Digital Parish: Recommended books for digital ministry success

Has there been a book or two that has informed your practice of digital ministry?  In this session of Pastoring in the Digital Parish, we share nine recommended books for digital and online ministry.

Let's get reading with these books to add to your digital ministry toolkit.

The Episode

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Show Notes 

So many books to put in your digital ministry toolkit!

Books in this episode:

(01:52) The Tangible Kingdomby Hugh Halter and Matt Smay

(03:35) God Can't by Thomas Oord

(04:45) Master Content Strategy by Pamela Wilson

(06:06) The Art of Communityby Charles Vogl

(07:32) Contagiousby Jonah Berger

(08:16) How to Handle a Crowd by Anika Gupta

(09:35) Another Way by Stephen Lewis, Matthew Wesley Williams and Dori Grinenko Baker

(11:03) Viral by Leonard Sweet

(12:52) The Startup Community Way by Brad Feld and Ian Hathaway

Here are some online or digital ministry specific titles:

Books we've featured on Pastoring in the Digital Parish:

Ryan Dunn (00:01):

This is Pastoring in the Digital Parish, your resource and point of connection for building digital ministry strategy and bringing your congregation into the digital age.

What are you reading? Has there been a book or two that have informed your practice of digital ministry? 

In this session I’m sharing some recommended books for digital and online ministry.

Many of these come from my own reading. A few come from our community of listeners and contributors. Which, of course, you can jump into this community, too, on Facebook at the Pastoring in the Digital Parish group.

As I made this list of recommendations I imposed a few rules:

First, no books from authors that have already been on the podcast. I’ve assembled a list of all those books, too. They’re viewable in the show notes on this episode. Of course, they’re all recommended, too. They just have already been brought to the light of day here, so I wanted to give some fresh takes.

Second: Nothing too obvious. I could’ve easily said Nonah Jones’ From Social Media to Social Ministry… but that's not something you really need advice to read. Just read it. Right now it’s kind of like the text book for building a digital ministry.

With that mind, I tried to move away from books that are explicitly “how-to’s” on digital ministry. There are several great books in that realm. And I’ll link those in notes as wll… but, again, a search is going to reveal those. I wanted to go beyond the search… and get a bit on the fringe of digital ministry.

So let’s roll with it! Books for your digital ministry toolkit…


I’m going to start “out there” and then tighten the aperture around digital ministry.

So my book that is out there is called “The Tangible Kingdom”. It’s by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. It was published in 2008. So you can figure out that it’s not really into digital ministry. I don’t think Facebook was a pervasive thing yet in 2008… and we didn’t all have smart phones. It was a different age.

Why it’s relevant here, though, is that it invites a missional mindset. This was my gateway drug, so to speak, for thinking about a ministry that moves towards people as opposed to building a ministry that invites people towards it. It’s one of the early books of the missional ministry movement. Which really reframes ministry from asking questions about “how do we get people to show up?” and moves towards asking “How are we showing up for people?”

And so even though this book is older… it poses ideas that are incredibly relevant to today's digital ministry landscape… Because, I’ll tell you, most of the questions I hear asked in the digital ministry world revolve around the “how do we get people to show up?” question. And we probably need to check ourselves back a bit in thinking about how we’re showing up for people–even digitally!

Asking that question moves us towards expressing ministry in some really creative ways. And this book has great stories about that… so it makes for a really entertaining read.


Kind of along the same lines… It comes from community contributor–and recent collaborator Shane Russo. He recommends Thomas Oord’s “God Can’t” because it deals with topics that he finds many of the people he’s meeting through digital ministry are dealing with. Specifically, around the problem of evil, “which I have found is the biggest roadblock for people I meet online.”

In looking at the reviews, one noted that this book was a “one” in terms of difficulty, which is quite impressive considering the topic. 

In terms of moving to where people are, theological books like this are helpful because they act as a form of social listening… where we get a sense of the questions people are actually asking and the kind of content we can create that comes along side them in the midst of their questioning.

Of course, we learned about social listening last season in our episode with Nelson Musonda, titled “Evangelism through social listening.” It’s all about becoming internet trolls of grace! ANYWAYS… The book, again, is “God Can’t” by Thomas Oord.


Let’s talk content! Recommendation number three is “Master Content Strategy” by Pamela Wilson.

I’m so glad we did this episode if for no other reason than that it brought me back to this book… which is really important in my professional line of work… where I am, in essence, a digital content creator.

Bu if you’re in digital ministry, you are a content creator, too. At some point, you are creating pieces of information that people will interact with asynchronously. Stuff that lives in perpetuity in the digital realm.

This book is all about a strategy that organizes the content we create. It provides purpose behind it. It helps us clarify who it’s for. And it helps us decipher where it lives.

Do you feel like there’s a map or purpose behind the content you create? This book really helps to flesh out a sense of purpose and direction in setting a relationship map for the people we’re reaching in digital ministry.

Again, it’s “Master Content Strategy” by Pamela Wilson.


Both a community recommendation and one that I can vouch for: “The Art of Community” by Charles Vogl.

I’ve witnessed a resistance to creating and cultivating a specific culture of community within the church. And this resistance comes from a good place: we don’t want to turn people off or make them feel like outsiders. This is good, because everyone has a place in the kingdom of God. 

However, communities actually thrive on definition. So the trick for us, as commencers of community, revolves around creating access for new initiates or community members.

For example, how accessible do we make the rituals of our community for new people? Rituals are part of community life… and there’s good chance that your community has rituals. We don’t need to move away from these rituals. Our challenge instead is to make them easily understandable and accessible.

Vogl’s book shares several ideas regarding what builds a community’s identity and how we make these communities accessible to the uninitiated. It’s super-useful stuff.

