Drawing the Digital Net

            Years ago, I taught my sons how to throw a cast net. Worms and artificial baits might catch the attention of some famished fish but a nice, fresh, wiggly minnow is sure to stir the waters every time. When my oldest son successfully threw the net for the first time, he was beside himself with excitement. It was a beautiful spread. Containing his enthusiasm, he let it sink to the bottom as instructed. Then he looked at me and asked with preadolescent befuddlement, “Now what do I do?” “Well,” I responded, “draw the net.” A good cast can only produce results if you draw the net.

            Overwhelmed by the truth of the gospel and anxious to act on faith, a repentant congregation cried out at the conclusion of Peter’s Pentecostal sermon, “Brothers, what should we do?” (Acts 2:37). Still today, when the Word of God is preached faithfully under the anointing of the Holy Spirit and when it gives clear testimony to the saving grace of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ, conviction stirs response. The worst thing a Christian preacher can do, aside from failing to present the gospel clearly and compellingly, is to leave his hearers in uncertainty over how they might respond. Sharing the gospel well secures a great cast with a wide spread. But to complete the work, the preacher has to draw the net.

The worst thing a Christian preacher can do, aside from failing to present the gospel clearly and compellingly, is to leave his hearers in uncertainty over how they might respond.”

            Upon his Pentecostal invitation, many in the crowd responded immediately to Peter’s invitation for repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38-41). Other accounts of gospel-sharing and gospel-preaching in the Book of Acts yielded similar results (Acts 16:14-15, 25-34). Still others produced a holy curiosity in the hearers such that the next step was a simple invitation to hear more (Acts 13:42-43, 17:32-34). Peter told the Israelites in Solomon’s Colonnade to “turn back,” (Acts 3:19). Ananias told Paul to “get up,” (Acts 22:16). The biblical invitation is to take action on what one has heard. Wherever the gospel is shared biblically there is a clear next-step of obedience that invites one to faith-filled, active response. Whether the drawing of the Father leads one to immediate repentance and baptism or moves him to hear more, our gospel invitation should always include a clear next-step for those whose hearts are stirred to respond.

            For many years, traditional Western church practice has been to invite inquirers or responders to the front or back of the physical gathering where they are counseled and prayed over regarding their response to the gospel. But in March of 2020, when the COVID19 pandemic disrupted our most cherished ecclesial norms, the up-close response mechanism of most churches came to a screeching halt, at least for a season.

            Disruption of gospel-sharing and invitation-giving is not a new phenomenon for Christian preaching. Gospel preachers have been disrupted by persecution, inconvenience and cultural shifts for centuries. In every season, when crisis has pressed in on Jesus’s church, prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit has given rise to spiritual awakening. Perhaps today we stand on the precipice of a spiritual awakening as well. And perhaps this awakening will come as the Holy Spirit of God breathes on our efforts for gospel success in the digital space.

            The digital age has been upon the Western world for years. But during the pandemic, at least with regard to the church, it was thrust into the fullness of its paradigmatic implications. For many months, gospel delivery was either digital or nothing. Some churches excelled at adapting their Great Commission methodology to the new opportunities that crisis uncovered. Others struggled. Either way, the digital age is not reverting to its pre-pandemic dormancy. It is here to stay. Gospel preachers must find ways to reach a digital audience with the gospel and give clear next-steps for response. They must learn to both cast and draw the digital net.

“The digital age is not reverting to its pre-pandemic dormancy. It is here to stay. Gospel preachers must find ways to reach a digital audience with the gospel and give clear next-steps for response.”

            While the physical gathering of the church remains preeminent for Christ followers, your online presence offers innovative, new opportunities not only to deliver the message of the gospel but to invite listeners into clear next-steps in response. That’s all a come-down or go-to-the-back invitation really is anyway—a clear next-step for response. We have done well to give clear next-steps in the physical space. How do we give clear next-steps in the digital space?

            Let’s turn our attention to two questions that will guide the rest of this article: (1) Is the gospel winning in your church’s public digital space (casting the net)? and (2) Are you giving convicted gospel-hearers a clear next-step to respond (drawing the net)?

Is the gospel winning in your church’s public digital space (casting the net)?

            If your online guests are to respond positively to the gospel, they must be presented with its clear and compelling message. To the dismay of her Christ-given commission, however, the online message of many churches today carries anything but gospel clarity. Public social media feeds have majored mostly on church announcements, gathering protocols and in some cases, trendy political or cultural dialogue. God has been good to allow his church the medium of digital tools for keeping in touch with church members and ministering to their souls in the absence of the regular physical gathering. However, some have noted even before the pandemic that our public digital presence is the new front door to the church. Pandemic or no pandemic, in a digital age the lost in your community will visit your online spaces long before they decide to enter your physical space. What will they find there? What net is being cast?

            If the core message of the church is the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, why would we not go to extravagant lengths to give that message priority at the digital front door of our churches? Why would we allow any other message to win the attention of our guests on the doorstep of our church? Anchor a simple video of the gospel message to the top of your social media account. Make that video or written gospel explanation the front page of your website. Use private social media groups or email for digital fellowship and regular dissemination of information to your church membership so you can let the gospel win in your public digital space. To maximize your online presence for gospel opportunities, you must let the gospel win wherever the lost may encounter your church’s digital footprint. If you want to win souls for Christ in your church’s digital space, you must consistently, clearly and compellingly cast the gospel net there.

Are you giving convicted gospel-hearers a clear next-step to respond (drawing the net)?

            Many churches have taken their weekly worship services online for those who are unable to attend the physical gathering or those seekers who are considering an in-person visit. But the invitation for response is catered to the gathered crowd. For example, if the invitation giver asks convicted hearers to respond by coming to the front or going to the back (as is common when the online service is simply a livestream of the physical gathering), the listener in the digital space is left with no actionable next-step for response. Other churches post gospel videos or graphics that do not offer a clear next-step. Everywhere the gospel is proclaimed, it demands a response. Failing to offer a clear, actionable next-step for your digital audience is to leave convicted souls without an answer to their pressing question, “Brothers, what should we do?” It is to cast the net of the gospel then walk away without drawing it.

            Run a text-in phone number across the bottom of the screen in your livestream video, look into the camera and invite the online listener to take out her phone, punch in the number on the bottom of the screen and type “tell me more,” then hit send. Or invite them to type these same words into the comment thread wherever this video is shared. Open the private message feature and plead with those who are on the fence to just send a quick note asking to talk to someone who is standing by. If you are not comfortable doing this during the live gospel presentation, at least make a special, short video with actionable next-step instructions to tag onto the end of every livestream. Train and release online counselors – church members who will look for responses in each of these digital spaces and engage inquirers through the medium on which they respond. Every time and everywhere the gospel is presented, it should be accompanied with a clear, actionable next-step. That includes gospel presentations in the digital space. When you cast the digital net, draw it digitally as well.

Every time and everywhere the gospel is presented, it should be accompanied with a clear, actionable next-step. That includes gospel presentations in the digital space.”

            I watched as my son drew the net and dragged it ashore. He was literally bouncing with anticipation. He pulled the yellow ring tall and watched as only one, tiny bream flopped out onto the bank at his feet. I was prepared to console him but to my surprise he exploded with happiness. “I caught one! Daddy, I caught one!” Just one little fish was worth all of the training, all of the failures and all of the work to cast and draw the net.

            What is the threshold of celebration for your efforts in digital gospel sharing and inviting? Just one. Just one soul saved is worth all of the effort. Will you do the work to let the gospel win in your digital space, and to draw the net consistently by offering a clear, actionable next-step for response?

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