6 Strategic Elements of Online Ministry and Gospel Planting

by Paul on August 7, 2009

When I got into online ministry and Gospel planting, I wanted to see if a Luke 10 pattern of engagement would work in an online environment.  To refresh your memory, here is Luke 10:1-12

1 After this, the Lord appointed 70 others, and He sent them ahead of Him in pairs to every town and place where He Himself was about to go. 2 He told them: “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest. 3 Now go; I’m sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Don’t carry a money-bag, traveling bag, or sandals; don’t greet anyone along the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ 6 If a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they offer, for the worker is worthy of his wages. Don’t be moving from house to house. 8 When you enter any town, and they welcome you, eat the things set before you. 9 Heal the sick who are there, and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near you.’ 10 When you enter any town, and they don’t welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘We are wiping off [as a witness] against you even the dust of your town that clings to our feet. Know this for certain: the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.

This passage prompted several strategic questions:

  • What will it take to raise up teams to go into online communities where the Lord is about to visit?
  • What will it take to raise up people to pray for God to raise up workers from the online harvest to return to the harvest to share the news of the Kingdom?
  • What will it take to send people into the harvest in positions of vulnerability and service?  How will online missionaries serve the harvest?
  • What will it take to mobilize teams whose resources for ministry come from the online harvest?
  • What will it take to help online teams focus on the goal of spreading the news of the Kingdom online without getting distracted by all the hype over online tools?
  • What will it take to identify online communities/households and train others to identify online communities/households?
  • What will it take to identify persons of peace online?
  • What will it take to avoid ‘moving from house to house’ in an online environment?
  • What will it look like to be welcomed into an online town or community?
  • What will it look like to ‘eat the things set before you’ online?
  • What will it take/look like to heal the sick online?
  • What will it take/look like to leave an unreceptive online community behind?

As I answered these questions – and helped others ask them – I discovered six strategic elements of online ministry.  When I say ’strategic elements’ I mean that these elements are critical to the success of online ministries.  Without these elements an online ministry that focuses on reaching the lost will fail or not achieve the level of success it should.

Listening

Lots of very smart people address this strategic element all over the internet.  I address it here and here.  I believe a listening plan should preceed any other online ministry.  Even if you are certain that your message is true – and we are – you still have to listen to identify online communities, meet the needs of those online, and take advantage of opportunities to heal the sick and talk about Jesus.

Do you have a listening strategy, or are you just telling people what to do?

Conversation

Listening is only the first step.  The next is engagement.  You engage people and communities online through conversation.  And, in case you are confused, broadcasting is not conversation.  If you are Twittering, Plurking, Facebooking or blogging and no one is replying, you are broadcasting.  Broadcasting isn’t a strategic element of online Gospel planting, conversation is.

Conversation is the path to relationship.  Conversation is the road to identifying online communities.  The Gospel is best communicated in the context of relationship.  If you aren’t talking with lost people online – and you are going to initiate the conversation on their turf – then efforts to reach the lost online are destined to fail.

Are you having conversations online or are you merely broadcasting?

Content

I’m not sure I’m satisfied with the name I came up with for this strategic element, but it’s what I have at the moment.  Content is what you have to add to conversation within your online communities.  Many times this takes the form of a blog article or link to a post that fills a need in an online community.  Sometimes it means that you raise money to meet the offline needs of someone in the community.  Content is the way you serve people online.  Content is the path toward acceptance in online communities because it makes you a contributor, rather than a lurker.

Good content creates opportunities to glorify God as part of being in the community.  As you do so, you create opportunities for people who seek God (Persons of Peace) to find you and ask questions.

Is your content serving the communities you engage?

Community

There are two basic approaches to online community and ministry.  You can create online communities to plant the Gospel, or you can plant the Gospel in existing online communities.  I prefer the latter.  Starting communities consumes a lot of time and resources, months if not years.  Finding and joining existing communities takes about two months if you already share one or more affinities with that community.  If a person of peace is not evident in a community you start, there is great cost involved in leaving.  If a person of peace is not evident in a community you join, leaving doesn’t cost as much.

