In some ways we’ve had two different deputation experiences this time in Australia. We’ve had the face-to-face church visit and the digital church visit. As I reflect on what the digital church visit is like, you’ll hopefully get a sense of how it was different for us compared to face-to-face.
On the positives of digital deputation, a zoom or similar format allows both spouses to be able to attend instead of one having to stay home with the kids. Further, zoom provides an interesting format for seminars or Q&A, where people can write their questions. I think we got onto a good format when we had someone fielding the questions and then asking us, like a host. The now normality of zoom or team catch ups means that there can be many meetings without having to travel and that are easily organised. This is helpful when partner churches are a fair distance and enables conversations without travel. It even allows you to be in two places at once, with a pre-recorded sermon for two different churches. The other thing we found about the digital side of things is that signing up for prayer letters online is easier, as people are already on the device and can sign up while the session is on (especially if you allow extra time for this).
On the other side, the negative, it is easy to get zoom exhaustion, feeling “zoomed out”. Over the screen, there is much more energy required for various reasons that is different from when you’re in person. There’s less feedback and you’re always feeling ‘on’. Basically you pour a lot more energy in and don’t get it back in the same way. The technology can be distracting, when there are sound or video issues, or the device is low on battery. The other thing we missed was the chats that occur before and after events, which are much easier to do as you’re milling in person, than milling online. Night zoom seminars means that you’re on screens till late and its harder than Bible study till late because of the screen lighting. Digitally we can’t see as many people as we could in person so we miss out on encouragement and those without technology miss out too. This also occurs because you have to keep things much shorter online as people can only handle so much on a screen, so our sharing is condensed.
With those positives and negatives, I hope next deputation we’ll be able to do it all in person. Though I’m thankful for the technology that enabled digital deputation, in the place of what would have been nothing during COVID. We certainly couldn’t have done this 10 years ago.