It’s Time to Dramatically Change the Way We Think About Missions

It’s Time to Dramatically Change the Way We Think About Missions

The digital revolution has changed everything we know about mission strategy. If you’re not familiar with missions movements, we’ve arrived at an interesting place that calls for strategic efforts. Here’s a quick overview…

Since the Victorian age, missionaries from Western countries (particularly the United Kingdom and the United States) have shouldered the largest burden when it comes to missions. Men and woman like Hudson TaylorWilliam Carey, and Lottie Moon not only pioneered the work of the gospel, but actually impacted the greater culture in the countries they served.

The idea of sending missionaries from the West to reach those in other countries made a powerful impact, but at a great cost. The sheer expense of training a Western missionary, teaching them the language, funding the trip, paying their living expenses, and more can be great.

That and other challenges eventually led to what I consider “Phase II” of missions, which was raising up local Christians to work in their own countries. After all these indigenous missionaries were already in-country, and they knew the community, the language, and the customs.

And now, an even greater revolution is taking place in missions.

It’s no surprise that the digital revolution, accelerated by the challenges presented by COVID-19, has created immense opportunities on the global mission field. In 2021, the number of smartphone users in the world reached 6.378 billion, which translates to 80.63% of the world’s population. The opportunity to share the gospel via live-streaming, online video, social media, web content and more is absolutely enormous.

But with that increased opportunity comes the necessity to train a new generation to reach the world through ever evolving and ever-increasing digital platforms. I’ve often said that seminaries and Bible schools generally do a great job of teaching pastors and church leaders about preaching, teaching the Bible, and how to lead a church, but they fall woefully short when it comes to sharing the gospel via media and digital communication.

We launched The Influence Lab for that purpose. Through partnerships with Christian media organizations around the world, as well as international broadcast media platforms, we are attempting to create a global network for training the next generation of Christian media professionals – pastors, ministry leaders and their media and communications teams – to share the most important story of all, the good news of Jesus Christ.

The need is greater than you might imagine. At any moment, I have multiple requests on my desk from churches and ministry organizations around the world asking us to come teach on media and communication. Our recent trip to Italy was a prime example.

Sabaoth Church in Milan leads a network of 75 churches across Italy and Eastern Europe. Kathleen and I spoke at their annual conference which included a special media and communication session. We also conducted training for their School of Missions called “Hanger 28” (like a plane hangar, it builds leaders who can fly). I was particularly impressed with this vibrant church that is focused on reaching the media-driven generation.

Certainly many churches, ministries, and their leaders have a social media presence, but are we really thinking deeply about how we can engage this new “digital mission field” with our message? Other than trying to amp up our “likes,” how many organizations have a strategic plan for global evangelism through social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or through emerging digital tools?

While we should continue to mobilize and equip traditional and indigenous missionaries, I also believe it’s time to shift from primarily thinking about missions in terms of geographical boundaries and start thinking in terms of digital boundaries. From my perspective, that’s a massive audience just waiting to hear our message.

-Phil Cooke

P.S. I invite you to partner with the work of The Influence Lab and consider a special year-end gift. Your support helps us train churches in countries like Italy and Russia and South Africa with pastors who yearn for the “know-how” to navigate the digital age and to do it effectively.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: The need to share our message never changes, but how we share it does. This is the moment to embrace the digital world. Give now.

Want to know more? Read also: The Influence Lab Earns Guidestar’s 2021 Silver Seal of Transparency

Italy and Turkey – A Long Awaited Trip During the Pandemic

Italy and Turkey – A Long Awaited Trip During the Pandemic

When the pandemic began in March 2020, one of the nations it struck hardest was Italy. Phil and I were booked to speak in Milan that year, but with the country on lockdown, our trip was cancelled. We were pleased to finally reschedule for late October this year and experience first-hand that God is alive and well in His Church in Italy.

Under the leadership of Pastor Roselem Boerner Faccio, Sabaoth Church is thriving in Milan. The city is known as one of the top global fashion and design cities in the world and Sabaoth’s congregation is infused with an abundance of creativity. They have tapped into the Source of all creativity, our Creator God, and the church has been blessed to an overflowing community of talented artists.

Phil and I were honored to speak to these artists, designers and leaders (mostly 20-40 year-olds) who are passionate to personally know God more fully and tell others of His love and redemptive life. This thriving young church understands that to reach this next generation it must include the use of effective media.

Phil spoke to their Bible training school, Hanger28, and then both he and I spoke at multiple sessions of Sabaoth’s annual gathering called Conference One. While the 1000 seat auditorium was still under governmental restrictive use, 300 people were able to attend in person with over 1500 viewing online.

Phil spoke on leadership and the practical use of media, messaging and branding, as well as on how to effectively connect with people in the digital age. I brought insights on understanding and communicating to multi-generations: the boomers, millennials and iGens who now use media 24/7. If we want to reach the culture with the love and gospel of Jesus we must understand what they see and hear and have a firm grasp on what will resonate with their thinking.

It was then off to Istanbul, Turkey for five days as we toured the city’s rich historical and religious sites. While there, we connected with a group working with business leaders and students and shared at their gathering. We gave them tips on the best use of digital media while letting the light and love of God shine forth when asked questions. It was an interesting social climate as those working in this underground grass roots ministry constantly reminded us that the group was being watched and listened to and that their class could be shut down at any moment.

For Phil and I, it was a good reminder of how blessed we are to live in a country that still allows for freedom of faith and thought, while people in other nations live in fear. One of the only ways to reach out to those seeking the truth of God in these religiously restrained countries is through media. It’s why training and encouraging those working in these restricted countries is so vital.

Traveling globally with the ongoing pandemic was a challenge. Yet, the joy of sharing and teaching on the frontlines in other countries was joyous and rewarding. The need to teach and train leaders with the effective use of media continues to be great and never ending as we are constantly asked, “When can you come?”

Phil and I and the entire Influence Lab team are always blessed when we hear from you and are encouraged by your prayers and support for us. We are so very grateful. Our pray for you this New Year, 2022, is that God will bring you joy and continue to bless your coming and going as we all seek to see Jesus lifted high and His Kingdom flourish. -Kathleen Cooke

Your partnership makes a difference! Consider a year-end gift to The Influence Lab and help us continue to meet the need for training leaders to use digital media effectively to share the gospel. The gospel message never changes, but in this digital age, how we share it does. Give here.

Special offer! As a thank you for your generous partnership of $25.00 or more to The Influence Lab, you’ll have your choice of these books by Phil and Kathleen Cooke:
Maximize Your Influence: How to Make Digital Media Work for Your Church, Your Ministry, and You
Hope 4 Today: Stay Connected to God in a Distracted Culture (New paperback edition!)
Unique: The Ultimate Planner for Creative Professionals
Give your gift today!