I believe the smallest unit of online engagement is the community rather than the individual.  The individual is the doorway to the community.  A person of peace is the doorway to planting the Gospel within a household and transforming the community.  (Read the story of Cornelius in Acts 10 for an example of this.  I call it the “Cornelius Effect.”)

I’ve put a lot of thought into online community and identifying online community here and here.

Are you building communities or engaging existing communities?  Which is the best tactic to reach your goals for online ministry?

Committment

Listening, Conversation, Content, and Community are nothing if they don’t result in Commitment.  For us, commitment is when a person of peace agrees to start a Discovery Bible Study and invites their community to join them (Cornelius Effect).  This begins the process of discovering who God is and learning how life is different when we obey Him.  It is the process of embedding DNA into a group.  Crucial to that DNA is a dependence on God’s Word and the Holy Spirit rather than on any resource, teacher, or church planter.

This committement is the first indicator of success in our ministry.  It is why we do the other things.

Some online ministries measure committment by how many people show up to their event, subscribe to their blog, or click a button to demonstrate a decision.  While these things may be first-steps, I think they are inaccurate measures of true commitement to obey the commands of Jesus and live a truly transformed life.

We have to make sure that the commitment we seek from the people we want to reach is in line with what we say makes us successful.

What commitment do you want from the communities you engage?  Is the success you measure in line with that goal?

Multiplication

The second sign of success in our ministry is multiplication.  We want to seek leaders reproducing leaders, disciples reproducing disciples, and small groups reproducing small groups.  Multiplication is built into the DNA of our first Discovery Bible Study with a lost community.  First generation results are not enough.  We want to see third generation results – a group that reproduces a group that reproduces a group.  Furthermore, we want to see replication among lost people, not Chrisitians.  We are not interested in gathering multiple groups of Christians.

A multiplication mindset is what makes things go viral and spark a movement.  If you don’t have multiplication as part as your strategy, you will probably see a lot of first generation fruit but fall short of movement.

What are you doing to make sure that every part of your strategy is reproducing?

That is a really brief overview of the strategic elements of online ministry.  I’d love you hear what you’ve noticed as you’ve engaged people online.

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{ 2 trackbacks }

Weekly Roundup – 08/07/2009
August 7, 2009 at 4:25 pm
Interesting approach to online ministry at Keith & Kay Seabourn
August 8, 2009 at 7:20 am

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

urbanminister August 8, 2009 at 12:35 am

Great article and great insights. Thanks.

Keith August 8, 2009 at 1:23 pm

Good insights. Your post sparked additional observations: http://www.seabourn.org/interesting-online-minist... Thanks, Paul.

Timothy Fountain August 8, 2009 at 1:54 pm

What slaps me across the face is how far from this model I/my church operate in day to day life! Hard to import a model we aren't even using… thanks for pointing us back to Jesus' model.

I especially appreciate the points about vulnerability – Jesus sends 'em out with nothing but his commission and instructions. Every time a church or ministry starts to look at evangelism, the congregation too easily veers into budget and equipment… exactly the opposite of Jesus' foundational model.

Certainly, you can't mount a cyber ministry w/o the equipment, but as you say so well, focus must remain on the harvest rather than the bells and whistles.

Thank you for your labor and encouragement.

Jason Wietholter August 8, 2009 at 8:26 pm

Wow, this is spot on! Would you mind me re-posting/utilizing this on my site?

I love seeing the different perspectives on social media when it comes to ministries.

Larry McCrary October 5, 2009 at 9:58 am

Great Stuff Paul.
I am planning on sending this to others.

pauldwatson August 8, 2009 at 1:00 pm

Thanks! I'm glad you stopped by!
-Paul.

pauldwatson August 9, 2009 at 12:46 am

Hey Jason,

Thanks for reading. Feel free to re-post this on your site. All I ask is that you link back to the original post on my site as well.

Blessings,
-Paul.

pauldwatson August 9, 2009 at 1:19 pm

Thanks, Timothy! I appreciate you comments. We use the Luke 10 model of engagement as part of our mission strategies offline. You can read more about that on David Watson's blog – http://www.davidlwatson.com.

Blessings,
-Paul.

pauldwatson August 9, 2009 at 1:19 pm

Thanks, Keith!

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