And I got a big kick out of trying to discern the ways we can translate our community rituals into virtual or digital space.

So, again, that’s “The Art of Community” by Charles Vogl.


This one comes from our community: specifically, Jessica Blackwood. It’s called “Contagious” and it’s by Jonah Berger.

Says Jessica: “I find it fascinating why some things take off and others don’t. Contagious speaks to how and why some ideas catch fire and others burn out. I use it as a grounding book when I move too far away from practical ministry.”

The lesson here, I suspect is providing people with a sense that they are in on something. What makes an idea, product or community contagious is that people have a wish to bring others in on the item or community as well.

I’m going to have to take a look at it…


“How to Handle a Crowd” by Anika Gupta. The premise of the book is this: Anika Gupta interviewed a bunch of social media community moderators and admins.

What we get are some great stories about how to get people engaged and talking in digital spaces, how to navigate conflict and arguments, and some awesome inspiration around the kinds of groups that draw people together. Did you know that there’s a whole vibrant online community that centers around sharing City Planning and Mass Transit memes? Awesome right? Certainly there’s room for our crazy community ideas…

ALSO we get an idea of how we can utilize the MMO Games we play to connect with people… and even, the YouTube comments section. All kinds of little gems in there… OH, and a look at some fetish community… there’s nothing explicit discussed, and you can always skip that chapter. Although it has a lot to teach regarding the life cycles of some online communities.

We’re up to NUMBER 7:

It’s another community recommendation, it’s called: “Another Way: Living and Leading Change on Purpose” by Stephen Lewis, Matthew Wesley Williams, Dori Grinenko Baker. I always am amazed at how people are able to collaborate on books like this… that’s quite a list on this one. And, incidentally, Dori Baker was my professor for a youth ministry class way back in the early aughts up at Garrett Seminary. Her earlier book, Girlfriend Theology, is definitely niched. BUT, I found the story-development process that it describes to be universally inimitable. I, actually, we utilized it at some youth retreats that culminated in young people developing and sharing some inspirational testimonies.

I suspect that this same kind of story development is at work in the “Another Way” book. One reader noted the book is a collection of enlightening exercises for leadership and visioning. 

The book definitely invites us back into considerations about hospitality, which I’m finding is increasingly important in digital ministry. Since we generally have so many entry points in the digital world, it’s hard to identify a process through which people get immersed in the the culture of our community. This book may provide some exercises for imagining our own paths through that process.


“Viral” by Leonard Sweet. My goodness, you want to know a human being who can put away a serious amount of coffee… it is Leonard Sweet. He did some consulting for a church I served with, and I found myself somewhat stunned by the his ability to double-fist Starbucks Venti’s with extra shots… Maybe that was just a season in his life. But it also helps explain his significant intellectual output. It’s funny though, because when you hear him talk he doesn’t strike you as someone humming on a boatload of caffeine.

ANYWAYS, the book:  Simply put, this provides clarity around the the ins and outs of digital relationship building–especially across generations.

Len Sweet, here, separates people into two categories: Guttenburgers and Googlers. And then he notes the values and assumptions of each category.

I feel like there’s a lot of psychological qualification in this book. Especially around what it is that “hits” in digital spaces… and Dr. Sweet sums it up really well in this quote “They want to share life with others. They do not seek a spirituality that escapes the flesh and blood.”

The idea here is that digital spaces become avenues for us to share life with one another. 

I guess it’s kind of the bridge between the Tangible Kingdom and books like “Contagious”… Our challenge/calling as digital ministers is to create avenues for individuals to share life with disciples.

Alright, last book on our list is another community recommendation. I think I pulled this one from community member and collaborator Nathan Webb. It’s NUMBER 9. It’s called “The Startup Community Way: Evolving an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem” by Brad Feld and Ian Hathaway.

The key to starting a start-up company, it seems, is to start with community. And, of course, that’s what we’re concerned with, as well.

The book seems to expend quite a bit of energy on building trust amidst a community. And, again, I think that’s relevant for our sphere of work as well. As we endeavor to build communities of faith that have to overcome a trust problem. For those outside our faith communities, trust is an issue. The popular narrative of faith communities is that they’ve abused trust. We have reports of abuse cover-ups, of misappropriations of funds… really all kinds of harms being perpetrated.

Establishing trust is a key component for overcoming that narrative and drawing people into relationship with our communities. 

So let’s get reading and let’s get to work. I’ve found some more books to add to my reading list through process, hope that you have, as well.

Don’t forget to keep listening, too! The Pastoring in the Digital Parish podcast is full of ideas and stories for expanding your online community.

A good follow up episode to this one is Understanding our online behavior with Dr. Kelly Price. That was released in December of 2021. Season 2, I believe. Also, way back in season 1, in June of 2021 to be exact… we did an episode called the WHY of continuing in digital ministry with Wil Ranney. It’s good to go back to reasons of what we do.

Again, I’m Ryan Dunn. I’d like to thank,  the online destination for leaders throughout The United Methodist Church. They make this podcast possible. And of course, they host our website:, where you can find more online resources for ministry.

If you want to connect: check out our Pastoring in the Digital Parish group on Facebook. You can also send me questions and ideas for future sessions at [email protected]

Another session comes next week. In the meantime: Peace!

On this episode

Ryan Dunn, co-host and producer of the Compass Podcast

Our proctor/host is the Rev. Ryan Dunn, a Minister of Online Engagement for United Methodist Communications. Ryan manages the digital brand presence of Rethink Church, co-hosts and produces the Compass Podcast, manages his personal brand, and obsesses with finding ways to offer new expression of grace.