Meditations (Web)Church

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

Archive for June 2009

Church, online or off, is about the middle

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I’m a fan of Seth Godin’s pithy wisdom along with thousands of other people.

I like him most when he pops bubbles, as he did with this comment over the weekend on The Paradox of the Middle of the Market.

The middle of the market is a paradox because of the inherent contradiction between the ease of reaching the nerds and the geeks and the need to reach the middle.

The solution, if there is one, is to enter a market to the enthusiastic cheers of those in search of the new, but to build a product/service that appeals to those in the middle. After the initial wave of enthusiasm, you hunker down and ignore those that first embraced you, obsessing instead on the needs and networks of the middle. It’s a difficult balancing act, but it’s the only one that works.

Ultimately, you end up disappointing the hard core that first found you, but because of their initial enthusiasm (and more important, because you designed your work for the masses in the first place), your product crosses the chasm and reaches a larger group. The formula starts with a service or product that’s purple enough to spread, but not so hyper-fashionable that it merely entertains the insiders.

Over the first several months of the NewSpring Web Church experiment, there’s one common denominator I’ve observed:

Almost all the people who are committed attenders, volunteers and those who depend on the Web Campus as their only form of church aren’t techno geeks.

Most are ordinary people who “need a job done.”

Most are, in a lot of ways, old school.

They’re not into pioneering a new form of church. Or rebelling from traditional church.

They’re just craving the word of God preached passionately, and they’re wanting to live out their faith in whatever environment helps them do that best, and according to the personal situation they are in.

That’s why our team works hard to resist adding layers of bells and whistles to the NewSpring Web Campus.

And why I personally think about my mother-in-law before I even make any suggestions about changes. (She is a new believer in south Louisiana who never thought about using twitter or Facebook or chatrooms until it became vital to living in Christian community on the Web Campus.)

How simple is too simple? How techie is too techie?

And how do we know when we’ve struck the right balance?

Written by NickCharalambous

June 30, 2009 at 10:45 am

Posted in web campus

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“Online church is sick”

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A little while back, I mused about whether my two reformed heroes, John Piper and Mark Driscoll, considered the Web church blasphemy.

Mark Driscoll responded in the last 8 or 10 minutes of his Advance ’09 talk on What is the Church? recapping his arguments (direct link) in Vintage Church.

Now it’s John Piper’s turn to weigh in, and he doesn’t mince words. Here’s the full transcript of the question, “what are your thoughts on worshiping and being part of Christ’s body through an online church?” sent in to “Ask Pastor John.”

“If the question means, “as your only experience of worship,” it seems sick. We are created in bodies, not just in minds. And there is something docetic about this. That may not mean anything to a lot of people. Docetism was an early heresy that said that the body is not very important, and that life in the flesh and the created world is not very important, and that Jesus Christ only seemed to have a body. And usually material is evil.

God made us with bodies. He made us to give holy kisses to one another—embraces, handshakes, eyeball-to-eyeball conversation. He made husband and wife not to have imaginary video sex through Skype. He made them to go to bed together in the same bed. He made them to raise children in the same house, with hands-on hugs and spanks on the bottom and love. And he made churches to get together to hear each other sing, and to look at each other and talk to teach other, and minister to each other and help each other die well.

So to dispense with the entire bodily dimension of togetherness in order to substitute a video dimension of togetherness—like this right now—would, I think, be spiritually defective, would be contrary to Christ’s understanding of the church, and would be hurtful to the soul.

There are mysteries here in human relationships that we can’t quantify. And I don’t think that they can be replaced by electronic symbols.”

I think this critique, like Pastor Mark’s, takes the Web church too literally. The NewSpring Web Campus and other churches are actively encouraging relationships in the real world to complete the web campus experience.

But he also is clear that communal worship must be physical and is not sufficient if it is only a sense of communal gathering, as would happen in a chatroom.

What’s your take?

Written by NickCharalambous

June 29, 2009 at 9:55 am

Posted in community, web campus

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Why hold web church to a higher standard than other churches?

