Meditations (Web)Church

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

Archive for November 2008

How does your Internet campus become “home” church to attenders?

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You know what it feels like when God gets your attention with a line in a sermon.

Like a sharp jab in the ribs. No elbows required.

Steven Furtick of Elevation Church in Charlotte, N.C., brought a flamethrower of truth Sunday night, preaching — he insists on calling it that — on the beauty of the bride of Christ, the church.

He said a lot more that I wished I’d written down verbatim. Luckily, this piece of wisdom seared itself on my brain:

Jesus Christ didn’t die on the cross so you could sample his church like different foods on a party platter.

When it comes to NewSpring’s Internet campus, that’s my greatest fear.

Is it yours?

We don’t want to make it easier for folks to sample churches but never call one home.

We don’t want to make it easier for folks to feel connected when they aren’t really committed.

The internet is a feast for Christian teaching and worship.

In a leadership lunch with my pastor Perry Noble a couple weeks ago, he predicted a lot of churches would close over the next 20 years (and that those remaining will get bigger.)

Why?

Because folks don’t have to put up with bad preaching any more, he said. Not when they could log on to iTunes and download sermons from Mark Driscoll, Erwin McManus, Rob Bell, Andy Stanley and T.D. Jakes anytime they want.

Perry’s preaching ranks right up there with those heavyweights. I’m praying that multitudes of the unchurched, the dechurched and the lost “sample” NewSpring because of it. And that they come to know Jesus more intimately as a result.

But I want to make sure that icampus attenders aren’t just inhaling a tasty sermon week after week, with great worship music and a side dish of good conversation in a chat room.

I want them to come back through their commitment to a specific and singular church community in which God can do his refining work in them — through the spurring and encouragement that comes from deep, durable relationships with other believers as well as through appropriate pastoral guidance.

Is that happening on your campus? How?

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Written by NickCharalambous

November 30, 2008 at 10:12 pm

The church web-olution will not be homogenized

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I hate the term “Internet campus.” If it weren’t firmly rooted in all the church strategy speak, the conferences, blog tags etc., I’d chuck it.

The “campus” terminology makes the online strategy feel monolithic.

It probably needs to be flexible, light and customizable.

So it was encouraging to see the discussion opened up by Tony Steward of LifeChurch.tv about how our internet campus approaches should be as various and as numerous as our experience of online communities.

The current Internet campus format probably has become entrenched (as much as anything can be in just a couple of years) because it leverages much of what megachurches in particular are already doing with video-on-demand and multi-site.

Once we’ve launched our Internet campus alpha at NewSpring, I’d like to move quickly into developing a more emdeddable, widgetizable format for our online church experience.

That way we can develop a form of shared religious experience that can be even more “seeker sensitive” than our traditional church services, which inevitably and properly contain a majority of believers.

Internet campuses would then become the beachhead from which we might be able to send out “social media missionaries.”

They’d carry media and other customized resources into the multiplatform, micro-communities they already belong to and use them to engage in and shape seeker-sensitive conversations.

Part of our community-building strategy for the NewSpring Internet campus will probably have to involve that kind of approach, regardless, to build traffic.

But, I do think that “Internet campuses” have a legitimate place in the web church ecology if for no other reason than believers not attached to a local, physical church must have some form of large scale, corporate worship experience.

That is, if we’re trying to actualize a Web “church” online.

Rather than some form of online-enhanced personal ministry.

Or some of form of networked, internet-empowered physical church.

What are your thoughts?

Written by NickCharalambous

November 25, 2008 at 6:31 pm

Bob Jones should have dug deeper in its racism apology

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Bob Jones University is just 30 minutes down Interstate-85 from NewSpring, and the infamous conservative fundamentalist institution has served as something of a blot on Christianity and South Carolina in general, so the news that it has renounced its racist past is welcome.

