Digital Shepherding Vs. Digital Outreach


As we continue through this unique season of digital ministry, I’ve been thinking about these two aspects of our worship ministry.

On the one hand, it’s an incredible time to reach out all over the globe. Not only is the message of hope available with a wider net, but hundreds of thousands of congregations are also solely focused on ministry in this way.

The other side is the desire and obligation to continue to grow and nurture the flock committed to our local church.

Of course, the coolest thing is for both of these to happen together, but here’s where it can get a little muddled.

Take, for example, introducing yourself each week. That may seem a little tedious, though if you’re expecting new folks – digital or in person – it’s a good practice. Saying your name and maybe introducing the band and others may seem like overkill week after week, but it’s a lifeline for those who are there for the first time. This would fall into digital outreach.

We might even use that time to teach our flock that it’s important to introduce ourselves. “I know you may know my name since I have the privilege of being connected with you each week, but in case we haven’t met and this is your first time here, my name is _________ and I’m so glad you’re here today.”

On the other end of the spectrum, another example might be singing really familiar, somewhat older songs. The personal touch you’re able to provide in this digital world will be important for those who call your church home. Though new songs might be more of a draw to the outside world, you’re leaning toward this family room style connection, helping to keep your congregation engaged and worshipping together. Authenticity is always key. And the goal of connection trumps creative components during this season.

There are many ways this plays out and the key is to make sure you’ve got a balance of both. Maybe the live streaming service is general and you do other things during the week to connect.

We live in the world of two styles of worship in our church. There are two services each week led by the worship band with modern songs and two more traditional services led with choirs, organ and piano. The attendance is about 50/50 and the church does both really well. During this season however, we have chosen to blend into one live service each week, for now. This has definitely created a need to remind the congregation that we are one church serving in this region together. Combining two worship styles each week has been fun and is working for now, but it probably falls more in the camp of digital shepherding.

My brother Jackson had a great analogy. He said online church services could be compared to national and local papers. The national paper may have all the bells and whistles. It’s full color with major, major stories and reports. But the local paper has people and places you know and care about personally.

Of course, this analogy breaks down somewhere along the way, and this is in no way to disparage large, high profile churches around North America. However, it should be a call to every local church to personally and profoundly connect with their people. Do your best, be as excellent as you can be, do all you can to include everyone who might happen upon your digital ministry, but lovingly and authentically make it personal for those who call your church home.

Digital shepherding might include sharing pictures from your congregation, sharing stories, celebrating specific ministries and successes together. There may be a small disconnect from a brand new guest here and there, but when done authentically, they will sense the passion and purpose of your congregation.

How are you being the local church to your congregation in this digital only worship world?

How are you reaching out to people who aren’t already connected?