Thanks for joining me at my breakout session all about developing a digital ministry strategy! Below you’ll find a copy of the notes for the breakout, links to the free downloads I mentioned, and even a few additional resources. Have more questions? Email me at email@example.com.
The digital world is here to stay, and it gives us another tool in our toolbox for reaching the next generation. In this breakout, we’ll discover ways to incorporate digital ministry into our current discipleship strategy – and it’s easier than you think! We’ll mention ways you’re probably already using digital tools in your ministry and explore how we can use them more intentionally and effectively.
The global and eternal impact we can make on the next generation of kids and families is too important NOT to approach ministry with an intentional game plan. Discipleship in the broader sense is the process of guiding someone into a deeper, more vibrant relationship with Jesus through teaching, encouragement, and personal connection. Discipleship in children’s ministry means partnering with parents in that continual process of growing kids deeper in their relationship with Jesus. We may have more hand motions in our worship songs and there may be glitter in our supply closets, but the goal of discipleship remains the same.
The prevalence of the digital world and the digital natives in our ministry requires some adjustments to our overall strategy, but building a digital discipleship strategy is much simpler than many leaders think.
Digital discipleship, then, is the process of making disciples through digital methods. Notice that the end goal, making disciples, doesn’t change. But the method for doing so adopts a digital influence. The digital world offers children’s ministry leaders another tool we can use to share the gospel, and I’d argue it’s the most powerful one. The way we communicate and teach the message of the gospel must be updated to reach the digital natives we now serve, but it doesn’t mean you have to start from scratch.
Developing a digital ministry strategy does not mean you scrap what you have and start from scratch. It means you become more strategic and intentional with building digital tools and resources into the strategy you already have. Your digital ministry strategy will become part of what you’re already doing to disciple the next generation.
Tiffany Deluccia from the Unstuck Group (a consulting organization for strategic planning in churches) explains it best: “Digital strategies are going to become embedded parts of your ministry strategy. It won’t be something separate. It won’t be something different. They will be elemental, essential, components of how you do what you do to help people far from God meet him and take next steps in their relationship with him.”
So take a deep breath. You won’t be reworking your entire ministry strategy for digital discipleship. Instead, let’s identify your children’s ministry strategy and incorporate digital means, methods, and tools into that strategy.
(Click each title below to expand the section and find notes + downloads regarding that topic.)
Start With Your Why
A good strategy always begins with your purpose, so start with your why.
Does your ministry have a mission or vision statement? If so, take a moment to write it down and refresh your memory. If not, think about your church’s vision statement and consider creating a specific one for your children’s ministry.
This vision statement often influences your overall discipleship strategy. The goal of discipleship, as we’ve already established, is leading people into a deeper and more vibrant relationship with Jesus. Your discipleship strategy details the practical way(s) that goal gets carried out, and the vision statement helps you stay focused on that end goal.
For example, in my first children’s ministry, our vision statement was: Through a culturally relevant but Biblically reverent ministry, RISING Kids strives to partner with parents so that kids will know Jesus, understand their place in His story, and want to follow His example of a life of serving. In short, we used the phrase “Grow and Go” – we wanted kids to grow deeper in their relationship with Jesus and then go out and serve others in His name. This vision statement identifies the general purpose of the ministry – who we’re trying to influence and how.
If you don’t have one for your specific ministry, what is your church’s mission or vision statement? How can you adapt it/modify it to make it more specific to your children’s ministry?
Ultimately, your vision statement acts like a colander or pasta strainer for your ministry, allowing you to run all new ideas, events, and activities through that filter. 100% of the ideas and suggestions you hear may be good ideas, but if they don’t fit within the overall vision of your ministry, then they aren’t worth putting your time, energy, and effort into them. So let your vision statement be a filter, pour all your ideas through them, and see what sticks. Your vision statement builds the foundation for the rest of your ministry strategy, so it’s vital you take time to define it.
TALK IT OUT: Share your ministry/church mission statement.
Your mission statement provides a general overview of the purpose of your ministry, and the next step allows us to get a little more specific.
Assess Where You Are Now
Your vision statement helps you stay focused on the end goal, and influences your discipleship strategy. Your discipleship strategy provides the specific details of how your vision is carried out. Your vision statement and discipleship strategy help you answer questions like:
- Who am I trying to reach?
- When am I trying to reach them?
- Where am I trying to reach them?
- How am I reaching them?
Think about how your vision/mission statement is applied in different areas of your ministry:
- Connecting with parents
- Administration (safety and integrity)
- Volunteer coordination
- Social media
- Your church website
You can incorporate digital tools into each of these elements/areas of your strategy, and while we don’t have time to go into a deep dive into each one, we’ll do an overview of developing a strategy during the breakout and you can go deeper with each category on your own.
Before you can decide how to move forward with digital discipleship, you have to know where you are now. Take time to assess your ministry’s current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats through a SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis allows you to identify internal and external positives and negatives your ministry faces, and while it can be applied to a broad range of topics, we’ll focus in on digital discipleship here.
