The Challenge of Digital Preaching
We may need to rethink our online communications. In this short article, we will discuss the posting of written and video-based media online and how we might increase our effectiveness.
Over the course of history, there have been technological revolutions that have made a profound impact. The compass for navigation. The printing press. Paper currency. The domestication of the horse. Each led to momentous change in productivity and culture.
The most recent revolution is the Information Age, enabled by digital technology. Digital communications have fundamentally changed the circles of our reach. Today we can speak with anyone, anywhere—whether in real-time or over a period of time. It is as unique of an experience as it was when the electric light bulb began to illuminate homes and businesses.
It is estimated that over four and a half billion people participate in social media today.1 Because of this, it is likely your own ecclesia has at least dipped its toe into the digital age. Christadelphians are using the Internet and social media to post countless megabytes of content.
the opportunity to preach has never been greater
Bible classes, public addresses, exhortations, musical programs–all being posted to a global audience. We have never been more accessible, and the opportunity to preach has never been greater.
In the time it takes for you to read this article, there will be over thirteen million Facebook posts, 2,000 hours of YouTube content uploaded, and over 600,000 emails sent.2 Information today is generated at a rate that no human being can effectively absorb. Access to data, that in years gone by required a trip to the library, now can be obtained 24 hours a day from almost any location.
However, for most men and women, the digital world promises so much and delivers so little. That’s because people yearn for real interactions. They are looking for insights, wisdom, not just a dozen opinions or research papers. People come to the “digital continent”3 looking for warmth, accessibility, a transformational experience. Today they often leave with loads of information but feel confused and frequently very lonely.
As we consider how we ought to preach online, there are many important lessons. Our own historical preaching culture has laid out comprehensive but lengthy expositions that build to an important conclusion. This reflects a different audience (one that was largely captive) and a different era. This method is not how people choose to learn today.
Studies show that the average reading time for posted content is 1:03 minutes. It is just over two minutes for video-based content.4 If we organize material the same way we always have, very few will ever get to our concluding remarks. It requires us to think differently about our message and the structure of what we say.
Trevor Laurence5 spoke of three dangers of preaching in a digital age. One of those was the “pressure of exhaustiveness.” This is the idea that we need to say everything we can, to fully cover the topic. While this was not even possible when we had the luxury of 45-minute Bible talks to a captive audience, it is certainly not possible for the digital visitor with his/her hand ready to click away.
There are some excellent examples of digital preaching going on across Christadelphia. Here’s what they have in common.
- They are short. The best is under two minutes.
- They speak with passion and warmth, encouraging the listener to engage further.
- They offer insight and wisdom, not just information.
- There is an offer to engage further and get more information. But the initial message is designed to capture the importance and impact of the teaching rather than fully describe it.
Let me give you an example. Recently I watched a very impactful video from biblefeed.org. Bro. Dan Weatherall (UK) provided a 1:27-minute talk about why the genealogies of Matthew 1 are important. In that brief message, his warmth and approachability were apparent.
In that short time, he addressed how Jesus was the Seed of David and Abraham, how Jesus was the way the promises would be fulfilled, and how the “messiness” of Jesus’s family tree demonstrates how Jesus cares for those who are flawed but are seeking God. In just over 90 seconds, he communicated all of this.
What he provided was just enough to encourage the viewer with an open heart to interact further by viewing a more thorough discussion on the topic.
There certainly is an opportunity for Christadelphians to provide more exhaustive content. We must lead with short, provocative messages which distill why this information is important.
there is a new opportunity before us
I asked Bro. Art Courtonel (UK) to comment on some of the important learning he has had in more than ten years with the ChristadelphianVideo.org website. During the past decade, this site, and the companion YouTube page, have posted more than 9,500 videos and had over 5.5 million views, which is pretty staggering. So, here’s Bro. Art’s recommendations for the digital preaching your ecclesia may be considering.
Peer Review — Prior to the release of new materials, a peer review will help avoid spelling errors, but it also provides an opportunity to “fact-check.” We need to be accurate when we cite Scriptures but also when we refer to dates, names and places. We need to be above reproach in what we put online if we want our viewers to trust us.
Avoid Attacking Other Christian Denominations — We should promote what the Bible does say, not what it doesn’t. Comments about other denominations make us appear isolationist and often are not fully accurate.
Dress Appropriately — What we wear in online presentations communicates a lot of information about who we are and what we value. Attire itself should not draw attention to us. The audience online is relaxed and casual. Wearing formal attire (e.g., suit and tie) may communicate formality and in some cases, stuffiness. Conversely, wearing casual attire with the iconography of major brands should also be avoided, as we do not want to promote fashion and brands.
Compress Your Message — There are many 40–50-minute Christadelphian gospel addresses being placed online as the first contact with visitors. Instead, we need more 3–4-minute videos, similar to popular YouTube offerings. These have become the online expectation.
Invest—For your ecclesia to develop an online presence, you’ll need to invest. You’ll need to either utilize internal talent or purchase the expertise. But having an online presence for an ecclesia is increasingly important.
The window of opportunity for preaching is wide open. Sometimes we find ourselves “longing” for the days of Bible seminars, where we filled conference rooms. Those days may be gone, but there is a new opportunity before us. We have such a remarkable message to share, and digital communications can help to remove many of the barriers, if we effectively use it.
The Tidings would appreciate ecclesias sharing their experiences and best practices with us so that we can distribute that knowledge across our community. Please drop us a line at email@example.com.
1 www.statista.com, 2022.
2 Media Use Habits: What, Why, When, and How People Read Online, Olesya Kukoleva, Anna Preobrazhenskaya, Olga Sidorova, July 24, 2017, www, uxmatters.com.
3 Phrase is taken from Digital Continent, Mohammad Amir Amwar and Mark Graham, Oxford Press, February 2022.
4 Ibid, Media Use Habits: What, Why, When, and How People Read Online.
5 3 Dangers of Preaching in a Digital Age, Trevor Laurence, July 29, 2016, thegospelcoalition.com.