The apology is straightforward and sincere and way overdue. But this part of the release non-plussed me:

For almost two centuries American Christianity, including BJU in its early stages, was characterized by the segregationist ethos of American culture. Consequently, for far too long, we allowed institutional policies regarding race to be shaped more directly by that ethos than by the principles and precepts of the Scriptures. We conformed to the culture rather than provide a clear Christian counterpoint to it. ….

and later on this:

On national television in March 2000, Bob Jones III, who was the university’s president until 2005, stated that BJU was wrong in not admitting African-American students before 1971, which sadly was a common practice of both public and private universities in the years prior to that time. On the same program, he announced the lifting of the University’s policy against interracial dating.

No. 1. Isn’t it a little, shall we say, presumptuous, to suggest that all of “American Christianity” shared the segregationist tendencies that BJU had? Doesn’t it imply that all American Christianity is conservative and fundamentalist? Wouldn’t it have been more noble to point out that there were prominent Christians, institutions, denominations that were faithful to the word of God on this topic?

No. 2 Isn’t the whole point of fundamentalism that its appeal to scriptural authority gives adherents the courage to speak against culture? BJU references at least five foundational Christian scriptures for it’s dismissal of racism as against God’s plan for his creation to bring him glory. (Luke 10:25–37; James 2:1–13, Matthew 28:19–20, Colossians 3:11, Acts 17:24–28.) Could God’s teaching be any clearer? What was the all-powerful influence that short-circuited its devotion to Biblical authority?

Essentially, BJU admits to what it has been accusing liberals of doing: ignoring scripture or contextualizing it (presumably in order to gain or preserve social or political capital in the world?) And then, when error is found, trying to minimize it by claiming that’s what “society” was like.

A Christian institution should always be held to a higher standard than mere “public and private institutions.” Its whole worth is based on the authority it borrows from God. To play so fast and loose with it is a serious thing indeed.

I believe that BJU shows true repentence in its public statement.

It just feels a little shallow.

Written by NickCharalambous

November 24, 2008 at 3:58 pm

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Don’t lose sight of basics in the tyranny of the new

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I have a confession.

It’s been just four weeks since I took on this role as Internet Campus Pastor, and God’s already teaching me some hard lessons about how I view success and what I’m trusting in to achieve it.

God showed me my fallen desire to “prove myself” in this new, breathtaking world of church possibility when I should be letting him focus my heart on reaching and deeply touching people who desperately need to know more of Jesus.

On three different occasions in one week, God showed me that I shouldn’t be relying on innovation to have an impact in my ministry.

  • The first came last Sunday during LifeChurch.tv’s beta test of its new icampus. We noticed that all the main components of the site we were building were practically identical, right down to the open, public chat and the map showing global attenders.
  • Then came word on Tuesday that Mars Hill Church’s On The City community building application had been bought by Zondervan. That reminded me that in spring 2007, after at least two years of envisioning what I call the “networked church,” I submitted a plan for such an application to E.W. Scripps Co.’s enterprenuer fund. They loved the concept. They just couldn’t see a way to make money at it from churches.
  • And then today, LifeChurch.tv debuted its new icampus, with a post-service live show webcast using Mogulus. Yup, you guessed it: We planned a live show to start just a few weeks after our Internet campus launch. I referred to in this post as a “distinctive.”

I should have been happy that two leaders in the Internet or Internet campus church movement had affirmed our strategic direction and gut instincts. Instead, I was worried that we’d look like copycats.

That’s when it helps to have a friend and colleague like our Creative Director Joshua Blankenship. “Who cares?” he said. Thanks Joshua.

Living in the online world carries a certain slavery to it. Be new. Be original. Be innovative. Be successful. Be discussed.

But those can be huge, distracting temptations if you’re not holding every tool, every platform, every community building strategy captive to Christ and the work he wants to do through them in people.

What’s new quickly becomes old.

There’s nothing new under the sun.

When it comes to online church, what counts is the quality of our attenders’ devotion to Christ and the depth and durability of their relationships to each other.

Tools are just tools. It’s how you use them that makes the difference. An eternal difference.

For internet campuses, offering an excellent, authentic experience of the love of God and the love of his people is infinitely better than making your site shiny and slick and original.

