Category Archives: Blog

Digital (Online) Ministry Evaluation Guide

As Spring approaches and the 2020/21 ministry year comes to an end, it may be tempting to turn the page on this unique Covid ministry year and not look back.  Yet, in the midst of this unique year, there are countless important lessons to learn, new competencies to cultivate and fresh opportunities to explore. 

Whether the Fall of 2021 will be a post-Covid new normal or whether we will still be under increased restrictions (due to new variants or some unforeseen wrinkle in the vaccine distribution), it is vital to stop, take stock, give thanks and evaluate the past ministry year with both a wide and long lens into the future.

We need to look into the future with a wide lens. 

Digital ministry is not just about streaming your weekly in-person worship services!  Its implications are much wider and it’s potential much greater (especially for expressions of community and opportunities for outreach). Most churches moved online in the pandemic in a bit of an understandable panic and didn’t really consider the uniqueness of digital culture.  As a result, our methodologies and missiologies were not well-formed and effectiveness suffered.  As you begin planning forward, recognize the world has forever been reshaped (we took 10 years of inevitable change and crammed it into a year) and we need to adapt accordingly.  As you continue to serve your church and community, it is vital that you consider the “why” and the “how” of online ministry rather than simply adding a camera and live streaming your in-person ministry activity.

We need to look at the future with a long lens.

If digital ministry last year was largely motivated by a crisis, its future must be carefully considered for long-term impact and effective implementation.  We are in the midst of the digital revolution and although many things we did in-person are going to have an understandable resurgence, it will level out to a new hybrid-normal for most things in society.  In the same way that people will learn and work in more hybrid ways, they will also engage that way in church. Thus, it is vital to recognize that digital (online) ministry was not just a pandemic necessity but will become a long-term reality in part or in whole. 

Digital (Online) Ministry Evaluation

To aid in this evaluative process, I created the Digital (Online) Ministry Evaluation Guide to help you do just that.  It is designed to help you reflect on the effectiveness of your digital ministry, what you need to stop doing, what you need to keep doing and how to make what you continue to do more effective in the future.

Some of the content in the evaluation form is based on the content of my book “Digital Mission: A Practical Guide for Ministry Online” and the digitalmissioncourse.com.  Both of these resources will help you and your church, ministry or organization think and adapt to the digital future.

To facilitate your evaluation, use the free pdf download as a guide for individual reflection or for an upcoming staff meeting/retreat as a way to spark conversation and ignite change.  Don’t let this last year go by in vain but rather use it as a catalyst for ministry/mission advancement.

Download the FREE evaluation guide here:

Taming Your Problems; Saddling Your Challenges

A Season of Stampeding Problems

This is a season of stampeding problems that can seem like they are charging us on every side.  In a season of intense pressure, it is important to consider how to effectively process problems, so they don’t trample you.

Like many people, I have been binge-watching several TV series.  One of my recent favourites is Yellowstone.  Yellowstone stars Kevin Costner and is a cross between Bonanza and Sons of Anarchy.  In addition to its anti-hero protagonist and cliff-hanger episode endings, it has you secretly wanting to build a cabin and train horses (this is, literally, the life of my dad).

One of the narrative devices, metaphors, and subplots of the show is the process of taking a wild horse and breaking it, so that it is able to be ridden and, in the hands of an expert equestrian, do astonishing things.

This image is well suited for seasons of immense and relentless pressures.

What does it look like to tame our problems and saddle our challenges with a tenacious hope in God and the empowering of the Holy Spirit?

Confining the Problem

Like wild horses, the first step in taming problems is to corral them.  In a season of stampeding problems, this can seem harrowing but it vital.  If you are feeling overwhelmed with people issues, conflict situations, regathering protocols and family matters, it is important to separate them.  Problems, like wild horses, stampede together.  Take time to list (corral) them by naming them. Problems, like a herd of wild horses, are less overwhelming and dangerous when they are separated and corralled.

One of the benefits of corralling your problems is that it is easier to separate them with fences in your mind.  If you find yourself being stalked by your problems while you are trying to sleep or being present with your family, corral them on paper.  Once you have listed and separated your problems, create appointments with them.  This way you know when you will pick them up again. 

