It’s the year 2020. The internet is nothing new. For most of us, it’s a part of our everyday lives. Yet for some reason, the idea of digital ministry still seems like a foreign concept for many Christians.
By now, most denominations, ministry organizations and churches have an online presence of some kind. But many (perhaps most) seem to be focused on sharing information about local, in-person ministries, with very little actual ministry being done online. The exception might be churches streaming their services or podcasting their sermons so that anyone, whether a part of their church or not, can watch or listen. But not a lot of this is interactive; and very little is focused on purposely reaching out to people not already connected with or at least looking for a local church.
Over the past couple of years, as I’ve dreamed up Drawbridge, I’ve searched online for strategies and ideas for doing online ministry; most of what I’ve found has been about using the internet in the ways I just mentioned, supplementing their local ministries rather than really leveraging the power and potential of digital ministry.
But COVID-19 and the related restrictions on public gatherings are forcing the Church to re-think how we do ministry in the digital world. Churches who never streamed or uploaded their services have been learning how. And churches that were already doing online services are now learning how do more interactive online ministry, because they realize that simply watching a service online isn’t the same as being there in person.
This all has me thinking about how ministry will change in a post-pandemic world. Will churches go back to doing things the same as before? Or will they hold onto the new skills and tools at their disposal to do digital ministry more effectively?
For example, some churches are offering online small groups for the first time, and finding them to be very well-attended. Will this be something they simply drop when in-person small groups are OK again? Or will they continue to offer online groups as an option for those who are too busy or too far away to participate in person?
I do hope at least some of these new online ministries will continue, and that this will expand the Church’s ministry effectiveness in our digital world.
And to make things more personal, I also hope the Church’s current experience with digital ministry will make our vision at Drawbridge Creations more clear and understandable; that more people will “get” it. Because a lot of what churches are learning and experiencing now applies to non-localized, primarily online ministries like ours.
In Japan, people are busy. Like, crazy busy. But most people are online. Connecting with people where they’re at (instead of expecting them to come to us) means doing online ministry. To an extent that’s true in the West as well, but even more so among the Japanese, 99% of whom don’t know Jesus.
Then there are the hikikomori. This is a complex issue to sum up, but basically hikikomori is a social anxiety disorder, whereby people decide they’ve just had enough of the pressures of modern life, and stay home, leaving school or work behind, cut off from society. What many of us are experiencing now with quarantine and social distancing is a way of life for hikikomori.
How do you reach out to people like that? The same way many churches are learning to connect now, during this pandemic: online.
So yes, at Drawbridge, manga is our main draw. That will help us build an audience. But how do we really connect with that audience? And how do we take them to the next level, to actively seeking truth and finding it in Jesus? I’ll talk more about strategy in a future blog post, but for now I just want to point out that many of the ideas and tools churches are learning now are applicable for online outreach in a post-quarantine world, and they’re some of the tools we’ll use to reach Japan through Drawbridge Creations. Things like…
- Connecting online with people who can’t (or won’t) connect in person.
- Offering content that people are searching for, to read (manga, blogs) or watch (videos), but also…
- Doing online events that are live and interactive, using tools like Zoom, Facebook Live or YouTube Live.
- Offering online Bible studies and discussion groups for people who are open and interested, such as some churches are doing now with small groups or online Alpha courses.
Ultimately in a post-pandemic world we do want to help people connect in-person, so an important part of our strategy will be networking with churches, missionaries and ministries throughout Japan to help seekers find local fellowship and discipleship. I’m sure there will be a place in our ministry for in-person events, too.
But our primary outreach tool is the internet, with its many ways to share and connect and ultimately point people to Jesus. The current crisis is a good chance to think about this. My prayer is that we can take it from thought to action. Please pray with us, and let us know if you’d like to get involved.