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By now, you probably know that I’m pretty serious about exploring whether the church can be the church online.

I feel like I’m called to that purpose, and I feel like we need to be brave enough to try things that we aren’t entirely comfortable with in order to “by testing discern what is the will of God.” I have plans to take Mark Driscoll’s critique of the Web Church and offer my view of whether his theological points are sufficient to disqualify the web church at this point in its maturity.

I don’t want to be an uncritical apologist for the Web Church. There are many aspects of the Web Church that I’ve got personal reservations about, and many others that I think need to be tested before we can claim that it can fit within Biblical orthodoxy.

But what does bother me is that so often the critiques are coming from the point of view that the web church is a church expression that is incomplete, artificial (p.14 of link) or limited.

To which my response is: When has any church at any time not struggled with those things in one form or another?

Overall, it just seems like the church — even the early church! — was and is always and gloriously in the process of reaching toward the full expression of God’s grace and glory in the world — and failing backwards and forwards.

Why should the web church be held to a higher standard?

Written by NickCharalambous

June 25, 2009 at 10:32 am

Posted in web campus

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Everybody wants to change the world … so why can’t we?

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Unless you’re a really hardened cynic, I think it’s fair to say that most everyone wants to do good, even if don’t always act on it or even if we don’t really know what that is

It’s obvious that social good is hot right now. Google’s All for Good, Twitter’s Twestival and all sorts of micro-sites are tapping to that desire for people to “contribute.” The web’s core values of collaboration and creativity; its smart, curious, and socially savvy users; and its astounding network effects have created fertile soil for social activism that dares to change the world.

So why don’t we do more as the church to embrace Jesus command to do good to others as an evangelism opportunity?

I’m convinced that when people stand shoulder to shoulder with sold-out believers “working out” their salvation, that the gospel will get preached in dramatic ways. In fact, I think the church should choose personal missions above financial mission work wherever possible for this very reason.

One of the most joyful moments of my life as a newspaper editor was my decision in 2005, under the prompting of the Holy Spirit, to send a curious, spiritually seeking reporter to Hurricane-Katrina ravaged Mississippi with two Christian congregations who were ministering there.

She returned with a deep, profound, life-transforming understanding of Christ that led her to become a member of her church, be baptized in Christ and eventually become a part-time children’s ministry worker.

I think there’s plenty of opportunities for us to engage with people who want to do good locally, since who knows local communities and there needs better than local churches? Why are we leaving this to the United Ways and the Rotary Clubs of the world?

Mission activity energizes local congregations, gets them focused on the point of living for Jesus and gives us an opportunity to talk about Jesus — and build the relationships with non-believers who may later be interested in finding out a little more about why we choose to live such other-focused and sacrificial lives.

We can start by registering what missions opportunities we do have on search engines like All For Good. And then we can start designing and executing high-contact, flexible and inspiring missions opportunities in our local communities.

What’s stopping us?

Written by NickCharalambous

June 24, 2009 at 8:47 am

Can churches deny human choice?

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A lot of the critical and necessary debate on this blog comes around one way or the other to: How does the church handle the rising tide of consumerism in its expression?

It’s not an accident: The web has empowered the individual like no other time in history, and the act of accomplishing ministry in this context is bound to flirt, sometimes dangerously, with abetting the self-seeking, vain, prideful human heart without God, rather than calling it to repentence in light of the manifest glories of God.

It seems to me that man has always seen himself at the center of all things. This is not new. What is new is the extent to which man can now do it in almost all phases of life. And the remedy for this heart sickness is and always will be the cross of Jesus.

So here’s my question: When God calls you to salvation, do you really have a choice to “opt out” of the body of Christ? Is it not one of the most magnificent promises of scripture that it’s not possible?

Only “Christians” with unregenerate hearts go shopping for God “experiences,” rather than surrender to him.

Only “Christians” with no understanding of Lordship believe that God is a vending machine of blessings.

Only “Christians” who have never heard the truth will allow themselves to be swayed by every wind of doctrine.

