Q&A with Bobby Gruenewald

Q&A with Bobby Gruenewald


Bobby Gruenewald serves as Pastor, Innovation Leader at Life.Church and is the founder of the YouVersion Bible app, which has been installed on 250 million devices. As one of the leading voices in the Church on innovation and the use of technology, Bobby has been featured in The New York Times, TechCrunch, CNN and more. Prior to joining the Life.Church team in 2001, he started and sold two technology companies and served in advisory capacities for various startups and venture capital funds. He and his wife, Melissa, live in Edmond, Oklahoma, with their four children.

Q: What is unique about the way pastors use social media in today’s culture? How can these platforms be a valuable exten- sion of their role as teachers and leaders? 01

People are sharing more of their lives online, often with more transparency than ever before. As the Church, we have an unprecedented opportunity to love, encourage and bring hope to people beyond the hours when they are physically in church. Whether we’re helping someone find the next step in their spiritual growth or reminding someone of who they are in Christ, social media opens up new doors for ministry.

Q: Pastors are nearly split on whether social media has (46%) or has not (54%) affected the way they distribute their time and effort in ministry. What is your advice to pastors who struggle to focus, or who have not figured out how to efficiently incorporate social media into their routines? 02

When new technology is introduced and gains rapid adoption, some degree of cultural disruption inevitably follows. People make wild predictions about its impact on our lives and society, going to utopian or apocalyptic extremes.

You don’t have to look too far back into history to see this play out. When the telephone was introduced over 100 years ago, some people responded with excitement and others with fear. Bold declarations were made that the telephone would decimate relationships. Now, because of the amount of time that has passed, we’re able to have more perspective on its real impact. Some things did change, but overall, society was able to integrate the technology of the telephone in a way that generally avoided the most extreme predictions.

With a tool as young as social media, we are now navigating the tension between different extremes, such as:

  • Global vs. local: Who is my neighbor? We can experience real-time communication with people on the other side of the world. What used to be determined by my geographic limitations now has no limits. Is our main responsibility to invest our time in those who are physically near? Or should we seek out the opportunity to reach someone who has never heard the gospel and is outside the reach of any church?
  • Broadcast vs. personal: With social media, we can connect with more people or connect with people more. In the few moments it takes to compose and publish a post, pastors can communicate to a larger group than might come through the doors of their church each weekend. Or they can keep their focus on individual communication and use social media to enrich relationships by connecting one-on-one more easily and more often.
  • Omnipresent vs. never present: Social media allows us to be involved in many different ongoing conversations. But if we’re always buried in our devices, we might find we’re never fully present with the people in front of us. Is it a distraction or an empowerment to be engaged in several places at once?

The introduction of new technology forces us to wrestle with these tensions. Each choice we make comes with a benefit and a cost. As long as we’re self-aware and intentional, we can assess the positives and negatives and assimilate these tools in a way that’s going to be productive. Instead of living on the edge of the extremes, we can lead the way in defining new norms and boundaries.

Q: What are some general dos and don’ts you recommend to pastors as they explore new methods and technologies in their communication? 03

With any form of technology or innovation, it’s easy to focus too much on what we’re doing and overlook why we’re doing it. New methods don’t steer our ministry, and we don’t jump into them for novelty’s sake. We make sure every team member understands that technology is not the center of our ministry. We pursue innovation with purpose, and for us, that purpose is to lead people to become fully devoted followers of Christ. We’re going to do everything short of sin to accomplish that.

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