Building a Platform, or Making Digital Disciples?

Today’s post from Stephanie Smith is part of the blog series Discipleship: Re-Imagining Our Calling From Christ. To receive future posts from the series in your inbox head HERE. Engage with the writers and community of readers using the hashtag #DiscipleshipBlog.

train platform cyclingThere are two ways Christians talk about following.

One is an ancient call, as ancient as it is simple: “Follow me,” and, “Make disciples of all nations.”

The other is a modern imperative, riding the waves of the advent of social media: “How many followers do you have?” and, “You need to build your platform. You need to build a following.” If you’re reading this, if you’ve ever so much as set a toe in the Christian blogosphere, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

As a Christ-follower who works in the publishing industry, I’m a big believer in both. I wholeheartedly believe that these two modes of following can function beautifully together, when we follow Christ and usher others into His presence through whatever skills or tools we have at hand—which may meaningfully include social media. If Jesus can use loaves and fishes, mud and spit, water vessels at a wedding, He can most certainly use 140 characters as portals of His grace. After all, a platform, as Ann Voskamp says, is really just an upside-down altar. When used in this way, a digital following can be a powerful and beautiful thing.

In fact, this is the very template Paul gives us for making disciples: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Of course, the call to follow Jesus and the pull to enhance one’s own following can also work strikingly at odds.

So what makes the difference? How do we know if we’re building a digital following or if we’re making digital disciples?

The first step, I think, in making disciples has nothing to do with human relationships. Rather, it begins in isolation. In a quiet place where no one is watching, where you fill yourself with the good gifts of God, where you drink in His love and truth, where you linger in His presence.

Then, when you go online, on stage, on call, you have something to give. Because when you yourself are first and foremost a disciple being made and re-made in the image of Christ, that’s when you can likewise go and make disciples.

But if we lose this quiet communion, our own personal formation behind the scenes, our disciple-making efforts will become dysfunctional.

It starts when we begin to trade that quiet communion for checking our @ replies on Twitter, when we exchange our prayer time for scoping out what people are saying about us within the wide corners of the web. When we become so busy polishing our public image that we forget to spend time with the One in whose image we are created.

So here’s my appeal, as much to myself as for you: Please do make disciples—digital and otherwise, of all nations and of all corners of the web. But first, be a disciple—both when no one’s watching and when they are.

Stephanie S. Smith is the web managing editor for Barna Group, formerly an editor at RELEVANT Media Group, and generally addicted to print and pixels. She lives with her husband in Orlando, FL, and you can find her on Twitter @stephindialogue and at