If you’re thinking about building a church website or some form of internet ministry, or if you’re convinced that such a ministry is not anything you could take on, or if you’ve got one but think that surely it could be better and more effective, Mark Stephenson’s Web-Empowered Ministry: Connecting with People Through Websites, Social Media, and More (Abingdon, 2011) will give you the tools and inspiration you need. The book’s dedication signals the tone and perspective of the book: “to the innovators and risk takers around the world who maximize the gifts God has given them to take us all to new levels.” This is a book about ministry, about evangelism, and about using the gifts and skills God gives to the church to share the good news in ways that are consistent with and true to the original power that propelled the gospel from the small band of Jesus’ followers to the ends of the earth.
An electrical engineer by training, experienced in computer-related research with the U.S. Air Force, Stephenson landed at Ginghamsburg Church with a passion for the possibilities and potential of internet ministry. Perhaps we should say that he was led by God to Ginghamsburg Church, for this was a place where his gifts for ministry could take root and thrive. His experience there informs this book, designed to help churches in a variety of places towards a thriving internet ministry. Note that his emphasis is on ministry—not on tools or trends. This is a book grounded in prayer and in a powerful belief in the power of the Holy Spirit to guide faithful disciples and congregations into new areas of outreach, nurture, spiritual formation, and service.
For Stephenson, the internet may be used effectively to conduct and expand ministry. It can be used to improve church communication, empower lay volunteers, minister to people at any time and in any place, connect people in caring community, allow sermons, Bible studies, etc., to continue to minister for years to come, and expand ministry to reach people around the world. Starting by debunking ten popular and oft-heard excuses as to why churches don’t have web ministries, Stephenson challenges, encourages, and empowers church staffs and laity to embark on something new for the sake of the effectiveness and scope of the gospel message.
The specifics of just how such a ministry will be implemented will of course vary from place to place. It might be launched on conference, district, or cluster levels, as well as church by church. For any and all, Stephenson’s guidelines, tips, cautions, and insights will prove enormously instructive and helpful.
The church of tomorrow needs the tools of today going forward. Stephenson’s emphasis is on empowering the church to engage modes of communication with which it may not be familiar, but that are increasingly second nature not only to current congregations but to those the church seeks to reach and attract. His list of 70 cyber-tips at the end of the book is worth the price of the book itself. Fear not, Church. Here’s support for jumping into exciting and rewarding new forms of ministry.