Trojan Horses, Fitting Rooms and Digital Discipleship:

Maybe we need to redefine the way we think about influence.
Entering the World of E-vangelism

I love Napoleon Dynamite . This may reveal more than you want to know, but our staff actually learned the Napoleon Dynamite dance and performed it at our recent variety show.

One of my favorite scenes is the wedding at the end of the movie. Kip Dynamite sings a love song to his new bride, LaFawnduh.

I love technology
But not as much as you, you see
But I still love technology
Always and forever

What a romantic

I’m not a technophile. I’m not even tech-savvy. But I’ve got a little Kip Dynamite in me. I love technology.

Here’s why: Technological developments have presented our generation with an unprecedented opportunity to fulfill the Great Commission.

Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

That used to mean packing all of your belongings onto a ship and sailing across the ocean. We’re still called to go, but technology has brought most of the civilized world to our doorstep. Our generation has witnessed the death of distance. The world is a mouse click away.

Every week I email an evotional, a written version of my weekend message, to several thousand evotional subscribers (www.evotional.com ). The moment I hit “send,” that evotional travels around the world at the speed of light. It’s e-vangelism.

Interesting Times
There is an old Chinese saying: May you live in interesting times. I don’t think there’s ever been a more interesting or more exciting time to do ministry. The technological tools at our disposal have totally reshaped my portfolio as a pastor.

When I went to seminary, the blogosphere didn’t exist. There wasn’t an “Introduction to Blogging” class in the curriculum, but blogging now makes up approximately 20 percent of my portfolio as Lead Pastor of National Community Church. I used to think my daily blog supplemented my weekend message. I now think it might be the other way around. More people read my daily blog than listen to my weekend messages.

Blogging is the way I share what God is doing in my head and in my heart. As National Community Church grows larger, blogging enables me to carry on a conversation with everyone in the church. The comment feature even turns it into a dialogue.

My blog is a discipleship tool. It’s one way I mentor, teach and cast vision. I like to think of it as digital discipleship. It’s not a replacement for one-on-one, face-to-face discipleship. But it is a 1,000 mg supplement in the spiritual diet of blog readers.

For what it’s worth, I’ve blogged 143,000 words thus far this year. That is the equivalent of approximately three books. And I don’t think I’ve wasted a single word. My blog is a vital part of my pastoral calling.

The Stewardship of Technology
I think everything boils down to stewardship. We’ve got to be good stewards of our time and talent. We’ve got to be good stewards of our right brain and left brain. We’ve got to be good stewards of our hormones. And we’ve got to be good stewards of our resources.

Let me add one more to the mix. We’ve got to be good stewards of technology.

The Church should be in the business of redeeming technology and using it to serve God’s purposes.

Isn’t that what Johann Gutenberg did? The Bible was unchained from medieval pulpits, copied on his printing press and put into the hands of the average parishioner. It was the democratization of discipleship.

In his book, God’s Secretaries , Adam Nicolson wrote, “The old church and new technology were the closest of allies.” The Protestant Reformation was fueled by that “new technology.” Nicolson calls Martin Luther “the first genius of mass communications.” One German printer estimated that he had sold 100,000 Lutheran Bibles copied on his printing press. Can you imagine how many scribes and how long it would have taken to make 100,000 copies by hand?

Here’s the bottom line: A revolutionary message plus a revolutionary technology packs a powerful one-two punch.

The printing press marked the transition from the oral age to the analog age. Our generation is witnessing the transition from the analog age to the digital age. And just as the Church led the way in the analog revolution, the Church needs to lead the way in the digital revolution.

We’ve got to redeem the blogosphere. We’ve got to turn podcasts into Godcasts. We’ve got to turn our websites into spiritual portals that introduce people to Christ.

Trojan Horses
Remember the battle of Troy? The Greeks sailed across the Aegean Sea to rescue their kidnapped queen. They thought it would be a short war. Ten years later, the city of Troy was still impregnable. Then, according to Greek mythology, Athena gave Odysseus an idea. The Greeks built a hollow horse big enough to hide a regiment of soldiers. They parked the horse by the city gate and sailed their ships around the tip of the island. The Trojans thought the horse was a peace offering. They thought wrong. In the middle of the night, a regiment of soldiers exited the horse, opened the gates for the Greek army that had sailed back and rescued Queen Helen.

Long story short: It took a Trojan horse to accomplish the rescue mission.

Technology is a Trojan horse.

