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. In her book From Social Media to Social Ministry, Nona Jones emphasizes the importance of relationships in the discipleship process as she defines discipleship as “the product of dialogue about how to apply [Biblical] content to people’s lives in a way that leads to continual transformation.”
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.
2 Peter 3:18 says, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever!” Discipling kids means helping them grow deeper in their relationship with and understanding of Christ and cheering them on as they go serve others in His name, for His glory. We want kids to know Jesus, understand their place in His story, and want to follow His example of a life of servitude. Our strategy, plans, and efforts in children’s ministry radiate from this desire to make disciples of the next generation. But if we want to stay relevant to this next generation of kids and families, then the way we deliver the message of the gospel must include digital platforms.
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 does. 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.
We update everything else in our lives and ministries. We update our phones and computers on a regular basis to keep them running properly. We update the worship songs we use and the curriculum we teach from. Even teaching series to teaching series, we often update the physical environment of our children’s ministry with new backdrops, décor, and imagery to stay relevant to the series theme. So why wouldn’t we also update our methods and strategy for discipleship?
And while there are lots of opinions, both positive and negative, about the next generation’s obsession with the digital world, here are 3 reasons why children’s ministry leaders must embrace digital discipleship:
- Digital is all the next generation knows. As a Millennial, I’m a digital native, meaning I’m part of the generations who don’t know life without the existence of the internet. We’ve spent our entire lives surrounded by computers, video games, cell phones, streaming services, and all of the other tools and apps found in the digital world. As Nona Jones puts it, millennials and Gen Z generations “don’t often realize you can call people on a smartphone.” (Guilty!) The next generation of kids and families don’t just use the internet; we live on it. Digital native generations are often faulted for our misuse of social media and the digital world. I acknowledge the negative effects this digital age can have on our relationships, attention spans, and self-esteem, but the digital world is the world into which we were born. Children’s ministry leaders can fault a generation of kids and parents for living in the only reality they’ve ever known, or we can step into their realities to reach them with the gospel and teach them about Jesus.
- Digital is not going anywhere. Like it or not, the digital world is here to stay. Churches must embrace the tool of technology or risk becoming completely irrelevant to the next generation. According to a recent Barna study, Six Questions About the Future of the Hybrid Church Experience, only 42 percent of Millennials (the parents of the kids in your ministry) say they prefer in-person worship, which means that the majority don’t. This same study also showed that parents are looking for hybrid (both in-person and online) options for church services for their families. Jesus didn’t just invite people to meet him at the temple on a Sunday morning to talk about scripture, then wait for people to show up at the church building. He went out and met people where they are. And where people are now is online.
- Digital provides opportunities for the church like never before. Digital media and social networking allow for faster sharing of information in a way that is accessible to anyone with an internet connection, which is nearly 60% of the world’s population. The internet and social media provide a mission field for the church that’s not confined by physical space or location. Mark 16:15 says, “He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” The internet allows us to “go into all the world” in powerful and far-reaching ways.
Digital discipleship offers an extension of your physical ministry into the online world. Think of your online presence as an additional campus of your church or ministry. You have your physical campus with the buildings, physical space, and the people who attend in person. But you now also have this digital campus to connect with and disciple people who may never even step foot in your church building.
When Jesus invited his disciples to follow Him, he told them: “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people” (Mark 4:19). Digital discipleship doesn’t replace the church or replace the necessity of in-person relationships. It’s not reeling in the fishing lines you have already cast out (your building, your in-person programs, etc.). It’s throwing out another fishing line, giving you another tool, and increasing your opportunities to connect with people.
If you’re ignoring your digital presence, you’re missing out on an opportunity to reach your families, your community, and the world with the gospel. Children’s ministries that use the digital world and social media well can create new and effective avenues for discipling the next generation.
But what does that look like practically in children’s ministry? This April, we’ll unpack some strategies and resources to help you dig into digital discipleship in your children’s ministry. Here’s a sneak peek at what’s ahead (and we’ll add links to each post/freebie as the month goes on!):