Meditations (Web)Church

A year (and a bit) in the life of NewSpring's first Web pastor

Archive for February 2009

You don’t have Christian community? Sucks to be you …

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I was going to call this post Et Tu Anne Jackson?.

You see, I’m worried about the trend of Christian technocrati who are slowly getting over the techno-hysteria of early social media adoption and are willing to commit the heresy of ‘fessing up to the fact that … shock … real, face-to-face community is better. And social media saturation can be damaging to your health.

We’ve had a blogatical. Social networking fasts like Anne’s. And any number of confessions from B-list bloggers like me who, at varying points on their journeys, find that trying to maintain a social media “brand” on several platforms takes the kind of determined emotional, creative and intellectual effort few of us can muster without damaging other, more important parts of our lives.

So why am i bothered?

Because many of us will — and maybe should — retrench to more modest social media exposure and more humble social media expectations.

So why am I bothered?

Because that means we might not get the opportunity to push through the pain barrier to discover how Christians can successfully develop a community praxis in the online world. And we’re not going to learn that from how people network about their favorite shows on Hulu. We’re going to learn that from trying to plant churches, faith communities, there.

One of the things that I think we, the evangelical techno elite in the North American church, keep fatally forgetting is that we are totally surrounded by Christians and Christ-friendly if not Christ-affirming values. The magnitude and the richness of our real-world Christian community is rarely available to anyone else in the world.

As a pastor of what is already, after three weeks! a global community of believers, I have already had my heart broken by the reality that your faith, your ability to live it out and your capacity to survive the lies, deceptions and temptations of the enemy, is tied to having a supportive Christian community around you.

And how many places in techno-advanced Western Europe, let alone the rest of the world, have large concentrations of committed, faithful, theologically orthodox believers?

Not many.

How do you answer a Christian in Germany who is told of the importance of marriage that is part of God’s plan who doesn’t know many or any Proverbs 31 women? Heck, NewSpring has 10,000 attenders in one more or less contiguous geographic community and we get that complaint.

Missionary dating isn’t the answer. And neither is the cute response that each individual Christian should become a micro-church planter.

Yes. Offline community IS better. But online community is infinitely better than nothing at all.

I believe in God’s plan for developing Christian community. It’s called “go forth and multiply.”

But the remnant we have become has to finds a way to build tight, integrated supportive communities — good soil as it were — for real saving faith and contagious faith to flourish.

Would they look like Holy Huddles? Was the Acts church a Holy Huddle? It grew by thousands daily.

Debates about online community aren’t interesting experiments with marketing and promotions around the edges of a church movement. It is the future of a church movement.

Agree or disagree?

Written by NickCharalambous

February 26, 2009 at 3:23 pm

Posted in ruminations

How do you remember what God has done in your life?

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Sometimes i wonder if we make enough of a big deal about celebrating, memorializing and otherwise recording when God does something remarkable in our lives.

I’m a huge fan of Christians sharing stories of God’s grace, mercy and provision with each other to build ourselves up.

But that got me to thinking about how many stories of God’s great work in my life I can still remember to actually share.

Not many was the answer. And not with the kind of vivid detail that they deserve to be remembered.

And I’ve only been a Christian 5 1/2 years.

When I was giving this two-part radio interview about my own journey of faith recently, I was astonished, as if taken by surprise, by the number of providences that i could point to in my own life. (And you can hear me in the interview gloss over them for the sake of narrative efficiency.)

And then I was shocked, as if ashamed, by how little I could accurately recall.

Back in the day, I had briefly considered writing a book about those providences. It was going to be called “The Greatest Fish Story Ever Told.”

I even felt convicted about it for a time.

But i dismissed it when I concluded that the story wouldn’t sound quite as extraordinary to anyone but me.

Now i’m realizing that memorials, markers, ebenezers, the proofs of God’s work in our lives, are as much for our benefit.

Because our faith is weak, and we need to remember.

Because Satan and our own frail flesh wants to keep telling us that God doesn’t really care as much as we think he does. And sometimes we wonder if we are to be pitied because we are really imagining it all.

I have bits of journaling. A few answered prayers in half-used prayer journals. Notebooks of half-written poems. Some special emails saved to disk during my quasi-cyber-courtship of my wife.

I’ve got lots of scraps, but nothing to bring it all together. None of it is in a form from which I can easily draw spiritual strength.

What a waste.

I’m sure I’m not the only one …

How do you help yourself remember God’s grace to you?

