Digital Outreach: An Incarnational Paradigm
“The big hub-bub, (the drama), the $64,000.00 question for digital ministry is: where is all the fruit – eg new believers who became disciples who got plugged into a church that we can name, track and see multiply. People are tired of counting clicks that don’t translate into real people in a real Church.” (what one leader posted on Facebook).
I too have felt frustrated by a lack of results. Just as there are very few children born without real human connection, I believe there will be few disciples via digital means of outreach unless the process includes connecting face to face at the local church level.
After Japan’s disaster in 2011 I got involved in relief work with CRASH Japan, a Tokyo based NPO founded by Jonathan Wilson. Being a small part of responding to a major disaster helped me realize that an incarnational approach is vital to effective outreach and to making disciples.
Two days after Japan’s epic disaster Wilson presented a vision to mobilize thousands of Christian volunteers and send them to work with local churches. “Hope in a Package” is how Wilson describes volunteers (see link below to his article).
The fundraising and media work I did with CRASH gave me opportunity to travel extensively in the disaster zone where I witnessed the incredibly positive impact of volunteers working with local churches. Their heart for people, their presence, and the way they helped in practical ways touched many lives. The activities of CRASH volunteers included: office work, delivering supplies, praying for people, listening to people, smiling at people, giving hand massages, cooking, and cleaning up the terrible mess left behind by the tsunami. One farm was restored to productivity through the labor of dozens of volunteers. It would not have happened with out them.
The volunteers were the heart, hands, and feet of Jesus.
This CRASH video shows how volunteers, working in collaboration with a local church, brought a powerful, culturally appropriate witness to the disaster zone: Serving Through Tradition
Clearly, responding to a disaster is a rather unique form of outreach. I think the universal principle is, we must connect with people in the real world, and serve them. People need to know that we care.
The way my father reached out to people in the communities where he pastored is a good example. He cared about people and they knew it because he showed up. If they were sick he would call on them. If they were shut in, he went to see them, regularly. If they didn’t come to church on Sunday, he would check in with them to see if they were OK. “He came to see me,” is what people say when they remember my dad. People felt loved. My dad built lasting relationships and grew his churches by connecting with people face to face, the old fashioned way. I wonder how he could have used digital tools to enhance his ability to connect with people?
“What if Jesus had not been born?” If God had only given us text, the Bible… In Jesus, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14). The beloved story of Christmas is about God making a deep connection with his creation by entering it in human form. He did not remain in heaven, the disciples walked with him, spoke with him, ate with him, and listened to him. This changed their lives. The incarnation of Jesus continues to change our lives today.
“An Incarnational Paradigm” for digital outreach recognizes the human need for people to connect in the real world as well as in the digital one.
How can we collaborate with local churches and others to create digital tools that will foster people getting connected and into real communities (churches)?
“Hope in a Package” by Jonathan Wilson
Note: “An Incarnational Paradigm” is the title of my presentation at the Indigitous conference in Hong Kong on April 11, 2014.
I’m deeply grateful for the graphic design by Christina Cheng