MagazineWhat's the Digital

Communication is a two–way street

Conversation has always been the key to connecting people. Since the early days of the Christian church, religious leaders delivered heartfelt impromptu talks. They also responded to numerous queries from their casual and intimate audiences. Down through the ages, Baroque and Renaissance painters have imagined them in long robes as they sat on marble stoops in ancient middle eastern temples.

Ironically, as today’s advanced internet and social media culture pushes us into the future, it is also inspiring preachers to resurrect this lost art of conversation. But as people engage on modern digital platforms, challenges as well as opportunities arise that have the potential to bring people together or silo them into ideological clicks.

The question is, will our emerging “cancel culture,” where people are quick to “unfriend” one another at the slightest disagreement, divide us or will this technology instead help to connect us?


Streetwise ministry

In search of answers, Christian media gurus are helping ministries across the nation adapt and thrive in this environment, even in the midst of COVID–19.

For example, Phil Cooke, a Christian and an expert in the field of digital media who has a passion for helping pastors and ministry leaders worldwide, calls this new trend “the two–way street of modern communication” and says “digital thinking” is the way to navigate those streets.

“That is not to say that preaching or proclaiming the gospel isn’t important, but it does indicate that today’s technology is actually giving us the capability to recover many of the styles and ideas of the early church,” writes Cooke in his latest book, Maximize Your Influence: How to make digital media work for your church, your ministry, and you.*

In the past, popular radio and television hosts created imaginary conversations with listeners via the airwaves. Today, they are having actual dialogues with followers in real time on Zoom. Podcasts, where people engage in lively discussions every week, are also growing in popularity. “In the open world of the future, those who simply preach or teach without regard to the way the audience understands and responds may simply be ignored,” says Cooke.


Pastors meet the press

Secular journalists, who in days gone by paid little attention to what preachers said in their sanctuaries, today scrutinize every word.  “Breaking news” stories arise from quotes that are frequently taken out of context, and pastors are asked to explain theological language to skeptics.

But in the midst of this monumental paradigm shift are amazing opportunities, says Cooke. He points to many ministries that are silently influencing massive audiences via YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and other popular social media platforms.

“Before COVID–19, 41 percent of pastors had never offered anything online; no teaching, no messages, no products—nothing,” says Cooke. “The shutdown changed that dramatically.”

Cooke encourages church leaders to develop a new empathy for their congregants who are growing in numbers online. “Tell a story, ask questions, and experiment to see what really works with an audience,”  he says, “Examine carefully how the audience wants to be reached.”

*Maximize Your Influence: How to Make Digial Media Work for Your Church, Your Ministry, and You is available now on Amazon.

by Warren L. Maye