Can you think of a better way?

Written by NickCharalambous

February 24, 2009 at 6:20 pm

Posted in ruminations

Can church work inside a social network for the masses?

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I thought this blog post from LifeChurch.tv’s Online Community Pastor Tony Steward did a great service in sharpening our terms of discussion about social networks.

Paraphrasing, a social network is anything that draws people into relationship. A social network service is a commercial or other platform that is about the purposeful business of doing that.

I’ve written lots about my belief that the real work of the NewSpring Web Campus involves building Christ-centered community, and there’s always a tension about what the proper role of a church is in doing that.

And maybe it’s because we’re confusing our “church” terms:

The church, Jesus, designs community.

The church’s gathering places, the sanctuary, the fellowship hall, the web campuses, are the looms of community.

And the church, it’s members, are weaving community into a glorious display of God’s steadfast love and grace.

Let’s face it: Churches have never really had to think about themselves as actively building community. So it’s not shocking that they are apprehensive about it now and haven’t been very good at it in the past.

For centuries, the Sunday services were, in Tony’s formulation, the social network for an entire neighborhood or geographic community. They didn’t have to work to connect people.

The community was (more or less) culturally homogenous.

The community was (more or less) commonly focused.

The community was (more or less) physically congruous.

I think the big question that the NewSpring Web Campus my well end up answering is whether the organic (unnoticed, taken-for-granted) weaving of community in the traditional church — accidental encounters in everyday life, “overheard” conversations through friends of friends, and mutual relationships discovered — can happen in an environment whose “touch points” are far fewer and farther between. Maybe even rare.

A “tightly-woven” church community focuses the power of God. That’s bottom line of Jesus metaphor of a shining city on a hill or our being the salt of the earth.

In both metaphors, dilution, being surrounded by something other, or isolation from one another is how we are weakened.

Concentration. Critical mass. Momentum. Whatever you want to call it, there’s a point where the “tightness” of a community is its power.

We can make a statement with large numbers alone, no matter where we are or what we do.

But we make an argument when the relationships among us, between us and beyond us become pathways for the power of God to flow in a particular direction.

As far as the Web Church goes, there are plenty of social tools, such as existing social network services, that dedicated attenders can use to build connection with others worshiping online.

But the big question for me is whether that connectedness can organize itself organically on a large scale into actions that unambiguously serve and honor God?

You see, even a “secular” social network service doesn’t just create paths of communication. It organizes the investment of time and social capital. The social network spaces we borrow — Facebook, Twitter — aren’t neutral. They are, to varying degrees, pointed toward something.

Can a web church truly be an outwardly-focused body of Christ without an organizing space of its own?

Can a web church truly be an outwardly-focused body of Christ with an organizing space of its own?

If you think that questions this post, that’s because I am.

Talk me out of it?

Written by NickCharalambous

February 19, 2009 at 5:19 pm

What do web campus attenders tell us about church?

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If there was a “bottom line” to the social revolution we’re seeing on the web, it’s that we are more completely aware that the individual is king.

You just can’t control how an individual uses or experiences your product, your service or your message.

The “consumer” always has been king of course.

But, in the past, for the most part, we could get away with holding people hostage to the experience we wanted them to have. We couldn’t tell what they thought about it. And we didn’t really care because we thought we knew best anyway.

What does this have to do with the church?

Just think about the preceding paragraphs in relation to the typical service.

As the web campus pastor, it has only taken three weeks for me to confirm my hunch that the format or the function of the typical service just can’t survive intact online.

  • Folks are staying for 10 minutes, an hour or 10 secs. Rarely the whole service.
  • Folks are skipping the “worship” and coming for the message
  • Folks are viewing full screen with friends and family.
  • Folks are chatting and taking notes while listening to the message.
  • Folks are snacking on the audio or video of the web campus as they’re cooking lunch.
  • Folks are reviewing what they thought they heard from God in church earlier that day.
  • Folks are previewing to see if they’re interested in going to church in person.
  • Folks are attending because it’s a well of life in a spiritual desert where they are.
  • Folks are attending because the kids were sick and couldn’t make it to church.
  • Folks are attending because they love their home church and community, but they’d much rather get their teaching from Perry Noble.
  • Folks just can’t wait until the podcast comes out on Tuesday.
  • Folks prefer a church and a community that can stick with them because they’re so mobile.
  • Folks are there because …

Fill in the [BLANK]

So: What’s the point of the service in our faith? Should we do it any differently? Can we?

