Q&A with Dana Byers

Q&A with Dana Byers

Dana Byers is a pioneer in the online church movement. She began as a Life.Church Online volunteer in 2006. The next year, Dana and her young family sold nearly everything they owned to fund living overseas to launch BlueDoor Ministries, Inc. The first online church planters in history, the Byers family’s purpose was to help pastors launch online churches outside the U.S. in a variety of languages and to expand the reach of Life. Church Online. After moving back to the States, Dana wrote “The Art of Online Ministry” and became Associate Online Campus Pastor at Life. Church. Today she is Executive Pastor of Mercy Road Church in Carmel, Indiana.

Q: In your years of planting online churches, what have you found are the components of meaningful, even transformative, virtual spiritual conversations? 01

A core element of positive online interactions is developing the ability to be nearly unoffendable. A lot of people who’ve been hurt by the church are happy to let others know about it on social media. So when someone has arms flailing and fists flying in their responses, your best approach is not to respond the way they are expecting: negatively. Let them be mad. Admit they could get hurt again by a church, or in any other organization, because it’s comprised of imperfect humans. Then invite them to give this Jesus thing another shot.

Your focus doesn’t need to be converting people to follow Jesus; God works on people’s hearts. You can simply focus on representing Christ well: Listen, show genuine concern, pray as the interaction is happening so you can hear from the Holy Spirit what your next step should be.

Lead people as far as they’re willing to go. Be cognizant of the fact that online interactions are often incredible launching pads. Be an entrepreneurial online evangelist by always identifying a next step. Invite them to meet for coffee if they’re local. Connect them to a local church if you know a good one in their part of the world. Get them to visit your online or face-to-face small group. Offer to pray with them and email to check in next week.

Q: Do you think it’s possible to have good spiritual conversations on social media? And if so, how?

It’s absolutely possible. I’ve seen it happen more times than I can count. However, the most difficult spiritual conversations online are with people who have a point to prove. Sadly, many non-Christians in the U.S. and beyond have had experiences with Christians who have something to prove—and have already decided they don’t want any part of it. For good conversations to happen online and elsewhere, here are some practical steps to take:

Approach spiritual conversations with a non- competitive, everyone’s-welcome-at-the-table mindset. This lowers participants’ guard and represents Christ as we know Him to be: full of both grace and truth. Judgmental, assumptive or exclusionary language is as damaging on social media as it is in person.

Consider your face-to-face spiritual conversations for comparison’s sake. Do you pummel the other person with statistics, churchy language and guilt-ridden comments? Do you cram Bible verses down their throat? Probably not. The same guide- lines should be followed online.

Think the best of the other person. There’s a good chance they’re hurting or have a skewed image of Christ-followers. They might merely be curious in their question, or they may be in the middle of what’s been a long and painful spiritual journey. You can- not know all the details, so receive whatever they offer and respond graciously.

Invest a little time in studying the individual’s online presence to develop your empathy toward them. What do others say on their Facebook wall? Does this person share photos on Twitter? What do they do for a living? You don’t need to become an expert on the individual, but you can get a glimpse into the life of this person whom God created and loves so much that he put you in their path to point them to him.

Q: What are some good rules of the virtual road for Christians who want to share their faith online? 03

Determine why you want to minister online before you determine how you’ll do it. Every ounce of energy you pour into online outreach is worthwhile, but no one wants another online church or social media missionary that is focused on increasing tithes, adding to their attendance or making a name for themselves.

Recognize that online ministry is legitimate. I think there’s a tendency for us to undermine the capacity for life change to happen online, and we sometimes forget that God’s not bound by time, space or the internet. He works through every medium we invite him into. Taking seriously the time you’re online to minister is a key component of making a Kingdom impact with your life.

Recognize the responsibility online ministry carries with it. You will get middle-of-the-night Facebook messages from suicidal people. You will be tempted to take it personally when someone curses God. You will doubt that you’re making a difference.

Authenticity should be the norm. No one will be impressed by you having all the answers. Honesty adds a depth and richness to the quality of interactions you can have online, second only to surrounding your conversations with prayer.
Speaking of prayer: pray continually. Online ministry always, always, always involves prayer. If anyone comes to a physical church to minister without having been in prayer, they are unprepared. The same goes for online ministry: If you or I show up without inviting God into the equation, we’re not equipped and could do more damage than good.

Understand your role. You aren’t called to be the savior of someone’s life. You are called to be open and available to be used by God in the online interaction. Sometimes people don’t respond or come back. That’s on them. You simply need to be faithful to meeting them where they’re at.

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