Podcasts, blogs and websites are Trojan horses that get behind the impregnable defense mechanisms that keep people out of church. Why? Because they are nonthreatening.

Blog readers can remain “anonymous” as long as they want to or need to.

Spiritual seekers can visit www.theaterchurch.com from the comfortable confines of their computer keyboard before taking the greater step of entering a physical church building.

And podcast listeners can download the TheaterChurch.com podcast and listen to it while they work out, hang out or commute to work. Instead of asking people to come to church, podcasting takes the church to them. Podcast listeners can have church anywhere, anytime!

Maybe we need to redefine the way we think about influence. Is your influence limited to the number of people who attend your weekend gatherings? Or is it defined by how many people read your blog or listen to your podcast?

On August 29, 2005, The New York Times did an article titled “Missed Church? No Worries. Download it to your iPod,” which featured TheaterChurch.com .

Approximately 10,000 people have tuned in to the TheaterChurch.com podcast since that article. The podcast is growing at a rate of nearly 100 subscriptions per day.

Here’s an email from one of the podcast subscribers:

Dear Pastor Mark,
I read about your church in the
New York Times article on churches and podcasting a couple weeks ago. It was through that article that I started subscribing to your podcast. I’m writing this email all the way from Singapore, and I just wanted to thank TheaterChurch.com for expanding their outreach outside of the U.S.

Your last series really spoke to me. After listening, I really heard and felt God telling me to return to my burning bush experience. I needed to re-anchor in the things that God had done in my life when I was at college in the U.S. 11 years ago.

As I listened to the messages over my PowerBook, God’s presence was so strong. He simply enveloped every corner of my room. That evening, God met me, and I felt like an electric cord came by and gave me back my fervor.

See Also

It’s extremely exciting to hear what God is doing with TheaterChurch.com 10,000 miles away from where I am physically. I live halfway around the world, and yet it doesn’t sound like it’s that far away!

Here’s the bottom line: If we impact one life via podcasting, it’s worth the time and energy that goes into uploading our messages.

I have a simple rule of thumb: If it’s worth preaching, it’s worth podcasting.

Fitting Rooms
One last thought.

It’s hard to imagine a clothing store without a fitting room, isn’t it? I’d never buy a pair of jeans without trying them on first. Why? Because I want to make sure they fit.

Blogs, podcasts and websites are fitting rooms.

The goal is to get people to “check out” one of your weekend gatherings and become part of your spiritual family. But the fitting room comes first. Our primary goal in marketing is not to get people to visit one of our weekend gatherings. Our goal is to get them to visit our blog or website, or subscribe to our podcast. Why? Because that is how they try us on for size.

We have a core conviction: The greatest message deserves the greatest marketing. Let me extrapolate. The greatest message deserves the greatest blog, the greatest podcast and the greatest website.

TEN KEYS TO A GREAT WEBSITE:

1. Pictures, Pictures, Pictures

A picture is worth a thousand words. That’s why we post pictures in our intro flash and we also have lots of videos. Pictures personalize your site!

2. Stories, Stories, Stories
The most clicked link our website is “Our Story.” Why? People want to know the backstory! Your website needs to tell a story.

3. Less Is More
Keep your site simple. Our homepage highlights two things: my blog and our theaterchurch.com podcast.

4. Keep Redesigning
We redesigned our website a year ago, and we’re completely redesigning it again. The process of redesign never ends.

5. Sign Up

One key to a good website is building a network of email subscribers. We offer a free subscription to my weekly evotional, an email version of our weekend message. We only email two things to evotional subscribers: evotionals and evites.

6. Personality
Make sure your website matches your personality. Be who you are. In one sense, all websites are created equal: 72 dots per inch. But it’s how you “connect the dots” that will get people from your website to your physical gathering.

7. Word of Mouse
We produce trailers and evites for all of our sermon series. Then we email our evotional subscribers and encourage them to evite a friend to church. It’s simple. And word of mouse is exponential.

8. Add Ear Candy and Eye Candy
You need to do something to differentiate your website. A little “surfing music” is one way of enhancing the experience. We also post all of our videos in our video archive so that NCCers can watch them again or forward them to a friend.

9. Add a Webcast and/or Podcast
One way to keep people coming back to your website is fresh content. Upload your messages so that people can listen to them or watch them online. I frequently watch the LifeChurch.tv webcast. They do it as well as anybody I know.

10. Enter the Blogosphere
A blog makes your website dynamic and interactive.


MARK BATTERSON is a writer and the pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C.

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