And/or: Are our web campuses showing us where we’re not meeting needs in our physical churches?

Written by NickCharalambous

February 18, 2009 at 12:17 pm

What in the world are we trying to do?

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Thought you’d ask.

View our mini-manifesto for the NewSpring Web Campus, which you can typically find behind the “New Here” button in the navigation behind the chat window on the Web Campus page. (Yeah. I hear you. That’s why I’m referring to it here.)

I’m sure it’s missing a lot of nuance. And I’m not sure if it’s the most eloquent explanation I could have made, but it was where my heart was at the time of launch.

What do you think? What’s missing from this vision-casting video for our Web campus?

Written by NickCharalambous

February 17, 2009 at 5:25 pm

Posted in web campus

Tagged with ,

The complete start-up guide to the NewSpring Web Campus

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I believe that 2009 is the threshold year for web campuses, or the recent phenomenon of churches building online environments for worship experiences.

There are already dozens of churches that have followed the pioneering efforts of Lifechurch.tv. And by the volume of inquiries we’ve gotten for our recently launched NewSpring Web Campus, there are bound to be hundreds of others following suit.

Don’t think you have to build a web campus just like ours. In fact, we know ours needs a lot of improvements.

And don’t think that you have to have a huge staff and huge amounts of money.

With free services such as Mogulus and UStream, some form of online worship experience is possible with a very minimal investment of resources. There is also at least one company out there offering a respectable and reasonably affordable off-the-shelf solution.

(NewSpring is planning to open-source our site just as soon as we have hired some web developers. If you think you have what it takes, email Joshua Blankenship.)

But I would definitely caution about jumping into it because it’s the new big thing for ministry success and ministry visibility.

I think you have to have a clear understanding of who you are trying to serve and whether your “audience” is going to attach to it in a way that would honor what God is calling you to do.

What the world definitely doesn’t need is a bunch of cookie cutter web “churches” that aren’t structured or staffed to really fulfill their proper ministry objective.

Sure, you can have a “live,” appointment-viewing video distribution channel for your worship and messages, but that’s just an update of TV worship, not really Biblical church.

Written by NickCharalambous

February 12, 2009 at 10:46 am

Posted in web campus

Tagged with ,

Rise of social media means the church is running out of excuses

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My friend, John Saddington, published a Q&A with me last Friday where i gave my view of the greatest impact technology would have on the church.

In case you missed it, here it is:

Time Bandits or Favorite Websites?

Twitter, Facebook, Google Reader. ESV Study Bible online=hours of fun. Ditto: Hulu, Last.fm.

Whatcha Working On?

Building a community of radical believers on the NewSpring Web Campus (newspring.cc/webcampus). Even though we were very pleased with the launch of the first phase of the physical campus, the harder work is head. Working with the rest of our communications team, I’m trying to experiment with the best methods to create a true Biblical community that is serving and discipling and evangelizing one another.

How do you see Web Technology impacting The Kingdom?

I’m a techno-evangelist, but a pragmatic one. Technology is only ever a tool, and as far as I can tell, technology always creates as many problems as it solves. I guess that’s what it means to live in a fallen world.

I believe strongly in social media as a tool for kingdom building, but only in so far as it removes so many of our excuses for our weak, ineffective witness, our partial, fragile sense of community and our lazy discipleship.

I am amazed at the amount of talent, vision and passion in the modern church movement. We’ve done a great work in stripping away the crust of dead traditions and unhelpful legalisms that had covered up our vision of Christ, but now that we have gotten to the core of the faith — loving Jesus, loving others — our fruit better prove it.

The thing about our hyper-mediated world is that a huge amount that used to be hidden in the heart is now revealed by our technology. Every word we blurt out; everywhere we go, every work we do potentially is going to be lifestreamed … and people will be able to draw even harsher judgments about whether we are Christians in name only.

We have the power to evangelize the world; we have the tools for every Christian to be without excuse: People can hear about God’s wonderful deeds, they can devote themselves to sound teaching, they can share in fellowship and offer themselves as living sacrifices to the body of Christ.

If they don’t or won’t, the only explanation is that they don’t have the heart of worship. Their knowledge and understanding of God is too small. And that means that our churches or the “priesthood of all believers” that we belong to just isn’t lifting up Christ enough and or consistently so that he can draw us closer to him for our sanctification.

Written by NickCharalambous

February 11, 2009 at 10:48 am

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