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Opening Virtual Doors

Churches are discovering the increasing importance of providing internet options to stay relevant in the digital age.

Whether scouting out the best seafood restaurants, looking for a plumber, or shopping for real estate, many consumers start in the same place: the internet.

Savvy businesses offer smartphone apps, social media pages, and other digital tools to meet people in their virtual worlds. And increasingly, houses of worship are doing the same.

“People are checking out hotels, vacation spots, houses, businesses, and churches online long before they make a call or decision to engage,” says Josh Skjoldal, lead pastor at Evangel, an Assemblies of God church in Bismarck, North Dakota. “We have to acknowledge that people think and behave differently today than they did last year, much less a decade ago.”

Those connected to the church can use Evangel’s app to view services, give tithes and offerings, read announcements, and even to respond to sermons.

“It allows seekers to test the waters without getting too uncomfortable or even having to walk through the doors of the building,” Skjoldal says. “Our hope is that the door to our church is an online portal, not just a physical structure.”

Nearly two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone, and more than half of smartphone owners have used their devices to bank or look up health information, according to a Pew Research Center report published last year. Another 18 percent had submitted a job application via a smartphone, the study found.

“In today’s world, evangelism and discipleship happen through relationship, and, like it or not, many relationships in this age of technology begin digitally,” Skjoldal says. “The Church is no exception.”

Wayne Murray, senior pastor of Grace Assembly of God in Greenwood, Indiana, says the majority of those who visit the church in person already have watched a full service or message online.

“For most people, you don’t exist if you don’t exist on some sort of social media or digital platform,” Murray says. “It’s where the conversations of culture take place.”

Grace Assembly’s smartphone app includes sermons, a Bible reading plan, and a digital giving option. The church also offers video devotionals on the Periscope web platform and a Bible study group on Facebook.

Murray says the Church must learn to use technology to reach this generation, just as a missionary to a foreign country must learn to speak the native language.

“We in the Church need to spend a good amount of time learning the language of the culture — media and technology — so the message and ministry we have can be heard and have impact,” Murray says. “When we speak that language to speak the message of the Cross and reconciliation to God, the message is heard and received and has power to change lives.”

Skjoldal says the rapid expansion of technology provides new opportunities to fulfill Jesus’ command to “go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15, NIV).

“The Church often seems hesitant and slow to adapt to new methods,” Skjoldal says. “With technology and the world quickly changing around us, we have to become much more founded on the gospel and fluid in our approaches. Evangelistic and discipleship methods will continue to change. It’s the message that remains constant, not the methods.”

Christina Quick

Christina Quick is a former Pentecostal Evangel staff writer who attends James River Church (Assemblies of God) in Ozark, Missouri.