Earlier in the year, Chris Cartwright, Elim's General Superintendent, opened the Elim Digital Conference reflecting on a year of digital revival.
"When pandemic gloom swept the country, our world was changed; to love one another meant staying at home, and fellowship was restricted to a phone or a computer screen.
"In the church, it's been the dawn of a new era; and a digital gift.
"People's phones would ping bringing easy access to hear of our King, and His gospel message, at the click of a screen.
"Going to church is the easiest it's ever been - an invite-share to a Zoom meeting where we can worship together, and not even leave the house.
"Technology has been ‘redeemed’ to pump out God's grace where He has no limit to person or place. The opportunity that we've been given is here to stay, and our mission field has grown in an unprecedented way.
"As Jesus crossed borders in coming from heaven, all the borders that we have struggled with are now open."
A paradigm shift
"These are extraordinary times; times of huge challenge and pressure, but out of that has come a release of creativity; a connectivity that is going to change the way that the church does ministry and mission from now on. This is a paradigm shift, and a time of immeasurable change.
"Luke writes in his letter to Theophilus ‘many others have tried their hand at putting together a story of the wonderful harvest of scripture and history that took place among us, using reports handed down by the original eyewitnesses, who serve this word with their very lives. I've investigated all the reports in close detail, starting from the story's beginning, and I've decided to write it all out for you, most honourable Theophilus, so you can know beyond a shadow of a doubt the reliability of what you were taught.’
"Those may be familiar words, and yet they are ground-breaking. Luke puts his hand on a communication shift that was going to be absolutely central to the way the good news of Jesus not only changes individual lives but spreads.
"Oral tradition was shifting at a far more rapid pace through written communication. The inspiration and energizing of the Holy Spirit pointed to something that was going to be central to the spread of the Gospel from then on in the Book of Acts; from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
"We are also living in a similar era, where a profound shift in communication and digital technology is all around us.
"Today's new ways of communicating are vital for those of us who believe we have an eternal life-changing message, a community transforming message, and a nation-building message.
"The acceleration in digital communication over the last 12 months, in the midst of a global pandemic, has been remarkable.
"But it's not new. In the '90s there was a decade of internet explosion, and then 2007, and the birth of the iPhone. Suddenly the world was connected.
"What we're seeing today is a radical reforming of the way that we do ministry and mission.
"Church leaders and church communities have been upskilled digitally. Suddenly people have been propelled into the very centre of church life, as they've been helping in incredibly fertile soil.
"Two years ago we'd never have imagined the church would have had to respond to digital technology in order to survive, to stay connected together as a community, and to communicate the gospel to those that are not yet fully connected with us. The reach of digital technology gives us the opportunity to come out afresh with far greater horizons of faith."
The Power of the Holy Spirit
"If you pick up a survey of church history, laying the foundation of what happened from Jesus's Great Commission in Matthew 28, it will point to the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon those first disciples by compelling them to go.
"There are also sociological factors. The Greek language gave a universal communication of ideas that became the vehicle through which the Christian message was communicated. Greek heralded the spread of the gospel.
"Secondly, Roman roads were linking areas and great cities of the ancient world.
"Thirdly there was peace. Without conflict, it was easy to travel the trade routes. Think of them as highways of communication.
"Next came the invention of the printing press, and the early spread of those printed bibles in local languages.
"And on to the radio, and a controversial Pentecostal evangelist called Amy Semple McPherson, a Hollywood style Los Angeles preacher, and founder of the Foursquare Movement.
"She met Marconi, the inventor of the radio, and said ‘Mr Marconi, your great invention of the radio was not just your idea. God has brought that into being so that the whole world through radio might hear for themselves the love of God, and the message of Jesus Christ as the saviour of the world.'
"And to television and visual media - all kinds of things can travel along that highway.
"And now into today's digital era; the smartphone, the internet, and the ability to communicate near and far, and to connect differently.
"I believe this is a profound shift, and that the church has been unsettled in the last twelve months.
"We must engage with this change positively. We have been enabled to build connections, and to engage with our own people, but with incredible opportunities for others to get to know who Jesus is, and to inquire about the Christian faith.
"It’s a new, expanding community of how we build relationship and discipleship.
"We have seen the same God, the same Holy Spirit, opening up a sense of intimacy, and real evidence that God is at work."
Commission, communication and community.
"Digital platforms have a 'home button', or a home concept, and talk about themselves as a community.
"Let's look at ways to take the belongingness of being a part of the community of God, and part of the worldwide community, as well as the local church, into the digital sphere and arena.
"Finally, Jesus's Great Commission of Matthew 28 to 'go into all the world' wasn't just about roads and boats or just speaking and writing.
The Great Commission
"Jesus was also speaking about pathways to come that would enable us to go where previously we were unable to go. It's ironic in a time of lockdown when we can't travel outside our own borders, that the digital platforms, highways, and horizons have expanded to make it possible for us to go near and far.
"I don't believe that digital is a replacement for the gathered community of faith; there are some things that we can only do when we're actually together, but this new era is jolting us into the added value of using any means to reach out. Real people in real places doing real stuff, having real hope and faith in the One that will not disappoint, but will always come to anybody that makes themselves available to him.
"Increasingly we recognise there are people beyond our reach, and beyond our words, but they are out there in the digital landscape tuning in, watching, and checking out what's going on around them.
"The added value of reaching way beyond our current site, horizons, borders and boundaries, is what digital platforms afford, and provoke us into."
"We're at the beginning of a journey, a decade of doing new things with digital platforms. In the last year, we've gone from a small number of churches engaging digitally, to being given free availability to tens of thousands around the world.
"We're at the beginning of a vast, new digital landscape, and the church is not to be afraid. We must see it as an enhancement.
"There's a huge need for connecting, for working together, for helping one another, and for partnership. We are all part of God's family, whatever stream, whatever shape, style, badge or name branding there is over the door of our buildings.
"We must embrace this together; all the networks we're a part of, seeing it as an enhancement. Together we will discover new ministries of digital discipleship and evangelism.
"Luke says to Theophilus 'many have been trying, but I've decided to work at putting this together, that more and more of us would be engaged with the task for a new season, for a fresh generation, and for those that so far we have not even begun to think about how to reach.'
"That time is here again."
Elim Digital Conference 2021
Discover the full series of free videos from the Elim Digital Conference at elim.org.uk/digital
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