Challenges are Tamed Problems

Now that you have corralled your problems, it is time to tame them into opportunities.  Like breaking a wild horse, it can be risky, but it can also be rewarding. Persistence and perseverance are fundamental in this process.  You have to face your problems to break them.  It is vital to face each problem individually and find a way to reframe it into a challenge.  One of the main differences between problems and challenges is how you see them ending.  For each of your problems, face them head-on.  List what you are afraid of, what all the possible outcomes are and what the risks are.  Then, intentionally, reframe each of them into a challenge by prayerfully seeing what God could do in each.  A challenge is just a problem tamed with hope.  Tame your problems into challenges by pulling yourself into the future with a persistent hope in Jesus.

Opportunities are Saddled Challenges

Now that you have tamed your problems into challenges, it is time to saddle them into opportunities.  Consider how each challenge can be an opportunity for God to work in your life, someone else’s life, your ministry/church, etc. and begin to act your way into them with this perspective.  Our hope is not in the removal of the problem but in God’s work through them.  Consequently, don’t see problems as obstacles to be avoided but as opportunities to explore.  Saddle your challenges into opportunities by praying your way through them with a persistent hope in what God can do.

The Journey Ahead

On occasion, I have had the privilege to go horseback riding in the mountains.  It is an amazing experience.  Not only is the settling amazing but the fact that you are journeying on the back of a once untamed horse is a marvel.  Riding a horse on a trail near a cliff edge is a poignant image of someone who has learned to corral their problems and saddle their challenges. They know that there will always be problems and, as a result, there will always be opportunities. Thus, the wisdom here is not to make all the problems go away (avoid them or ignoring them) but learn how to tame and saddle them as they take you into the wide frontier ahead!

In an unprecedented season of problems, may we learn with God’s help to corral, tame, saddle, and ride them into the future with a tenacious hope in Jesus.  The frontier is calling, and Jesus is leading us on.                                                                             

Fight Covid Fatigue with F.O.C.U.S.

An Open Letter of Encouragement for Pastors

Dear Pastor,

This season has been long!

In the last year, you moved your ministries online, adjusted to everchanging health measures, learned to work and minister from home, and navigated growing mental and physical health concerns in people’s lives (including those in your life and in the lives of your family).  It is been a tough season, and everyone is exhausted.  Tiredness has begun to devolve into fatigue and hopefulness has unravelled into helplessness.

If you are feeling this, you are not alone.  I don’t mean to normalize exhaustion or depression (resigning to its tenacious grip) but to acknowledge the pervasive nature of this season and that your feelings are not because of a personal deficiency or lack.  You are tired because you are running a marathon not because you are out of shape.  As a result, you may be tempted to give up (look for a different job) or give in (stop pursuing and caring about your church’s mission and vision).

As a means of hope and help, allow me to offer some much-needed encouragement and some practical suggestions in navigating the coming days using the acronym F.O.C.U.S.

F – Focus on Vision

“Where there is no vision the people perish” Proverbs 29;18a, KJV. 

This passage is often quoted in regard to organizational and corporate vision, but I think it can be equally applied personally.  When helping people through conflict and difficulty, one of the first things I try to do is provide a picture of what reconciliation and/or a God honouring future might look like.  Give yourself, your church and your people vision for this season. Help them see with hope and vision for their marriages, relationships, ministries and church. This is one of the more important things you can do. Do it for others, do it for your church and do it for you.

O – Outreach

Reach into your neighbourhood and community.  One of the temptations in difficult seasons is to become self-centric as opposed to others-focused.  However, when we serve others and offer love and hope, we often experience it ourselves.  Love is best experienced when given away.  Find ways for you, and your church, to reach into your community on mission and show and share the love of Jesus (write cards to people in care homes, serve at your local food bank, do something fun for your community, etc.).

C – Community

Build community at every opportunity.  In a sea of online content and digital connections, people are desperate for community. You are desperate for community. Help people gather together in smaller groups and grow your discipleship ministries.  Help people discover each other and foster community.  Find ways to do this yourself. Although we can’t do this fully in-person, there are means to do this digitally.  As a pastor, be sure that you are also doing this.  Connect with other pastors and friends you haven’t seen for a while (call, text for video conference). You will be blessed as you are a blessing to others. 

