Hurtful Not Helpful Part 2: Digital Discipleship
Updated: Jan 19
We've been talking about things that live in the gray areas of our world. Things that could be helpful, and may be in some degree still are, but are ultimately hurtful.
Today is about digital discipleship and how online resources allow us to experience more but have less.
Across churches all over the world, the vast majority of people don't bring their paper Bibles to church anymore. In fact, most don't use them throughout the week either. They have their phones/iPads/whatever else that has the Bible on that. In a time where everyone is on the move, you can always have the Bible on hand. This is INCREDIBLY useful and far and away one of the best gifts of the last century.
But is it actually helpful to our Christian discipleship? I would say no and here's why.
Studies show that when we take in information digitally, we tend to retain it less. In one such study, they found that while the medium of the Bible might different the retention did not. They found that male Bible readers who read digitally read more but retained less than their female counter parts.
In other words, we don't spend quality time with God. We spend quantity time.
People also reported feeling less engaged with the digital platform version of their Bibles. "I didn't feel like I was reading God's word, I felt like I was skimming an email" was the most common phrase by participants.
However, it doesn't just apply to reading your Bible. it also applies to listening to sermons and worship. There is similar sentiment as to how "engaged" a person is when they have a podcast of a church on while they drive or they have worship music on in the background.
Ultimately, I think this is because digital resources have become something we do without a primary focus. We have Netflix on as we scroll through Instagram. I have music on while I do the dishes. I have a true crime podcast on while I drive into work. I'll watch Youtube while I shop on Amazon.
All the things we do online never require our full and complete attention.
This allows us to multi-task really well but never drives us into the depth of whatever we are experiencing. You "get less" from your Bible app because chances are you aren't just on your Bible app. The average paper Bible reader spends 30 minutes in their Bible when they read it. Compare that to the 5-10 minutes a digital reader spends and it's easy to see why the retention rate is so low.
As a Millennial, the digital age is something all around me. It's like the air I breathe. 50% of my job as a pastor is on a computer, tablet, or phone. I live in a space built around technology, but, increasingly, I'm hearing the phrase from my friends, "I can do church online."
What they mean is they can worship, listen to a sermon, and have quiet time with God without ever stepping foot into a small group or a church building. They can be discipled digitally.
Unfortunately, the stats just don't back that up. They can do the tasks but the retention isn't there. People aren't actually growing deeper towards God. The digital platforms where we consume religion are helpful but they are ultimately hurting the deep discipleship that can only be done analog.
For more information on why the church is meant to be in person, check out this article from The Gospel Coalition: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/article/is-online-church-really-church-the-church-as-gods-temple/