- Strengths – Strengths are things your ministry is already doing well or the unique resources or people your ministry has access to. Strengths are internal factors, so you can build on them and use them to your advantage. Example strengths specific to digital discipleship: Access to tools like Canva and social media scheduling, Planning Center Online, etc., feel like I have all the tools I need, parents love the resource center on our website.
- Questions to identify strengths: Where is our ministry succeeding when it comes to digital discipleship? What are the strengths of our ministry? What do we do well in/with the digital world? What have families told us they like about us? What’s unique about our ministry and its digital discipleship strategy? What digital assets and resources do we utilize?
- Weaknesses – Weaknesses are areas where your ministry could improve or where resources are needed. Weaknesses are also internal factors, so you can often address and overcome them. Example weaknesses specific to digital discipleship: I’m not great on camera, lack of communication system with volunteers, could do more to post engaging content on social media (not just announcements), lack of digital policy/procedures.
- Questions to identify weaknesses: What can we improve when it comes to digital discipleship? Where does our ministry fall short in terms of digital discipleship? What are our families dissatisfied with? Where are we lacking in digital knowledge or resources?
- Opportunities – Opportunities are external factors that you/your ministry could take advantage of. These could be new resources available to you, emerging trends you could lean into, or any strengths you’ve yet to adopt into your strategy. Opportunities are external factors because they’re beyond your control. Example opportunities specific to digital strategy: local schools teaching more coding and computer programming to kids, community Facebook group continues to grow as the area grows.
- Questions to identify opportunities: What emerging digital trends can we take advantage of? What’s happening in our community that might contribute to the growth of our ministry and digital discipleship approach? What external elements could we tap into to strengthen and support our digital discipleship strategy?
- Threats – Threats are anything that could negatively impact your ministry from the outside or any obstacles your ministry currently faces. Like opportunities, threats are external factors and are often beyond your control. Example threats specific to digital strategy: Busy families don’t check email, time constraints on me as a leader, more and more families are preferring online services to in-person services.
- Questions to identify threats: What external elements cause trouble, frustration, or roadblocks for our digital discipleship strategy? What changes may be coming (in the community or culturally) that require our church to adapt?
While you can easily conduct a SWOT analysis on your own, it can help to bring others into the conversation too. Consider asking your senior pastor, fellow staff members, key volunteers, and even parents to join you in evaluating your ministry and current digital discipleship strategy.
TALK IT OUT: Work with a friend to begin a SWOT analysis of your digital discipleship strategy. Talk with other attendees about SWOT analysis of digital discipleship.
Brainstorm New Ideas
OK, now that you’ve assessed where you are and identified strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities when it comes to your digital discipleship strategy, it’s time to brainstorm new ideas!
Evaluation and analysis of your ministry or leadership can be tough, but this next step in the strategic planning process is fun! Allow yourself to brainstorm, daydream, and explore new ideas and initiatives that could help turn your threats into opportunities and your weaknesses into strengths. There will be some things you won’t be able to change, but being aware of the threats and weaknesses will help you intentionally work around them.
Spend time in prayer, talking with God about what you want to see happen in your ministry and how He might be leading you when it comes to digital discipleship. Keep a running list or even just jot down ideas on a sheet of blank paper.
As you brainstorm, don’t hold back. Allow yourself to practice “blue sky thinking” – a form of brainstorming with no limits that allows you to be completely open-minded. As you list ideas, defer judgment until later and just go for quantity. How many ideas can you come up with to reach the families in your ministry through digital means? How many ways can you teach digital natives more effectively? What would be on your “dream list” of resources, people, and tools when integrating digital discipleship into your overall strategy? Just let yourself dream and write down anything that comes to mind, even if it seems small and silly or too grand and unrealistic.
Explore some of the many faith-based apps available to leaders and families! Some of our favorites include The Kids Bible Experience, FaithSpark, and Raise Up Faith. Click here to download a printable to share with families that includes faith-based apps for kids to use at home!
Also consider other areas can you explore (education, VR world, business, hospitality businesses, etc.) to gain new ideas. This doesn’t mean we’re trying to copy what the secular world does, but we can gain valuable insight from some of their strategies and practices. Look at education – teachers have had to figure out how to use the digital world through COVID, and it’s more than just zoom. There’s a reason the most successful businesses have been successful, and we can learn from some of their strategies and approaches. Just think how much more effective we’ll be when we combine successful strategies with the gospel – our ministries would be unstoppable!
If nothing was holding you back (not even a lack of budget or volunteers), what would you want to see happen in your ministry this year when it comes to digital discipleship? We serve a God who specializes in doing the impossible, so dream big!
TALK IT OUT: Start brainstorming and make your “blue sky” list. What would you like to see happen in your digital discipleship strategy?
Some ideas to help spark conversations:
- More intentional social media strategy that’s not just a digital bulletin board – FIND A FREE DOWNLOAD OF A SOCIAL MEDIA CONTENT PLANNING TEMPLATE HERE
- Figuring out Livestream or how to create a YouTube channel for your ministry
- Connecting with volunteers digitally through a FaceBook group or texting apps
- Providing digital resources for the parents and grown-ups in your ministry – through FaceBook groups, social media posts, online parent resource page
- Updating your teaching strategies to keep digital natives in mind, like incorporating gamification in the teaching process and inviting kids to be more involved in discovering the answers rather than just telling them the answers
- Share faith-based apps with kids and families (this list can help!)
