Digital Discipleship

In one of the first conversations I remember having with Scott Aughtmon, he tried to sell me on the advantages of using sequential autoresponders download evil under the sun

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in ministry. I had no idea what he was talking about, so I smiled and nodded.

Turns out they’re awesome. I wish I had listened to him sooner.

Consider the case of Dick Schroeder. He speaks at retreats and frequently prays with people to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. Over the years, he has put together a series of emails that he sends to people afterwards to coach them from a distance.

One day he asked me if there was a way to automate the process. My mind flashed back to Scott’s enthusiasm for these autoresponder things, so I downloaded a free PHP script called Infinite Responder

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and set up

Now if someone signs up, they begin receiving coaching emails from Dick once a week. Since the messages appear to come from his email address, students can just hit “reply” and ask Dick about anything they found confusing or that they need special advice about. It’s very low-maintenance for him, and Chi Alpha students nationwide get a year’s worth of Dick’s expertise.

Since rolling this out at the World Missions Summit (Jan 1st), we’ve had just over 200 people subscribe to these updates. That works out to about 7 signups a day. I have no idea where the total will cap out, but momentum is building and I don’t even feel that the resource has been thoroughly publicized yet.

Things I like about the tool:

  • Low-tech. geronimo download

    It’s just email. No one has to install a special plugin, put headphones in their computer, or have some insanely fast connection.

  • Personal. The emails come from an actual human being to whom you can respond.
  • Low-maintenance. Once the email is in the database, it’s just there. Neither Dick nor I need to do anything special to send them out. And Dick only gets replies from people who have specific questions, which is only a fraction of the people who receive any given email.

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Pretty cool, eh?

Lately I’ve been wondering what other opportunities are out there. Some ideas that I’ve had:

  • Emails for new believers
  • A “40 days” type campaign for Chi Alpha with daily emails where each campus that chooses to participate picks its own start and stop times and the script takes care of all those details.
  • A first two weeks of school devotional to get students fired up when they return from summer break
  • Coaching emails for people who are called to ministry
  • Monthly emails for Chi Alpha grads to help them make the transition out of college gracefully
  • A term’s worth of weekly emails for people pioneering new Chi Alpha ministries
  • etc,etc

It’s just a matter of finding a person with the right expertise and hooking them up. So if you’ve got an idea, I’d love to hear about it. I’d especially love to hear if you’re a Chi Alpha leader who has content ready to go. I can just run it past Dennis and get that stuff online faster than you can imagine. 😉

5 thoughts on “Digital Discipleship”

  1. Glen,

    That’s so cool! I’m glad to see someone use the idea and prove the concept would work. I’ll see how it goes with the one I set up for our church a couple weeks ago.

  2. This is a beautifully efficient way to automate information flow … but something inside me is throwing a flag on the field.

    I wonder what we have to be more cautious about as a result of increasing efficiency? By streamlining and purchasing effort, do we then have an obligation to be even more intentional about re-investing that time/effort into the mundanity of doing life and spiritual formation? I say this because I’m among the guiltiest of those who chase that dragon. I am haunted by ways I’m falling short in more existential areas, like sharing home-cooked meals or sitting for long spells and talking, waiting for the Spirit to alight upon us and reveal Truth in a way that doesn’t fit into a service schedule or a small group meeting.

    1. I’d have a red flag too if this were a replacement for life-on-life discipleship. But as a supplement, it’s hard to fault. There’s a long and noble Christian tradition of discipleship via letter writing. For that matter, letters comprise a significant percentage of our New Testament. This just takes a classic tool of the church and makes it simpler.

  3. Glen,

    I’d agree with what you said in response to John’s concerns. What you did was automate what Dick Schroeder was already doing. He manually sent out the same emails to each student and addressed them to each one my name. This does the same thing for him, gives the same content, but all automatically. And it still allows people to interact with him through the process, so they have a real person to answer questions, not just an autoresponder.

    I think it’s good that John is bringing this up, because I’m all about Christianity being organic and relational. I don’t think this should ever replace relationships or replace everything we do to disciple people. That would be wrong.

    But in any area where you’re currently sending the same info over and over to the same people, then this can do that for you in a much more effective way that will actually free you up time to do the relational things that John mentions.

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