The first Digital Discipleship Conference (DDC) in New Zealand took place this past weekend in Auckland with over 150 people in attendance.

With the aim to inspire and empower churches and individuals to both be and create digital disciples, the weekend brought generations together to create a community of people passionate about using technology and the digital space to share their faith.

“This is the first church-organised conference here in NZ that has provided practical skills and tools I can use in my work and life.” Maranata Fidow commented.

This conference was the New Zealand take on the popular Australian Digital Discipleship Conference. During her keynote presentation on Friday night, Rachel Lemons Aitken, the founder of DDC, challenged everyone to dream big as they explored what they could achieve in the digital space. “The digital discipleship movement,” said Mrs Lemons Aitken, “reminds us that God has given us permission to dream, and to use our creative and technical expertise and talents to reach people for Him”.

The conference theme centred around storytelling which was unpacked in many different ways. For example, it was creatively explored by Pastor Tulaga Aiolupotea who showcased through his passion for graffiti that your identity, seen through your passions, helps to tell your story. Pastor Shane Harper shared the importance of traditional stories within a Māori context with images, story-telling and art.

Senior Human Rights Communications and Media Advisor, Andre Afamasaga, tackled the question of how Christians should share their beliefs, and opinions on social media, in this age of heightened political divisiveness, where people only like to receive short communications. He concluded that while social media has exacerbated opportunities for divisiveness, the online platforms only gives believers a new platform to reflect the inner workings of their heart.

“If hate and fear are already in our hearts then it will simply pour out online.”  Left unchecked, Mr Afamasaga warned, Christians who are motivated by fear are susceptible to “othering” and demonising fellow humans.

With the call to dream big, network with other creative people, talk about new possibilities and learn more about how the digital space works, the conference was buzzing as a new community of digital disciples emerged.

Some came to learn as beginners, while others like Pastor Maika Peehikuru, with a background in IT, was pleased to get some relevant insights and tips on “Putting your church on the map” by presenter and digital marketer Laura Hutchinson.

Pastors Jesse Herford and Joshua Stothers, creators of the Burn the Haystack podcast, brought their uniqueness to the conference as the hosts. Chaplain Keira Bullock and musician Jay Okesene brought praise and worship in such an impactful way, making the conference about more than technology by keeping our focus on our creator God.

Both New Zealand Union President Pr Eddie Tupa’i and North New Zealand Conference Lead Pastor Ben Timothy attended and were pleased to see such a strong commitment among the attendees towards sharing their faith in a digital world.

When Pr Victor Kulakov, Discipleship Ministries Leader for the New Zealand Union, closed the conference with an invite to dream big, he also announced that next year’s Digital Discipleship Conference was already in the calendar.

As one of the main organisers, Pr Kulakov shared that this weekend was back to front!  “This conference came about” reflected Pastor Kulakov afterwards, “because several people contacted the Union expressing a need. Adventists in NZ were looking for space to explore digital platforms for means of discipleship. And as such, it was a learning curve for the organisers with such a diverse skillset among the attendees.”

“It was exciting to see the expansion of the Digital Discipleship movement through the establishment of the first Digital Discipleship Conference in NZ,” said founder Mrs Lemon-Aitken. “We look forward to hearing stories of how members and churches have been impacted by it.”

Attendees left looking forward to the next DDC. This was not merely a one-off, but the start of a new community of digital practitioners.

Save the date for the next Digital Discipleship Conference in Auckland on 7-9 Aug 2020; registration and more information will follow.

For more photos and to join the growing community of digital disciples, join the Facebook group – Digital Discipleship in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in New Zealand.

By Kirsten Øster Lundqvist