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Connecting With the Disconnected Connected

Chris Brogan on Church Online

Chris Brogan on Church Online

I was quite fascinated today to read Chris Brogan’s take on online campuses like that of LifeChurch.tv. Within Christianity, critics come out of the woodwork to debate the pro’s and con’s of “doing church online.”

Here at Saddleback we have an online campus where people gather to listen and discuss the live service, and we’ve been talking and brainstorming about how to do it with excellence. Quite a few folks have asked what I think about it all, so I wanted to throw out my thoughts in a somewhat random order, but leading to a bold and clear conclusion…

  1. Online campuses are expensive, when done well.
  2. It’s hard to connect people in a deep and meaningful way through an online campus… hard, but not impossible.
  3. For most of you who read this, who are part of a physical flock, “online church” will just never be “church” to you, and that’s okay.
  4. There is an enormous opportunity, in a wired up world, to connect the disconnected (spiritually), who are connected (electronically) to Jesus Christ.

Therefore… it’s worth the expense. It’s worth overcoming the challenge of how to provide deep and meaningful relationships. And even though it may not feel like “church” to you, online campuses are fulfilling the great commission. There are lost people online who need to be found, and if any realm could use a saturation of the gospel, it’s the social web.

So… stop sitting around debating it. Stop complaining about it. Stop talking about how it “just isn’t church.”

Start praying for people who will never set foot in your brick-and-mortar auditorium to find Christ in some other way, and start praying for those who are essentially modern missionaries to an online world.

Online church campuses are in the infancy of their ministry. There are plenty of questions to answer and problems to solve, but for me, I thank God for a growing online witness.

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  • http://tomjamieson.wordpress.com Tom Jamieson

    Good word! I definitely pray about this already and am seeking God’s will for our church in this arena. May God’s Word always overcome our obstacles! Press on………

    • http://www.brandonacox.com Brandon

      Tom, you and I have talked about resources for the “smaller” church, and I think online campuses have the potential to level the playing field. As the technology to pull it off well becomes more affordable and accessible, churches in smaller communities or with smaller congregations will be able to reach a virtually unlimited audience online.

  • http://www.chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan…

    When I got in there, the first person I saw in the chat room said they couldn’t make it to church because their truck broke down. Five people later, someone said they just had a baby, so Daddy and the older daughter are at physical church and she was home with the newborn.

    The service is a godsend (intentional) to shut-ins, and just to people like me who can’t usually line up my schedule with the physical world’s schedule. I watched the service and participated with other people while at my kitchen table, helping my kids with their games and keeping the peace at home. It’s the first time I’ve attended church in three or more years (not counting funerals and weddings).

    Is that wrong? I can’t see it.

    • http://www.brandonacox.com Brandon

      I’m with you, Chris. I don’t know that churches who have the capabilities of pulling it off technically will be able to ignore the possibility much longer.

  • http://www.drewhawkins.org Drew Hawkins

    I would think that most people that complain about an online church aren’t really as much against online church as much as it’s just a resistance to change. When things have been a certain way for so long, adapting to the new environment around us can overwhelm some.

    I don’t feel for myself that online churches feel quite like “church” to me since it misses some of the in-the-flesh interactions I love in that community. However, it does do a great job of meeting people where they’re at. Evangelism isn’t just sitting around expecting people to come to you, you have to go to them.

    • http://www.brandonacox.com Brandon

      Bingo!

      • http://8bit.io John (8BIT)

        love this post!

  • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

    For many years, churches have had tape ministries and radio ministries. These later became CD ministries and television ministries. Today they are pod casts and streaming video with the capability for people to have some form of interaction with each other. Our church stays connected with the people who are unable to make it to our services in a number of ways, but I’m not ready to start calling this digital church. At the heart of the question is the definition of a church. We might ask ourselves whether “digital church” and a “multi-site” church are anything other than modern terms describing what used to be a tape ministry and several churches with an itinerate preacher. Does better technology actually change the nature of churches?

    The term “church” actually comes from Greek word that referred to the building, but we use it to translate a word that mean an assembly. I believe that the fact that Jesus chose to use the word assembly is important. There is something to be said for being able to assemble in one place. Technology allows us to communicate in ways we couldn’t before, but when we look at what the church is to be doing, there’s so much of it that requires us to be in close proximity. Our customs and needs have changed, but the Bible talks about such things as greeting people with a kiss, washing people’s feet and anointing with oil. Today, there’s nothing like a firm handshake or an arm around the shoulders. There’s nothing like being able to call on another church member to drive you to the doctor or to help clear away a fallen tree. I know many people through online interaction, but none are anywhere near as close as the fellow laborers I see at church each week. So while I see technology as a good thing, I see “digital church” as being nothing more than a shadow of a real church.