U – Underline Care at Every Turn

Everywhere you can, care!  Find ways to show your personalized care for people in your church.  Organize personal calls, write personalized cards, deliver personalized care baskets, etc.  Whatever you do, find ways to personally care for people.  Not only will this bless the people in your church, but it will also bless you, your staff and your leaders.  Ministry in the blind can be depersonalized.  Find ways to ramp up personalized care for people in this season.  It will bless your church and it will bless you!

S – Share Hope

I connect with a lot of pastors and denominational leaders and this is a very hard time.  Pastors and church leaders are tired!  This season has been relentless, and it isn’t over yet (although it might seem like we are weeks away from a new normal, it will be months). Although we are at the end of ourselves, it is often at our end that we discover more of God.  God will meet us in this.  Jesus has been, is, and will continue to be faithful.  Whatever situations or challenges that you are facing in your life and ministry, Jesus has not abandoned you and because He is with you, you have a Living Hope.  We do not necessarily have hope in a better tomorrow, but we do have an unswerving hope in a good God who will never leave us nor forsake us.  Jesus is the head of the Church and He knows what He is doing, even when we don’t. Just as the sun will rise and set tomorrow, our hope remains steadfast in Him.

Above all, focus on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith!  Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid.  Jesus is with us and He will not fail.  Therefore, persevere with renewed F.O.C.U.S.

In your corner,

Whatever You Do, Don’t Do This

Whatever You Do, Don’t Do This: A Lesson from GameStop for the Church

Several weeks ago, amateur stock traders rallied together to boost the stock of GameStop, artificially inflating the stock price and disrupting the stock market.  Although Wallstreet investors were betting on GameStop’s inevitable demise (GameStop is like Blockbuster for video games), the amateur traders manipulated the system for their benefit.  They drove the stock price up and, if they bought low and sold high, profited while those on Wall Street lost.

Beyond the sensational headlines of this modern-day participatory culture case study with a David & Goliath edge, is an undeniable reality that, in spite of the temporary surge in stock enthusiasm, GameStop’s out-of-date business model will not be profitable in our increasingly downloadable world.

I believe a similar storyline has started to play itself out with the Church.  As the Church prepares to enter a post-Covid world, there will be many church leaders who will rush back to reopening and abandon their digital expressions, ministries and methodologies as they do.  As we embrace the promise of re-opening in society, we are at risk of “flooding the market” and buying stock in our previous out-of-date and ineffective ministry methodologies.  We will be tempted to trade in false hope!

As a church leader, you are entering a precarious season with a major temptation.  With accelerating vaccine rollouts (yay!) and the promise of things opening up again (yay!), the temptation of the church will be to go back to the way it was rather than the way it needs to be.

The lure will be strong!  We will be tempted to go back to what we knew, even if it stopped working long before Covid struck.  This will be the case for education models, business plans, architectural design, and churches.  In our rush for normalcy, we are at risk of selectively forgetting our previous ineffectiveness.  We’ll forget that overall church attendance, giving and engagement (across all denominations) were all trending downward before the pandemic.  To think the trend will magically reverse as we enter a “new normal” with an altered world is naive foolishness.  Will it feel good again to do things we are highly competent at?  Yes.  Will it be as effective as before?  No.  Although it may feel good to us, it will not, necessarily. mean it will be good for the church.

This is not a new human temptation.  Consider the Israelites in the desert.  It wasn’t long after their exodus from Egypt that they longed to go back.  Even though it was terrible, they longed for the familiar and predictable.  We are the same.  We, too, are tempted to just go back to the old way of doing things, even if it didn’t work, rather than adapt, learn, grow, change and redeploy for a new post-Covid world.  I don’t blame anyone for the temptation.  A year of learning new ways of doing things is exhausting; feeling like a fish out of water is uncomfortable.  However, to abandon all the lessons we have learned, the new methodologies we have discovered, the skills for innovation we have embraced and to revert back to the old way of doing things in a world that has been altered forever (especially when the old way of doing things was universally determined as ineffective) would not be wise.  It will be easy, tempting and comfortable, but it won’t be good leadership.

What wasn’t working before, won’t magically work now.  Society has taken ten years of change and condensed it into one.  If our evangelism and discipleship ministries weren’t effective before, resurrecting them post-pandemic won’t make them work.  Additionally, not everyone will come back in-person.  Some will prefer online engagement.  You may disagree (especially if you, personally, prefer in-person expressions) but there are people in our church communities who will desire to stay connected exclusively online or use online engagement as a way to augment their in-person participation.  We can’t ignore this group in our rush to in-person gatherings.  If we do, we do so at our peril.