Make a Plan
Now that you’ve got your dreams/blue sky list, it’s time to start making a plan by organizing and goal-setting with those ideas.
When I think of goals, I think of pirates. Pirates recognize that you cannot merely point the ship in the right direction with a vision statement or great idea. You have to do the jobs that make the ship move forward or it will be tossed around by the waves and end up far off course. Imagine that your children’s ministry is a pirate ship and you are the pirate captain (everyone say “arr, matey!”). Setting goals for your ministry helps steer your ship in the direction you want it to go and gives you a map of where you are headed. They include the specific tasks and actions that propel the ship forward in the intended direction. Raise anchor! Hoist the sail!
As leaders, we’re usually pretty good at setting goals. But we’re not always great at actually accomplishing them. Here are a few tips and ideas for accomplishing your goals:
Start with prayer. (This really should be a given in our line of work.) Some of my favorite verses I pray when planning are Psalm 20:4, Psalm 33:11, Philippians 3:14, Proverbs 16:3, Proverbs 21:5, and Matthew 21:22. I like to read through and pray these verses before every big planning session, just to focus my heart and invite God into the planning. Praying also allows the time for God to speak to me about HIS goals for the ministry, so I am not limited by what my brain can come up with.
Organize your blue sky list. Try to organize your brainstorming list into priorities and length of accomplishment. Divide the tasks into week-long, month-long, quarter-long, year-long, and long-term projects. What tasks would take less than a week to implement? This may be something as simple as setting up a social media account for your ministry or ordering new equipment. What about tasks that may take a bit longer, like a month or a quarter, to complete? This may be something like creating Slack communication groups with your volunteer team and educating them about how to use the tool. And then what are the tasks that would take a year or more? These tasks may require more culture change within your leadership and ministry, but rather than labeling them as “unrealistic,” we will place them in the long-term category and give special prayer attention to them, inviting God to do what He does. We’re not taking anything off the list yet; just prioritizing them based on the time it would take to implement them.
Now, choose 1 task or item from each time length, and let’s add a few more details to each one to help turn those ideas into actionable goals. I recommend starting with the shorter time length items first. The win from accomplishing that short-term goal can help motivate you and snowball into accomplishing the longer-term goals.
One of the easiest ways to achieve your goals and make them actionable is to write them down. Studies have shown that when you write down your goals on a regular basis, you are 42% more likely to achieve them because it engages both the creative and logical parts of your brain. So write down your goals on sticky notes, in a journal, or in an email.
As you write your goals, there are a few key elements to include that can help them become objectives. All of your goals should pass the SMART test and be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-sensitive (Anthony & Estep, 2005). Good goals are time-sensitive, so give each one a deadline. This helps with accountability and follow-through. Good goals are also measurable. You will know that you have achieved your objective because there will be evidence, so make sure to think through how you will measure and record success.
Look for the specific, next steps that will help you accomplish each goal. You can’t jump from point A to point D without going through steps B and C first. And if you were really dreaming big, you may have to go through the whole alphabet from point A to point Z. Some goals require a change in the church culture, and those kinds of changes don’t happen overnight. So start small with the specifics of your goals and take action steps toward the buried treasure.
To find the next steps, answer questions like:
- How does this goal fit within the overall vision?
- How will I measure this goal and/or know when I’ve accomplished it?
- Who will help me get there?
Here are 2 free resources to help you make your plan and set your goals:
- Developing a Digital Ministry Goal-Setting Sheets (these follow the “Make a Plan” steps we discussed in the breakout)
- Ministry Goal-Setting Guide (a general goal-setting guide for your ministry)
TALK IT OUT: Share with a neighbor: 1-3 ideas you want to implement when you get home when it comes to digital discipleship.
Download Links + Additional Resources
- SWOT Chart Printable (freebie)
- Social Media Content Planner (freebie)
- Developing a Digital Ministry Goal-Setting Sheets (freebie – these follow the “Make a Plan” steps we discussed in the breakout)
- Ministry Goal-Setting Guide (freebie – a general goal-setting guide for your ministry)
- Faith-Based Apps for Kids and Families (freebie)
- Game-ifying your Teaching Time In KidMin (blog post – ideas for teaching digital natives)
- “Even Your Underwear?!?” The Importance of Letting Kids Ask Questions At Church (blog post – teaching tip for digital natives)
- 3 Reasons Why Children’s Ministry Leaders Must Embrace Digital Discipleship (blog post with links to lots of other great resources and ideas!)
Want to dive deeper into the world of digital ministry strategy? Time to Update: 7 Areas to Integrate Digital Discipleship into Your Children’s Ministry Strategy is a book that will help you be more intentional so that digital discipleship becomes part of your ministry strategy rather than merely a coincidence or afterthought. Learn more about the book and order your copy here.