or where to start. Your church can lead them by creating and sharing Bible reading plans in your church’s mobile app and website to guide your community through the scriptures.
To some this may seem like a stretch, but pastors shouldn’t shy away from challenging their flock to reach new heights. Jen Wilkin, author and Bible teacher at The Village Church asserts that people are actually looking for growth opportunities:
“People do not value things that cost them nothing. They are doing CrossFit and running marathons. They can do Whole30. They are not incapable of discipline! It's just being directed at the most compelling message. And that’s why I say as church leaders, it is our job and our duty to compel them.“
Another way to encourage engagement with scripture is by creating a daily devotional, whether in the form of a blog, podcast, or video series. For example, sharing a short daily morning devotional and prayer video can have a big impact on your congregation, and they can share these videos with their friends and family for even greater impact. (For a good example of a daily devotional video, check out NCC Daily!)
These are just a few examples of how your church can leverage digital discipleship. For more powerful and practical ideas, check out our blog: Digital discipleship—what it is & how it’s done.
Church leaders, are you depending on platforms that present your content as just one among many “consumeristic diversions?” Or are you leveraging digital tools that point back to your mission?
Our team is focused on creating powerful digital tools to help you engage your church and disciple your congregation. We’re honored to serve over 15,000 churches and organizations with the industry’s best digital engagement tools to share the gospel with millions of people around the world every week.
To learn more about how your church can leverage these tools to make a greater impact, let’s chat!