We are all tired of change and we will all be tempted to just move back into the well-worn ruts of previous (pre-Covid) ministry methodologies.  I believe we are at a crossroads to either change and adapt to our emerging world or devolve back into a church that was already waning in effectiveness, blissfully adopting out-of-date methodologies for a world that no longer exists.  Nostalgia may feel good, but it is a sterile environment for conceiving vision.

As you look ahead, recognize the long-term impact of your choices and commit to move against your natural impulse and use this time to implement the long-term change needed.  Refuse to go back to the way things were.  Refuse to embrace ineffectiveness because it feels comfortable.  Whatever you do, don’t do this!

Ministry in Digital Culture: This Time It’s Personal

Although Jaws IV is arguably the worst of the Jaws film franchise and worthy of our collective amnesia, its tagline has defied the fate of the film and remained in the cultural ether: “This Time It’s Personal.”  This memorable line has permeated culture more than the scent of chum in water during shark hunting season. 

This phrase also encapsulates the reality of digital technology and the times we are in.  We live in the digital age of personalization where everything we do is customized to us.  We have personalized home screens on our devices, personalized movie suggestions on Netflix, personalized stores on Amazon, personalized Apple/Spotify music channels and personalized newsfeeds.  All of which have algorithms that curate the content we consume.  Separate from the dangers of this (we’ll address them later), people increasingly expect a personalized experience in digital space.  Unlike mass media where things were necessarily impersonal and generic, digital culture is incredibly personal and specific.

The personal nature of digital technology is partially why although people want to participate in the content they consume, they also prefer to wait in digital anonymity deciding if/when to step into digital view.  Digital space is intimate space and deeply personal.  Stepping into view means not just stepping out of anonymity but into intimacy.  For example, when one comments on a video or live feed, it means linking their profile to their comment and exiting the comfort of (perceived) digital anonymity for the spotlight of digital intimacy.  This is why digital space also provides the user with the unique ability to decide when and how known they want to be.  This is a new [digital] cultural norm, and we need to recalibrate our means of engagement to adapt.

In digital culture, pastors and church leaders must provide increased space for people to feel comfortable online before an expectation of engagement.  The challenge is, we are accustomed to impersonal communication and engagement with people in public in-person space that operated under a different social contract and norm.  As a result, our in-person and mass media influenced strategies and methodologies were often depersonalized as a result.  However, digital is different.  It is highly personal and, by the very nature of digital, more intimate.

Therefore, as you consider your ministry, how can you make your preaching, communication, online interactions, etc. as personal as possible?  How can you allow a safe initial engagement online to build trust and allow people a safe way to engage?  How can your preaching become even more proprietary (personal) to your people?  In other words, how can you make it more specific to your congregation as opposed to the generic forms of communication of mass media?  How can your online communications and mailing lists be more personalized (MailChimp and others can do this)?  How can your church advertising become more targeted and personal to the people you are trying to reach (all digital advertising, unlike mass media advertising, is personalized and targeted)?  As we move increasingly into digital culture, we will need to make our ministries and communications more personal as we do.

As you explore this in your ministry, a warning.  As Marshall McLuhan argues in his book Four Laws of Media (Technology), all media (technology) when taken to its extreme reverses on itself.  This too is the danger of personalization.  Taken to the extreme, we become addicted to personalization and it can fester into hyper-individualism and selfishness. 

Unlike what online algorithms tell us, everything is not about us.  One of the inherent dangers with the personalization of information, news, movies, music, etc. is that we begin to lose the skill of empathy and listening to others in the process.  As you pursue increasing ways to personalize your ministry, be aware of this potential and protect against it.  Teach about empathy, avoid ministry silos that can be common, intentionally breach the generational divide, etc.

There is another famous line from the original Jaws that is apt in this discussion, “You’re going to need a bigger boat.” 

As we get a bigger boat online, may we be aware of our tendency to fill it with people just like us.  May we be reminded that love suffocates in sameness.  May we, in our desire for personalization, not lose sight of the mission that takes difference to accomplish.