22 March 2021
Digital evangelism for the mind, body and soul
This Lent, Revd Jemima Strain, Pioneer Minister in the South Warwickshire Circuit is running a project called ‘Stretch and Pray’. Every weekday, Jemima posts a new Stretch and Pray video for people to participate in as part of their evening routine as a kind of night prayer. Each session lasts about twenty minutes - it starts will stillness, followed by gentle stretching, then ends with a meditation using a Psalm.
In Jemima’s promotional video, she says: “It’s not about the shape of your body, but to transform your prayer life and your whole being... Be still and enter into God’s presence… we are re-learning the unforced rhythms of grace.”
The videos are released on YouTube and shared also on a Facebook page dedicated to the project with over 160 members. Over 2,000 people have watched it since the beginning of Lent, and – in Jemima’s words - “we get more ‘passing trade’ than in-person church.”
Although the participants access it digitally, it nourishes them physically, mentally and spiritually. This project recognises the power of digital accessibility but also engages embodied reality. Jemima is evangelistically pioneering new Christian community online at the same time as feeding people spiritually.
There are some key learnings from Stretch and Pray for us in evangelism, here are three of them:
- Listen to God and let go of the outcome.
Jemima tells me: “I really have no idea who is participating unless they tell me. All I can do is put it up online and leave it there.” Often in evangelism, we don’t know the end of the story, with digital evangelism especially it can be very hard to know the impact we’re having. Evangelism is often a ministry of faithful seed planting and watering and of trusting God with the outcome.
It’s also likely that we’ll get it wrong sometimes. Jemima says: “in my pioneering there have been quite a few failures – and learnings. With Stretch and Pray it’s really been about learning what works on the go.” We don’t have to know exactly what we’re doing at the outset when we start something new. If we are listening to God then we will be prepared to learn – even through things that seem like failings.
- Invite others into encounter with God.
There are various stages of invitation in evangelism. For example, the first invitation to participate in Stretch and Pray is the invitation to click the link on Facebook. There are ways we can make it easier for people to respond to our invitation. Jemima made an explanatory video for Stretch and Pray where she told people what to expect from the sessions, what to wear, and why she does it like she does. I wonder how many people might have felt braver about attending a church service for the first time if they’d been able to watch a video like this!
Once somebody has clicked the link, the second stage is an invitation into an experience of God by participating in the session. Jemima tells me: “I don’t explain the scripture, which is hard for me as a minister! But I use Lectio Divina style meditations, which allows people to have their own moments with God.” We can be so tempted in evangelism to feel like we need to have all the answers, but often what is much more powerful is simply inviting somebody into an encounter with God.
- Always, always root in relationship.
Jemima tells me: “Outreach always works best when you have relationships with people. There will be some people who stumble upon these videos, but I imagine most of the people watching have some connection with me.” Evangelism will be most effective, and most gospel-hearted, when it’s rooted in real relationship.
For this reason, evangelism cannot become detached from who we are as people. God has given every single one of us passions, skills and experiences which equip us for evangelism. Jemima’s background is in sport education, she is passionate about fitness – but also about mental wellbeing. She uses the skills she has for her evangelism to connect with others who have similar interests. Stretch and Pray won’t be of interest to everybody, but it is more effective for this. When we practice evangelism, we shouldn’t try and make meaning for all people at once – we locate ourselves naturally in communities of connected people and offer the good news where we find ourselves.
Holly Adams is Evangelism and Contemporary Culture Officer for the Evangelism and Growth Team.