Every church should understand the purpose and function of its various digital ministries. The following simple distinction helps clarify, by biblical analogy, how two common digital ministries serve in different ways:
Church website = Old Testament evangelism: Come and See
Church social media accounts = New Testament evangelism: Go and Tell
In the Old Testament, God established Israel as his people and Jerusalem as the place of his habitation in his temple. The other nations who wanted to learn about the one, true God had to search there to learn what he revealed about himself and his salvation. Similarly, a church website generally hosts content for people to come and see by searching for the church or one like it. The information displayed there can be rich and full, and it serves the wonderful purpose of providing the seeker with the information he is looking to find, and maybe far more.
In the New Testament, with the coming of Christ, God’s people are told to go and tell the nations the good news of the kingdom of God. We are to press outward to proclaim even to those who are not explicitly looking for the God of the Bible that he reigns and has made his salvation known. Church social media accounts act as platforms to generate gospel content that will find its way into the social media feeds of those who have never known of the existence of that particular congregation or who need to hear the truth in some form but were not looking for it.
This observation is not to prescribe exactly what any particular church’s digital ministry should look like, though it obviously intends to nudge churches to consider placing a higher priority of social media content. However, congregations have different needs, cultures, capacities, and so each situation will be different. If a church does engage in social media ministry, it must be committed to doing it well.
Websites effectively reach searchers. And, churches may have been able to rely on strictly word-of-mouth witness for the “go and tell” part of its mission in the past.
But, it’s worth noting Susie Rowan’s observation in her leadership position at Bible Study Fellowship. A few years ago, she realized that BSF could not rely on word-of-mouth advertising as it had in the past. Why? Because we do not live in a word-of-mouth culture anymore, she told Christianity Today (paywall) in 2017. At least not in the sense that people first learn about opportunities or truths first from the mouths of their friends. Rather, people first tend to see something on social media, and that stimulates face-to-face conversations around the topic.
Like it or not, social media is setting the agenda of personal discussions in our world; people are comfortable talking about what they know their friends already have shared. So, if you want to open doors for members of the church to “go and tell” in discussion, you can help by first giving them something to set before their friends on social media so that the topic might just make it onto their face-to-face meeting agendas.