I recently wrote a piece on just how biblical digital discipleship really is, and got a lot of feedback asking for more practical approaches.
Well, you asked for it. Over the next few months, I’ll write some thoughts on how to use certain tools and channels for making disciples digitally. Let’s start with email.
Digital discipleship is important to me—both in concept and in practice. And that’s not just because I’m working on an app named Disciplr!
A Caveat About Digital Discipleship
Like I said in my original post, digital discipleship isn’t a standalone thing. Discipleship happens in community—the Great Commission itself was given to a group, not an individual. And community lives both online and offline.
So when I talk about digital discipleship, I’m not suggesting that we can automate, program, or otherwise Interwebs-ify the process of making disciples of Jesus. Digital discipleship is using everyday technology to reach people with the good news of Jesus and teach them what He said. It’s about communicating with people using the digital channels they’re already using.
And it’s not about replacing face-to-face discipleship. At all. In fact, digital discipleship frees you up to be even more effective face-to-face.
And of all the tools available to use for digital discipleship, email is the most powerful.
Email? Isn’t That a Little … Boring?
Sure, email’s not as trendy as Snapchat. Emails don’t go viral as often as YouTube videos. Emails don’t give you the kind of public face time social networks do.
And that’s one of the reasons email is so powerful for discipleship: it’s timely, non-public communication.
Plus, it’s how we’re used to communicating. The inbox is our hub for messages that are supposed to get directly to us. People have been using email far longer than any social network—and for those of us born before 1990, there’s a good chance we were using email before texting was ever a thing.
I’m not saying email is the only way to go, but I do think that email and website content should be at the core of every church’s digital discipleship strategy.
Here Are 8 Ways You Can Start Using Email for Digital Discipleship
You can set up any one of these tactics using a simple email service provider. I recommend MailChimp, since it’s free for most church sizes and inexpensive for larger churches (you can get a nonprofit discount, too). Plus, their automation capabilities let you set these programs up and then they run by themselves.
1. Sermon Follow-Up
This one’s obvious, right? Many churches post their sermons on the church website in video and/or audio formats. I’ve seen a good deal of churches post their sermons to Facebook, too.
But how are people going to know that sermon’s available?
You could post it to Facebook and hope people see it. (But spoiler alert, getting seen on Facebook is harder and harder to do without paying for it.)
You could post it to Facebook and tag your whole congregation. (But that’s super annoying.)
You could post it on your church blog and hope people find it. (But the people are only going to know it’s posted if they’ve subscribed to your blog’s RSS feed … and get a notification by—you guessed it!—email.)
Or you could send an email to your congregation telling them the sermon’s online.
It’s a quick email to write. It’s a quick email to send. It could look like this:
2. Sermon Preview
Now let’s throw the last idea into reverse!
You can send an email to your congregation telling them what you plan to preach on the next Sunday. This can help them prepare for worship, and also give them a chance to study through your subject texts ahead of time.
Here’s an example of what that might look like.
3. Recommended Reading
If you’re in church leadership, there’s a good chance you love to read. I bet every pastor of the churches I’ve attended has a library too big to fit in my car. Some of you go through a book every week—or more.
Now, what if every month you were able to recommend just one book to your congregation?
Sure, you could just mention it in church Sunday morning, but that’s not going to have the same effect on your congregation as getting an email like this:
With an email, you can include quotes, reasons you love the book, ways the book will help your church, and even links to places people can buy it. That’s pretty convenient for the people in your church.
4. New Member On-Boarding
The membership process can be an awkward part of joining a church for some newcomers, but a little email love can help give people context for what’s going on (and help them set expectations for becoming members).
Try this: When people sign up for a new members’ class, make sure they give you their email address. Then, in the weeks leading up to the class, send them a few emails with some things to think about. This might include:
- A list of Scripture verses they should familiarize themselves with
- Your church’s statement of faith
- Any catechisms you especially like
- Articles and book recommendations
- Some questions for self-examination
Your potential new members will appreciate the extra context, and you’ll probably find that it helps the classes and discussions get off to a better start.
The first four email ideas are things you could one-off. But now I want to look at a few automated approaches to using email for digital discipleship.
Imagine if you could give members of your church an encouraging word or challenge at the start of every weekday. No way are you going to get that done in person—but with some prep time and a little automation magic, you can do it via email.
Of course, two big questions come up on this one: where does the content come from, and how do you get it out at the right time?
The content doesn’t need to be especially in-depth, and you don’t need to start with a full 365-day devotional. In fact, if you set aside one morning a month to write four devotional thoughts from the Psalms, BOOM—you’ve just written a weekly devotional for the next month!
But how do you get that content to your congregation? This is one of the reasons I love MailChimp. You can create an automated program that goes out at the right time on the right days to the right people. (Heads up though: automation is a paid feature in MailChimp.)
6. Staff Introductions
How awesome would it be if newcomers considering your church had an idea of who your staff is? (I’ve been on the hunt for a new church before—this would have been awesome for me, too.)
You can’t exactly line up all your staff at the door and force newcomers to shake hands, learn their roles, and hear their stories. That would take a lot of time, and it could get a little awkward.
But if a newcomer includes their email address on their contact card, you can easily make this work over email. Set up a campaign that waits two or three days after someone gives you their email address, and then automatically sends an email introducing the elders and each person on full-time staff.
This is just the beginning
I’ve only outlined a few ways almost any church with a MailChimp account can start leveraging email for digital discipleship. There are many more ways that your church can use email to meet more specific needs.
Any cool ideas come to mind? I’d love to hear about them in the comments. In fact, if you have some awesome real-life examples, I might feature you and your church in a future article on digital discipleship!