Digital Discipleship Best Practices and 3 Dangers to Avoid

Digital Discipleship Best Practices and 3 Dangers to Avoid

“True community requires feet and faces and not just electrons and avatars. But those electrons and avatars can be tools to bring people into closer community with feet and faces.”
–Ed Stetzer

Our responsibility to nurture discipleship is a key purpose of the church, even or perhaps especially in modern times. However, I’m probably not alone in finding the “how to do it” of disciple-building somewhat challenging. Defining how to make a disciple is a bit like nailing potluck jello to a church flannel graph!

With experience doing both, I’d have to say that moving a baby Christian towards maturity is not much easier than raising a child. I have three children. I’ve found lots of parents have lots of opinions on how to raise children—some smart, some not so great, but ultimately there’s not a single right way to do it. That’s equally true for church leaders who can offer many different takes on what it means to train a dedicated leader within the body of Christ. Discipleship is messy. We end up changing a lot of figurative diapers.

It’s an oversimplification, but discipleship at its core is helping someone become more like Christ. Discipleship happens within the body of Christ (that is, the Church) as more mature believers train and equip those who are less mature, guiding them in their growth. Can you disciple someone digitally? Of course! Tools like Ministry Grid are very helpful in simplifying the process of training within the church. Digital discipleship can’t be the sole method we use, but digital tools certainly can augment the process of making disciples.

However, it’s not (as they say) “all good.” While I believe digital discipleship is beneficial to churches, let me offer three warnings:

1. Digital discipleship brings with it the temptation of isolation

God wants community for us, but sin will cause us to become isolated from the very community that can help us. Let me state the obvious: Discipleship is connected to a local church. As noted above, the point of discipleship is to train up people within the body of Christ so that they further the good work of the Church. Digital tools seem to offer the promise of connection but, in actuality, can end up isolating a person from others. This can be benign, even positive in some worlds (ATMs are convenient ways to withdraw cash at all hours without a bank teller), but in the Church, isolation is dangerous and problematic because it creates a loner mentality.

Tip: You can avoid the temptation of isolation by encouraging people to be members of an ongoing group in your church. The accountability built into small groups, Sunday school classes, and Bible study fellowships helps keep disciples (and you!) connected to a community of people.

2. Digital discipleship should not replace the gathering of people in the church

The internet is not a church and never will be. Like the rest of the online world, it offers an illusion of belonging and relationship, but it’s not real. You can’t have an online-only marriage; it’s a simulation, not a relationship. The same goes for the Church. Digital discipleship is an excellent tool for enhancing a relationship that already exists. When discipleship becomes digital-only, it’s merely a shadow of the real thing.

Tip: Use digital calendar reminders to encourage church attendance. Remind people, literally, to block off that time on Sunday (or whenever your worship is scheduled). The visual reminder every week helps keep attendance regular—not least of all because it helps remind people not to schedule something else in that time slot.

3. Digital discipleship isn’t a short cut that makes the process of raising believers any easier

Discipleship is hard work. Digital tools make discipleship better, not easier. At its best, digital discipleship adds another layer and more depth. But if your goal with expanding a digital discipleship is to make growing believers easier, then you’re just being lazy. It won’t work. Scripture is quite clear: We carry crosses (Matt. 16:24); we charge hell’s gates (Matt. 16:18). There is no easy path with discipleship.

Tip: Create spiritual challenges that involve other people. For example, pray for 60 days in a row with a person you trust. The discipline of praying every day will create a foundation upon which other spiritual disciplines are built.

Discipleship is the process of people in the Church becoming more like Christ. Digital tools can assist—but not replace—the Church in this process. Discipleship is never easy. Teaching people to pick up their crosses and follow Christ is hugely important but complicated. Digital tools can help. Just don’t use them to replace the very body people should be in.

Learn more about how digital tools can help keep your tech-savvy congregation engaged and the other factors that help prevent drop out. Download the free ebook, 7 Ways To Beat Church Decline, today!

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Sam Rainer
Sam Rainer

Sam S. Rainer III serves as president of Rainer Research and as co-founder of Rainer Publishing. Sam is the author of Obstacles in the Established Church and the co-author of Essential Church. He has written hundreds of articles for several publications. He is a frequent speaker on church health issues. You can connect with Sam at his blog, samrainer.com.