I need to remember that.

Written by NickCharalambous

November 23, 2008 at 7:50 pm

Four questions about icampus public chat with LifeChurch.tv’s Tony Steward

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If there’s an IT about church icampuses, it’s may be about the way they are encouraging and managing interactions among online attenders.

So far, public chat rooms are almost a standard component of the experience. After participating in the LifeChurch.tv beta test for their new icampus, I was surprised that after two years of learning from their internet campus, Lifechurch.tv had decided to go more simple and even retro in the way they used their chat functionality.

I decided to ask Tony Steward, LifeChurch.tv’s Online Community Pastor and all around innovator, about his philosophy on chat.

He graciously accepted. (If you wanted to read my take on how to get the most out of chat, you can find my post from earlier this week here. ) Here are Tony’s answers:

NC: It looks like you’ve opted for an open public chat in the beta… not just people in your row. That seems like a pretty big change in direction. What motivated that?

TS: We went with a wide open chat (for now: we are wanting to add group/filtering options in the future, but have other things to figure out first.) because of a couple reasons. First, we value the power of anonymity as people connect with us. That they can come and interact with having to create an account or give us information, allows them to connect on their terms. Secondly, with the chat next to the Video there is an opportunity for individuals to participate and help shape the actual experience with their own prayers, praises and conversation.

NC: Online community is about fundamentally about conversation. Do you think that chat rooms are conducive to making real connections? Why?

TS: Chat rooms are a piece of the pie for making connections, and currently our most powerful. Mainly because it is live interaction, and shared experience – which is tough to accomplish online. Online Gaming is really one of the only other avenues to establish shared experience and relational connection besides a live chat. Because of the shared experiences, real connections are very possible and we find them happening already in our current lobby chat, and are very excited at the opportunities this new chat interface will bring.

NC: Internet campus chat rooms range from busy and prayerful to quiet and superficial. What does it take to manage a good chat room experience?

TS: Chat rooms can flow matches in similar fashion to the energy in a room during a physical live experience. So, direction through the video for them to participate, and leadership by example by our Lobby Chat Team will be essential in helping people to participate in a healthy and productive manner during experiences.

NC: It would seem that extending interactions beyond the walls is a holy grail of online and offline churches. What strategies can be used to take those self-contained chat interactions into other networked spaces?

TS: Great Question! Haha, every week we are having this conversation about what it looks like to extend our ministry process into new online communities. Currently we are experimenting with a Facebook Team and a Blogging Team that is looking to extend the ministry of the Internet Campus in a healthy way into new circles of community, through established and relevant relationships. That said, we are inventing this wheel as we go in the midst of some other foundational changes.

So, what do you think about alternatives to public chat? And if your church is using it, how do you think it might be improved?

Written by NickCharalambous

November 21, 2008 at 2:40 pm

Tossing out an idea: Church icampus Twitter mashup?

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So, we had this great idea about running a Twitter stream right alongside video of the worship service, instead of open chat. If it was good enough for the Presidential debates, why not a message?

We mocked it up for a couple of days. Then we tossed it away.

Here’s what we were thinking:

We loved the idea of 140 characters. Just long enough to comment on a crazy good sermon illustration. With no expectation of “conversation.” And less distraction. With the bonus of a great shared experience with folks you could passively or actively follow afterward. Kind of like microwaving your online church acquaintances into a “real” network, with hooks into broader networks, through linked blogs etc. And instant advertising for the experience, too.

Then we gave it a second thought.

What about all the noise from tweets no one would have any context for? And what about the fact that Twitter still isn’t a mass phenomenon. And the related issues of how do you explain Twitter to folk anyway? And getting folks to sign up? Especially when a lot of your icampus attenders may not be techno-savvy. And may not want to be.

Should we have tossed away these ideas?

NewSpring’s icampus, much like LifeChurch.tv’s new icampus, probably won’t have real, durable profiles for chatters, so it will be interesting to see how folks sustain and extend their relationships outside the icampus.

