How is your church preaching Christ in both gathered and digital spaces?
In Jerry An’s role as the Chinese ministry leader with Back to God Ministries International, he has been working alongside church leaders and asking this question long before COVID-19.
Many of the challenges that An sees in Chinese churches are also familiar to North Americans.
First, many churches in China believe the dangers of new technology outweigh the benefits, so they have been avoiding it altogether. For these churches, that made the lockdown orders particularly difficult to navigate.
“Picture darkly lit internet cafes filled with young Chinese men playing video games all night long, and you get the idea of the kinds of dangers pious Christians might try to avoid,” An says.
For churches that were using technology and social media, the transition to online services was a little easier. When COVID-19 hit, these churches used their tools to post online links to music and sermons. Even small groups were able to continue thanks to the quick move to Zoom.
“I’ve learned more during these months of lockdown than in ten years of being a Christian!” one Christian who attends a church in Dalian, China, shared.
From Passive Users to Active Participants
Still, An argues that most churches have only scratched the surface of what new media can offer the church.
“Not engaging media and technology means Christ’s witness is absent from the digital world,” An says. “And seeing new media only as a tool to be used as a secondary tool or even a last resort means that the church will always be reactive rather than proactive.”
“It is time for the church to creatively embrace and shape new media to reflect the purpose and mission of the church,” An added. “Not simply instead of gathered church, but in addition to.”
As churches began to reopen from lockdowns in China, An encouraged leaders not to leave their new tools in the dust. The same is true for Christian Reformed congregations.
“The church must glean from this season’s brief experiences to press more fully into the relevance and effectiveness of the church’s mission in the new media age.”
As lines between online and offline worship continue to blur, “What matters,” An says, “is that, whether digitally or physically, gathered or online, in every way Christ is preached. In that we can rejoice!”