2020’s Unseen Wake-up Calls

Lessons the Church Missed and the Next Generation Won't Forget

January 22, 2024

In 2020, God offered a lifeline to the church to prevent the loss of the coming generations. However, I believe we learned all the wrong things.

In 2019, my wife, Jenn, and I wrestled with a new calling God was placing on our lives: To plant a fully digital church for people who would rather go to Hell than walk through the doors of a traditional church.

I have been a gamer and nerd in every form for as long as I can remember. And despite being a Christian for more than 20 years (since the age of eight), there were millions of gamers like me far from God, unlikely to seek truth within church walls.

With platforms like Twitch.tv pulling in more than 100,000,000 people a month, watching live streamers broadcast their worldview 24/7, we recognized this community’s need for a church.

In the heart of the 2020 pandemic, we left a church we loved and served for more than 10 years to launch Lux Digital Church, a fully digital church expression that reaches people where they are.

On March 23, 2021, Lux Digital Church held its first live service on Twitch. And since then, we have seen thousands of people reached with the gospel of Jesus, impacting and transforming hundreds of lives.

To provide context, our church sees about 80 people each week in our live service, and in 2023, we saw more than 61,000 messages sent during a live stream. We have more than 700 people in our Discord server, spending more than 4,000 hours in small groups and community gatherings collectively in 2023.

Over the past three years, we have cracked the code for digital engagement, discipleship, and community in a profound way, and we have learned a few things along the way. Here are three things that I believe the church was intended to learn in 2020 about digital space and its importance for reaching Gen Z and beyond!

1. Digital space isn’t about the platform. 

Digital space is an invitation to relationship and discipleship-first ministry. When most of us think about the online world, we focus on the opportunity for reach, viral videos, and building a brand. Instead of launching Lux with a marketing campaign, we embraced the mission to meet people where they are, hear their stories, and minister to them. We discovered hundreds of people with stories and spiritual journeys similar to ours. Instead of trying to grow a following, we met on Zoom calls and Discord to build relationships. Rather than increasing our social media presence, we started discipling people. In 2020, as all our relationships went online, the church continued to view digital space as a platform. It’s not. It’s the most powerful relationship-building tool we have at our disposal.

Every pastor knows that ministry happens through relationships, but when it comes to digital spaces, we forget that and focus on building a platform rather than relationships. The next generations do not come to digital spaces simply to consume. They come to connect. Their digital relationships are as valid to them as their physical ones. We must stop thinking of digital space as a place to build our brand, platform, or church and instead see it for what it is – an invitation to build relationships and disciple people in new and profoundly impactful ways!

2. Digital space is a two-way street. 

When I came home from middle school, I would jump on our computer, dial into the internet, and log onto AOL Instant Messenger. People from school would be more open with me about their problems through AIM than they would ever be in person. I saw my 30-minute allowance of computer time after school as a ministry opportunity to help people who needed to talk. The same holds true today. While the church often sees the digital world as a one-way street – an opportunity to tell our story – we get frustrated when people do not engage or have their lives impacted by our one-way content. However, no one has ever written under a Trunk or Treat flyer on a church bulletin board that their life was changed by the graphic design on the poster.

We miss the fact that digital space is not a one-way street. It’s a two-way street. The most powerful and important part of digital space is not that you can tell your story, but that you can hear anyone’s story, from any place on the planet, at any moment in time. If our social media, streaming, and online ministry teams stopped using only one side of the digital street and instead looked for every opportunity to open and use the other side, it would completely transform how we see our online presence.

3. The coming generations are hybrid and holistic. 

Gen Z and beyond embody a hybrid and holistic nature, signifying their diverse attributes and interconnected existence. In contrast, my generation is hybrid, but tends to be dualistic. I distinctly recall the introduction of the internet, a time when I engaged in shaping a somewhat idealized version of myself online. The allure of anonymity tempted me to adopt a persona inconsistent with my character, whether in gaming or interacting in chat rooms. If you can reminisce about the early days of the internet, you likely share this hybrid, but dualistic characteristic with me.

This duality implies that we are all digital and physical beings. Consider your use of a phone, reading this text online, or responding to emails – examples of digital tools seamlessly integrated into our daily lives. Conversations and relationships formed through these digital means are no less valid than those in the physical realm. If an employee commits to a task via email, you wouldn’t accept the excuse, “Well, my commitment was digital, so it doesn’t count.” We all exist as hybrid beings, experiencing a mental division between digital and physical spaces, a split that the coming generations do not share.

For the emerging generations, their hybrid nature implies being comprised of various elements, while also being holistic, defying a straightforward description by the interconnected facets of their identity. In essence, their digital and physical presence is indivisibly intertwined.

Unlike my generation, profoundly impacted by the advent of the internet, the coming generations can’t fathom a life without high-speed internet. To them, it’s not a mere creation but an integral force, occupying a mental space previously reserved for elemental forces like wind, earth, and fire.

As my two young daughters navigate their formative years, platforms like YouTube play a role in their self-discovery, learning alongside them. They are destined to lead lives seamlessly transitioning between digital and physical realities. To effectively connect with them, the church must adopt a mindset that is both hybrid and holistic.

In conclusion, we have missed the point of 2020, learning all the wrong lessons.

Digital space isn’t about reach. It’s about life-on-life discipleship and transformation.

Digital space isn’t about reach. It’s about life-on-life discipleship and transformation. All the skills developed in ministry are as applicable online as they are in person. We just have different tools in the toolbelt. If we don’t realize that the internet has changed our world in an irreversible way, we will continue to distance ourselves from future generations, becoming less relevant in their pursuit of truth.

Just because you don’t like the internet does not mean it will stop being the single most powerful influence shaping the worldview and lives of the coming generations. Digital space isn’t about what boomers, Gen Xers, or even millennials think about it. The coming generations use it differently. It’s not a tool, it’s one of the various places they live and walk between.

If you want to know the best place to start, go back to the drawing board. Put everything you do online on that board and then ask how you can start opening spaces to use the other side of the street. Start from a relationship-first mindset instead of a platform-first mindset. Finally, stop obsessing over what makes you uncomfortable and realize that the coming generations will depend on you abandoning your dualistic view of digital space for something far more beautiful and holistic.

The Kingdom of God is alive and well online. I live there every day. I hope you will come and join me!

Mark Lutz

Mark Lutz

Mark and his wife, Jenn, call the outskirts of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania home, where they live with their two daughters, Brooklyn and Aria. Mark is the lead pastor and founder at Lux Digital Church, a fully digital church expression that exists on platforms like Twitch and Discord. Mark's desire is to help the church connect with the next generations, especially those who will never step into a traditional church building.
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