Growing disciples, digitally

The beginning of this week was spent in a Christian Conference frenzy at the Royal Albert Hall for HTB’s annual Leadership Conference. The stats are pretty impressive, present were over 4000 people from 900+ churches and 50+ countries – the RAH was full to bursting. The Queen had even allowed the Royal Box to be used – and HTB used it to seat homeless people and ex-offenders.

Needless to say, getting a large number of Christians of a more evangelical/trendy persuasion together in one room meant that there was a great deal of technology about. When the house lights went out, the hall was lit up by small rectangles and larger rectangles – iPhones and iPads, presumably used for note taking and tweeting (or, in the case of one of my colleagues, buying Olympics tickets). Oh, and Bible reading – at the moment when the room of 4000 was asked to turn to Hebrews 11 the Bible app promptly crashed.

That wasn’t the only way in which the iPads and iPhones impacted the wider world – Twitter went a bit nuts. The number of people tweeting about Tony Blair’s nuggets of wisdom during his interview on Monday morning caused the former PM to enter the world top 10 of trending topics on Twitter. Twitter (and the #htbleadershipconf hashtag) also meant that those not at the conference could engage with it – albeit via the sometimes unsatisfactory and unrepresentative medium of responding to soundbite quotes. My battery was drained by mid afternoon thanks to frenetic Twitter activity…

Nicky Gumbel interviewing Tony Blair (credit)

It therefore seemed appropriate (especially given my existing interest in the subject) that one of my seminar choices was a session on ‘Digital Disciples: How Social Media is Changing the Church’ with Al Gordon. I wasn’t entirely sure that I’d learn anything new – which isn’t me being big headed, more me being aware that I’ve thought a lot about this area already – but I was really impressed by the way in which the session explored social media in terms of its missional value, rather than simply being a marketing tool.

Al had two sets of three points [he’s two years ahead of me at the Vicar Factory and I can tell the preaching classes have made an impact…] which I thought were well worth sharing. Firstly:

  • Be invitational – ‘come and see’ is happening electronically, so be public in your faith and invite people into it.
  • Be incarnational – social media isn’t meant to replace our presence in offline community, it’s supposed to strengthen and transform our relationships.
  • Be inspirational – live your life online for God.

Then secondly, three specific ways in which we can do this:

  • Champion Connectivity – move from being a consumer to a contributor in the life of God and the church. We want to connect people with God to enable this process to take place. [An interesting question within this which I think Vicky Beeching’s explored is whether churches should enable/encourage/allow the congregation to tweet during services.]
  • Mobilise micro-narratives – in a post-modern world, meta-narratives are viewed with incredulity and our own stories have become more important. We have a powerful impact when we can mobilise the stories of the people in our churches. 90% of people trust a peer recommendation compared to 14% who trust advertising – how can we build on this?
  • Reshape relationships – get yourself online and reconnect with people, enabling them to follow you as you follow Christ.

It challenged me greatly and has even prompted some thoughts regarding my next sermon slot. Watch this space – St George’s might be getting something a little different next month…


  1. A good friend of mine wrote about this last week (not having been at the HTB event) and I think you miay find it interesting

    Warmest Regards


  2. Brill! So interesting and some good tips re: social networking. In many ways I think it’s best if it’s just an extension of your ‘offline’ life. I think problems come when people create a persona online. It can become fake and feel like you’re being advertised to. I wouldn’t ‘advertise’ myself to friends offline so I don’t do it online!

    But I do share my day to day with people offline and the ins and out of my faith so I will do that online too. And online provides even more opportunities for that sometimes. Ditto for relationships, if they’re important offline then same online etc etc. And relationships are two way offline so should be online if they are to be authentic.

    But that’s just my two pennies worth!!

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