Should we hope they’ll direct message or share their emails and social network tags with each other inside the chat? Or should we create an icampus group on a service like Twingr? Or just suggest Twitter?

What are your thoughts?

Written by NickCharalambous

November 20, 2008 at 10:16 pm

The digitally networked church is a dangerous church. If not now, when?

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Christians hate to play catch up with culture. They just hate to admit that, more often than not, they missed the boat because they weren’t as smart, imaginative or innovative as the world.

And too often, when then they do see value in a great idea or technology, they’re more interested in the way it can provide “a safe alternative” to a secular phenomenon or a social support for the (typically personal) challenges of Christian life, rather than the ways it can be used dangerously for the Kingdom.

There’s a lot of buzz about the sale of Mars Hill’s On The City community building application, which boasts “real not virtual community for Jesus Fame.”  The buyer, Christian media powerhouse Zondervan, is likely hoping for mass adoption by churches.

I’m predicting a lot of uber Christians have already decided to dismiss On the City as “just Facebook for Christians.”

In my view, that fatally misunderstands what On The City is about.

And if we keep rejecting the fundamental premise of the digital revolution as “just another social network,” we’ll just delay building massively influential networked church bodies that will be empowered and seen to do incredible, dangerous acts of God.

Distinctly Christian community is important and indispensable. One of the most powerful theological premises of our faith is that everyone can contribute and must contribute to building the kingdom of God.

From a spiritual perspective we can’t be faithful, powerful and influential Christians unless we are surrounded by encouraging, disciplining and inspiring practical wisdom about how to “work out salvation.”

From a practical perspective, we need to be aware of the gifts, abilities, and resources of other Christians in order that we can work together with them to help a hurting world for God’s glory. No matter whether you are in a small town or a big city, you can live out your God ordained role in the Church.

Distinctly Christian community is not a substitute but a supplement to broader community. There is no doubt a danger that Christian community could become a “holy huddle,” but that’s only if it’s oriented solely around fellowship in a kind of social “bunker mentality:” keep me safe and affirm me.

Create a different pivot point, and everything changes.

The fact is, in the networked world, all of us belong to multiple communities right now – for work and for fun. If the Christians in our churches use the opportunities of the digitally networked church poorly, it is the fault of individual Christians and their pastors, not the potentially life-enhancing technology.

A networked church is a healthy church. A digitally networked church body can be present to itself at all times in all locations, providing instant support and giving the devil much less of an opening.

And a digitally networked church body allows a large and wide range of its social interactions to be transparent to everyone, making it easier for church members to recognize a need for help and guidance, and for church leaders to provide correction and discipline.

On the City has many if not all of the elements of the four principles of healthy church life. It’s not the ultimate church utility, but it’s a good starting point. And it’s way more revolutionary than the new trend of icampuses.

  • Engage: The detailed user-profile features allows you to make connections between like-minded churchgoers so they can develop their own sub-networks, where all the real social and spiritual change happens offline and online. If you could have the ability to declare your gifts and resources (time, money, possessions) and enable others to search for instant matches for whatever burden or vision the Lord gives them, that could be truly revolutionary.
  • Endure: Offering daily bible readings, journal space, and groups feature offers a chance to make learning social (and therefore easier and more pleasant) in self-selected groups that are much more cohesive and productive than those created more or less arbitrarily. Imagine a YouVersion social Bible or a social Bible study guide combined with the power of multiple video chat? That would be a powerhouse for discipleship.
  • Enable: Its events and marketplace features when combined could form the core functionality of a service application, where any community member could take on “project manager” responsibility for a service project, large or small, identifying, gathering and deploying Christian resources for God’s glory.
  • Enlarge: Any amount of digitally networked social activity creates a media overflow that can be displayed, embedded, and discussed across the full range of the secular social media landscape. We know that when Christ is lifted up, he draws people to himself.

What’s your take on On The City? What other functionalities would make the ideal church utility?

Written by NickCharalambous

November 19, 2008 at 4:25 pm