Reach Beyond: Moving from online worship into online discipleship

November 19, 2020

By: Karla Hovde

This article is part of a series that will take place throughout 2020-21 in conjunction with the virtual Reach! webinar series. Learn about future Reach! webinars.

“Can we move beyond online worship into online discipleship?”
This is the key question posed to attendees of a Nov. 12 Reach! webinar. To answer, two experts in online discipleship shared their top practices and tools for helping people grow in faith virtually.
Rev. Rachel Gilmore is the director of recruiting, assessing, and training of church planters and community engagement for Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church. She is also an online ministry coach and trainer with PATH1.
She was joined by Rev. Josh Meyers, pastor and church planter of Made New Church in Coon Rapids, and owner of JM Design, a web and graphic design company.
Three easy discipleship methods

Rev. Rachel Gilmore offered three easy discipleship methods that any church could implement.
It’s time to embrace online discipleship, said Gilmore. “This a chance for the church to look around at our resources, innovate, and adapt in ways that can make disciples for the transformation of the world.”
Gilmore suggests trying these three discipleship methods, which offer a good starting point for any church.
  1. Have several church leaders take turns getting on Facebook Live or another online platform, reading scripture, and offering a short reflection once or twice a week. Gilmore suggests the book “Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals” as a resource.
  2. Try a “Three Questions for Three People” approach. Ask the same three questions to the same three people every week for up to one year.
    • What stuck out in your mind from Sunday’s sermon?
    • What might God be telling you because of the thing that stuck out to you?
    • What are you going to do about it in the next 24 hours?
  3. Lead book and Zoom studies. For example, have every person in the congregation read the same Advent devotional. Invite small groups to gather by Zoom or phone to discuss it. Gilmore suggest starting with ”Low: An Honest Advent Devotional.”
Two tools: Less work and more disciples

Rev. Josh Meyers introduced the many ways the YouVersion Bible app can take your discipleship efforts to the next level.
“Through social media, there is a rhythm we can follow to bring someone from viewer to engager to relationship,” said Meyers.
He shared some tips for effectively using Facebook for discipleship building, paraphrasing Nona Jones, author of “From Social Media to Social Ministry.”
  1. Your church’s public Facebook page is like your church’s front lawn, and it should be well maintained and attractive to catch people’s attention.
  1. Invite people to a private Facebook group for your church, where you share opportunities for group Bible studies and where people share prayers of thanksgiving and prayer concerns. 
  1. Use the Facebook Rooms feature, or Zoom meetings if you prefer, for the really deep discipleship and relationship-building opportunities.
Meyers also encouraged church leaders to use YouVersion, a free Bible app, and suggested three ways to use it for discipleship:
  1. Make shared Bible reading plans for small groups in your church. You can see each other’s reading progress, share comments on what you’ve read, and hold each other accountable for engaging daily in God’s word.
  1. Church leaders can use YouVersion to share their comments or an inspiring verse with followers on the app and to show their congregation what they are reading and learning throughout the week.
  1. Create a digital bulletin with YouVersion Events. This can replace your church’s paper bulletin while you are doing online worship. 

Tips and best practices
Both Meyers and Gilmore stressed the importance of having a team of volunteers to lead discipleship efforts, social media, and online ministry. It’s not sustainable to expect one church leader to do it all. Set up systems and plans to manage volunteers’ time and to make sure what you’re doing achieves your goals.
Gilmore suggested offering discipleship opportunities with different levels of frequency and commitment for people in different life situations. Consider having groups that meet weekly and monthly, as well as opportunities with high and low commitment or intensity.
Meyers suggested making a fun and simple Facebook post that will result in a lot of comments a day before posting an invitation to some deeper discipleship opportunity. For example, you could ask “Do you decorate for Christmas before or after Thanksgiving?” and encourage people to comment. Facebook’s algorithms will see that that post has a lot of comments and interactions, and then show the next day’s post to a larger audience, allowing you to invite more people to the discipleship opportunity.
Don’t be afraid to pay for help. Online ministry can accomplish the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, and the staffing, consulting, and training your leaders may need is worth the cost.
In order for online discipleship to lead to online generosity, make giving to the church easy and talk about it regularly. Encourage first-time givers to tithe very small amounts, then celebrate how many first-time givers there were at the following week’s service. Sometimes giving to a specific project can be easier for new disciples than giving to the church’s general offering.
Check out the 73-minute webinar for more strategies and advice from Meyers and Gilmore. Then, save the date of Jan. 7, 2021 for “Reach Again,” the next webinar in this series. Rev. Dr. Ron Bell Jr., pastor at Camphor Memorial UMC in St. Paul, will present on resilience in reaching new people.

Karla Hovde is the communications specialist for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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