This week on ChurchPulse Weekly, Jo Saxton (author, speaker and entrepreneurial coach) joins Carey Nieuwhof to talk about making space for meaningful relationships in a digital age. She shares about the possibilities and limitations of digital discipleship, the unique impact the pandemic has had on women and how the pandemic has shaped her own relationships.
On Digital Discipleship
Recent Barna data show that three in four Christians (72%) say they would be interested if Christian churches in their community offered preaching and programs around relational well-being.
Saxton believes digital discipleship is possible, even with some of the limitations that it comes with. She notes, “You do [digital discipleship] when you have to. If you can talk about authenticity and share some life space, I think there’s something you can do. Do I think that it’s a replacement? No, but I think it can go a long way.”
She has found that gathering in the digital space takes a lot more intentionality, sharing, “When I think of the last couple of years, the overriding sense has just been trying to connect through the tiredness and trying to connect when you are tired of connecting digitally. It has been a discipline […] The texture of the conversation has been the biggest change, because no one’s gone anywhere to say where they’ve gone.”
While there’s a lot she sees as possible within the digital realm, she still finds the apprenticeship model to be lacking there as a key aspect of discipleship. She says, “In Greek, it’s mathitis, meaning “student” or “apprentice”. How do you apprentice someone digitally?”
On Creating Spaces after the Pandemic
Saxton describes how churches will need to reconsider the physical elements of their gathering spaces as more and more people return to in-person services.
She says, “What does it look like to create spaces? What do our lobbies or foyers […] look like? And how does it help people gather in ways which aren’t crushed, but help them see people face to face in some way?”
Pointing out the particular need for hospitality towards newcomers, she notes, “Welcome will be really important for our gathering spaces, particularly if people who we’ve drawn and connected with online do decide […] to enter through the doorway. We can’t have business as usual on that.”
At the same time, she is cautious about the ways that people will be wary to return to large gatherings, saying, “I think we will have to think through how we sit, how we have rooms that maybe have space for groups of five, 20 or more.”
She continues, “What does it look like to have some room? I know of certain churches that are multiplying their services, not only because they’ve grown, but also because people […] feel edgy with the number of people in the room.”
On the Pandemic’s Impact on Women
Barna surveys among churchgoing U.S. adults find that women are significantly less likely than men to agree they feel connected to their church community when they attend church digitally (71% women vs. 80% men who had attended church digitally).
Saxton addresses some of the other ways women have been uniquely impacted by the pandemic, noting, “It was the pressure of taking care of parents at a distance who were lonely and isolated, taking care of children, all of us suddenly becoming teachers. […] Navigating that whilst trying to hold down a job, whilst knowing the chronic uncertainty that we’ve all lived with, but having this disproportionate impact as well within their jobs.”
For church leaders looking to support the unique needs of women throughout this time, she suggests, “One of the first [actions] we could do is spend time listening to the women in our community–the single women, the different generations–and say, “Tell me your story. What’s the story of your experience this year?” […] We’ll hear some distinctions about where the greatest pressure points are.”
Saxton also sees this as an area where the church can meet the needs of their community. She asks, “When we think of the whole area of childcare and support, what can we be providing? What’s feasible? What’s realistic with our spaces? How do we partner with the local community in that area? […] What does it look like to support back to work, resume building? […] Those things could help families in significant ways.”
About the Research
Barna Cities: The data shown above is based on a representative sample of 2,007 interviews with U.S. adults, ages 18 or older. The interviews were conducted online from April 23 to May 5, 2021. The margin of error is +/- 2.0 percent at the 95-percent confidence level.
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2021