When onsite worship services resumed after the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, a first-time visitor shared with Rev Raymond Fong, Pastor-In-Charge Wesley Methodist Church, that he recognised him from the online videos he had been following. The sermons had brought him closer to Jesus and his life was changed “because of Wesley’s livestreamed services!”
This is one of the reasons why Digital Wesley was launched. The hybrid launch event “re:Imagine – Christianity in the Digital World” was attended by more than 500 people, of which over 100 were onsite and close to 400 participated via livestream. It comprised both a “tech talk” with a panel discussion, and the official launch of Digital Wesley.
Digital Wesley was the culmination of two years’ prayer, effort and deliberation on how we could continue extending, enriching and enhancing the Church’s mission to make disciples. While the genesis was a practical question of how the Church could be brought to those unable to attend in person, it developed into thinking deeply about reaching those who are better reached via digital space.
Pastor Ray, as Pastor Raymond is fondly addressed, reflected that this was no different from the mission of John Wesley, the father of Methodism who brought the gospel to thousands outside the physical church – those who needed it most.
As John Wesley said, “The world is my parish”. The digital world is now Digital Wesley’s and the church’s parish.
In his keynote address, Mr Edric Sng, founder and editor of Salt & Light and Thirst Collective, highlighted the pervasiveness of technologies into every aspect of daily living. “Digital has impacted and infiltrated all realms of life,” he said. “What about the Church?”
Edric challenged the Church to align what it “should do” (its core purpose and what is of first importance) with the “could do” (gifts, talents, resources with digital innovations) and “would do” (spiritual direction, passion, inclination) to fill the gaps in discipleship and outreach through digital means.
“Be not shackled but open our minds to the [things of] core and first importance, and do them.” Edric focused on the principle of first importance as expressed in 1 Corinthians 15:1–3, that is the gospel of salvation, “that Christ died for our sins.” Technologies allow the universally essential gospel to be proclaimed to more people, and with the confluence of giftings in the Church, that can be uniquely expressed in digital space.
“The message doesn’t change, but the medium can change,” said Rev Chris Lee, Vicar of St Saviour’s Church, UK, and popular influencer on social media. He reminded us that we are missional people called in the Great Commission to make disciples (Matthew 28).
When his following grew exponentially, Rev Chris prompt to use the reach to speak the gospel to his 180,000 followers. Through short 60-second sermon videos, he tries to get people “to think about the gospel and shine a light in this digital age.” He claimed that despite known issues and concerns, social media offers tremendous opportunities in missions.
He likened social media to the Areopagus in the city of Athens, where many gathered and where the apostle Paul proclaimed the gospel (Acts 17). “We are to build boats and nets, and go to where the people are,” said Rev Chris, and “be fishers of men.” Every individual of the Church could and should engage in digital mission.
“God’s call for us is to bring an unchanging gospel to our changing generation,” said Mr Simon Seow, co-founder of Indigitous and Senior Digital Strategist at Cru. He shared the stories of those who have found their place in the digital mission field and those whose lives have been changed.
“The online church in the Middle East has more than 200 million followers on their Facebook page and 850,000 views on their YouTube channel,” shared Simon. Bringing the point home, he highlighted that “behind the number is a person who needs God and is hungry for truth.”
Simon emphasised that we need to bring the gospel to where the people are, and to reach those that no one else has reached, we must do what no one else is doing. Quoting Pastor Ray Davis, he shared that “relational or social connectivity is the present-day equivalent of the compass; it has opened up the world to every disciple.”
Ms Abigail Tan, Head of Operations at Endowus, paralleled Digital Wesley’s mission to how technologies have led to better and fairer services provided by Fintech companies.
She also highlighted three principles from her experiences in Fintech startups. The first is to be “radically generous” in placing due consideration for the needs and care of those that the Church engages and ministers to. The second is seeking to reach the unreached and demonstrate God’s love in doing so. The third principle is the undertaking has to be carried out for the long term as it is a testimony of the Church as well.
At the final segment of the event, all four speakers fielded questions in a lively Q&A session hosted by Mr Charis Lim, Chairperson of Digital Wesley ministry. The queries were varied, raised by attendees from a wide range of professions and across different seasons in life—from students to retirees, homemakers to IT professionals and business owners, full-time church staff and “available and awaiting God’s direction.”
In wrapping up the evening’s event, Edric said that “no one is gifted to do everything” but everyone should get involved as a start. Simon added that “everybody can do something and God has called us to be onboard,” while Abigail encouraged all to embrace digital and “start with the community that Digital Wesley is trying to build.”
Gracefully acceding to an impromptu request for a 60-second sermon, Rev Chris reminded all that God loves us and “our identity is found in Christ,” not contingent on likes or success. “We also have a God who is creative. Ask ourselves how we could also be creative. Use it for His glory and we’ll see great things come.”
The reception of Wesley’s online streaming services that Pastor Ray shared is testament to relevance today. The event was a milestone for Digital Wesley and well-received. Hear from our some of the participants:
“It was truly a Spirit-lead session of individuals willing to embrace Digital Outreach as the newest talent for spreading His Word. Young people today are looking for relevance and authenticity in the digital world of the future, and we need to communicate and evangelise within their dimension.” ~ Stephen Fong
“Shared with my Small Group! Lots of great insights applicable to other aspects of my ministry and work! I kept ‘rewinding’ to be amazed by the testimonies.” ~ Jess K
“Thanks for the digital webinar tonight. It comes timely to help in giving Christ to the Gen Z population during this hi-tech era.” ~ Pauline Lim
“Amazing talks and panel. Called to reimagine what the calling is for us and for the church.” ~ Stanley Lim
The common, unwavering message was clear: everyone can and should play a part the Church’s digital community. And the quote from John Wesley, shared by Edric during his address, remains relevant to everyone in the community:
Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
~ John Wesley
If you have missed the event or would like to watch it again, the video recording is accessible on YouTube via the following link: https://youtube.com/live/RylC062M-zs
Photos by Gaius Ho.