Accessing the inaccessible
How digital ministry becomes an access point
Compassion for the lost can be overwhelming at times. Satan loves to tempt us to despair by reminding us of the vast lostness of Japan. And then we consider the variety of different situations that hinder access to the good news in Japan: people with hikikomori, hospital patients, those with disabilities, the elderly, the overly busy. Couple that with our lack of omnipresence, and it’s enough to make you leave ministry feeling completely crushed.
But we are not left without hope to fight Satan’s lies and temptations. Multiplication is the biblical model that we see used to exponentially grow the church. Can we use technology to further support this model?
In marketing communications, various forms of media are rated by their reach. That is, how many individuals did a marketing communication reach? A paper flyer may reach one person and be trashed, but magazines may be read then passed on to more people. This is especially true in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. A high quality, glossy publication implies an important message and produces staying power. The audience’s receptivity and retention of such messages are fortified by this quality, and it spurs a desire to pass on the information.
Digital communications meld the benefits of word-of-mouth and physical mediums. Email and social media tools like YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, provide substance to word-of-mouth communications by enabling the sharing of context-rich content that, to a degree, anyone can access. In the digital world, direct connection with the original messenger is not always necessary to introduce someone to a message. Also, digital networks overlap, so a simple “share” or a well-placed advertisement can give the gospel access into people’s realm of awareness. Added to that we can connect with some people more easily through digital means than any other—for example people with anxiety and various types of disabilities. All we need to do is produce good and accessible content and take time to identify networks and mediums that best reach these people.
Gospel extension through digital means
Digital ministry resources multiply instances of our gospel sharing efforts, even while we sleep. The internet’s content is always accessible, so a one-time effort can lead to numerous engagements with the gospel for which we do not need to be present. Some ministries are currently experiencing view counts far greater than any engagement they saw in person.
As COVID-19 began to impact ministries, churches across the globe scrambled to find effective ways to continue ministry. Digital-only means of continuing some semblance of worship, fellowship, and ministry quickly became the primary response. As a result, church members and leaders began engaging more in the digital space, which made typical church activities, discussions, and issues more visible to people usually outside of physical meetings. Not only are these online ministry moments happening in real time for anyone to freely enter, but some are also being recorded and preserved for later access, such as livestreamed church services.
One example is Tokyo Baptist Church (TBC). When the pandemic hit, like most churches, they halted all in-person activity. They also expanded their original scope of being a multi-site church—they began to view their online presence as giving access to homes across the country, allowing for remote membership (to a degree). Previously they’d used livestream for worship and they developed this further. Members and small groups were encouraged to Zoom for meeting and activities. And TBC started “hubs”—groups of people who watch the livestream worship service together on Zoom, then stay on the chat to discuss the content. TBC has seen new and increased engagement through these efforts locally in Tokyo, at a site in Tottori, and other places across the country.
This new level of reach has positive implications for evangelism among hard-to-reach people in Japan. For those who cannot participate in a live ministry event for one reason or another, accessibility to these resources means they can choose to engage with the gospel in their own time, when they may be more open and receptive to the good news.
Digital resources can help close the gap in direct engagement with those who are hard to connect with. The efforts we put into quality and strategy of the resources will only improve the chances that those who need to hear will find them. To help you explore further, I recommend an article called “The Ultimate Coronavirus Guide for Churches.”1 This guide provides comprehensive resources and instructions for developing digital resources in our current world situation. While focused on developing resources for American audiences, I believe it can be applied to the Japanese context. Every resource we publish is a great addition to a digital space open for engagement.
1. Ryan Wakefield, “The Ultimate Coronavirus Guide for Churches,” Church Marketing University, https://churchmarketinguniversity.com/the-ultimate-coronavirus-guide-for-churches/ (accessed Oct. 26, 2020).