    • http://www.brandonacox.com Brandon

      Timothy, as we talk through the process, the points you have made always come up. I don’t think you can really do “church” by its biblical definition strictly in an online chat room. So the issue becomes, how do we provide that biblical idea of “church” for those whom we are reaching online?

      One church that has a large online campus following was recently contacted by a student at a university. He wanted them to know that about 150 people were gathering in the student center each week to watch the service. So this church began talking with them and eventually turned that opportunity into a new church plant.

      As we look at the possibilities here at Saddleback, we’re asking how we can leverage our relationship with some great Pastors and churches around the country to plug people in in a more local way.

      So I’m with you part of the way. The only thing I would throw in is that with radio, CD’s, etc. the church has taken advantage of opportunities afforded by “mass” media, which has to do with broadcasting a message.

      With “online” or “digital” church campuses, the major difference is that instead of just broadcasting, there are conversational tools available whereby we get to have a discussion surrounding what’s happening. We get to ask what the needs and questions are and respond in a far more personal way.

      Still, the fact remains that online church is in its young stage and we must figure out how to retain the biblical definition of church as we move forward.

  • http://www.seansabourin.com Sean Sabourin

    What a great post. I believe the church should be leading the way in creativity. Unfortunately not everyone is open to change but I believe that online church is just one of the tools God decides to use to reach out and connect with people. Thanks for sharing.

    • http://www.brandonacox.com Brandon

      No problem, Sean, and thanks for weighing in!

  • http://blog.whysideas.com whyis

    Love technology, and I am generally the first person I know to embrace the newest technologies. Change has never been a problem for me, but we must be guarded about what type of change we embrace. Technology is nothing more than a tool, nothing different than Paul's letters. With that said I must say I do have concerns about "digital church"? I have no problem with a digital outreach ministry but to go beyond that and proclaim a "digital church" I do take issue with. I understand digital seminar, digital sermon, digital counseling, but to try to expand that to a full blown "digital church", What message does that send?

    I think churches should do as much digital as they can, doing as much outreach as they can online but it should be for the purposes of evangelism, to win souls, equip the saints, and make disciples. In doing that it should be to make church leaders that are able to shepherd local flocks not make saints dependent on an online church so that they don't have to attended a local church. When I say a local church I am not talking about a building but I am talking about a body of believers with a Biblical structure.

    Paul did not use his letters to create people dependent on his letters. He wrote his letters so that the saints would grow to maturity in Christ that they establish strong local church bodies. Is that what we are trying to do with these "digital church" or are we trying to get more members, more tithes, more, more more?

    Several new technologies have allowed us to be ever more "connected" while at the same time leaving us completely isolated. Most people know more people online then in real life, and treat the people online much better than they treat the real people they see everyday. It is easy to be nice online, it is alot more difficult to be loving in person. I love to think we are reaching so many more people, but are we really impacting more people.

    Are we changing just to change?

    • http://www.brandonacox.com Brandon

      I actually agree with you on the terminology. If you'll notice, between my post and my comments, I basically assert that responsible online outreach requires us to connect people offline as well. There are people who we'll reach online that we will never reach with a brick-and-mortar campus, but once reached, the challenge becomes plugging them into a church where they can grow, even if much of their faith is still carried out online.

  • http://benrwoodard.com Ben

    This is great. I saw that your re-posted this on twitter and had to comment.
    Here is a glimpse of my experience.
    I am currently apart of what many would consider a small and very conservative independent baptist church. There is an ongoing struggle to define what is “bringing the world into the church” and what is “using technology to improve the church”. The big deal right now is whether or not to put up screens for the choruses we sing every week. :) For almost two years we have been doing a live online video feed. For the first year we knew that there were about 8-16 people jumping online every week and watching the services but we never were able to connect with them. I added an embedded chat room and it seemed to add a whole new element to our web ministry.
    Every week we are able to hear from those that were sick, car-less, or from another country that wanted to experience “Church”. It doesn’t replace the actual “called out assembly” but it certainly has it’s advantages, just like any “arm” of the church does.
    This is definitely a conversation that must take place over and over again in order for us to improve on reaching others via web ministry.

    • http://benrwoodard.com Ben

      btw I used “connecting with the disconnected connected” title in a social media presentation about April of this year. weird.

      • http://www.brandonacox.com Brandon

        Well it’s a good title! And you’re right in your observations. It needs to be an experience, not merely a broadcast, but it also can’t replace the live, face-to-face experience of the ekklesia.