Is it not the gospel, the good news, the freedom from captivity, that human agency, human choice, for the regenerated heart, is always for good?

Our hyper-consumerist society is still relatively young, probably 100 years old at best. And for the church, for thousands of years a local phenomenon, our history with it is even shorter. Perhaps 50, if that. And i think that, if anything, there is a reckoning coming for the church as it wrestles with this, which probably explains some of my passion for the Web Church: It accelerates the urgency of figuring this out.

I submit that the battle is not between consumerism and whatever some Christians think can control it — authority structures, whatever. The battle is to get anointed, gospel-saturated teaching that places the supremacy of Christ above all things into earshot of as many dead hearts as possible so they can be convicted and awakened to life in Christ.

We need to make sure that people choose the church rather than Oprah, Dr. Phil, Tom Cruise and every other self-help guru who is leading people dancing and singing straight to the gates of hell.

Only then will they know difference between a true and false gospel.

Only then will they know the difference between a life that glorifies self and a life that serves God

Only then will they know that Jesus’ call to total surrender can not be resisted except with tears.

And only then will the Holy Spirit magnificently insist that the appetite for seeing, savoring and treasuring the joy of Christ be fed insatiably.

I ask again: Where does the path lead for Christ-centered churches who work in this “crooked and twisted generation” without an understanding of choice?

Written by NickCharalambous

June 23, 2009 at 8:25 am

Web church as “safe space” to explore Christian faith

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This is my last post exploring the fascintating conclusions from Hartford Seminary’s groundbreaking study on megachurch attenders and what the web church can learn from it. You can read posts one, two and three and four if you missed them.

One of the more fascinating parts of the study showed that:

some people intentionally don’t want to establish friendships, even if they are highly committed to the church. Certain people come because they can be, and want to remain, anonymous. … almost a third of those at these churches over five years still report having very few close friends there. For some attenders even long-term participation in the megachurch is about something other than having a network of close friendships.

Let’s face it: “community” can be intimidating to some people, especially those who may only be just starting to live the Christian life.

That’s where the Web church’s perceived weakness — its so-called anonymity — might prove to be one of its greatest assets.

To begin with, it might provide a private, anonymous, low-commitment way to experience Christians and Christian teaching. But there’s also a clear path toward Christian community for those who want to explore it in a controlled environment, calibrated along a continuum of casual conversation, friending, commenting, messaging and physical meetups, to name just a few.

From a theological standpoint and a practical standpoint, discipleship occurs best in a community context, and the Web Church could provide that safe, community space in a believers’ formative years.

Thoughts?

Written by NickCharalambous

June 19, 2009 at 8:30 am

Web church success may be tied to customization

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I’ve been looking at the Hartford Seminaryanalysis of megachurch attenders because I think it could be useful in understanding the Web Church’s potential mission field and how it can extend what we’ve learned from modern church methods. You can read past posts in this series here, here and here.

One of the study’s most dramatic conclusions was that:

involvement at these (and perhaps all) churches may be less about creating an idealized plan to move someone toward commitment and more about providing many ways by which people could craft their unique, customized spiritual experience to meet their needs.

It’s logical that the Web Church respond to this apparent desire for customizing church experience. Web culture, after all, is about empowering individual choice, and letting you set the terms of your engagement with content and people.

Many NewSpring Web Campus attenders are already actively engaged in designing their own path to spiritual growth and assembling the building blocks of an online church life, spurred on by the breathtaking amount and quality of podcasts, books, and blogs that fan the flames of someone’s spiritual fires on demand.

There’s no reason to think that wouldn’t extend to all aspects of church life as they migrate online. Someone could choose one church’s online worship experiences, another’s online small groups, yet another’s online discipleship program etc. and another’s online outreach and missions program.

I think the megachurch lesson here is that offering many paths for spiritual exploration and engagement and involvement could be the Web Church’s supreme value proposition.

That could include providing social guides or personal recommendations toward other trusted, high-quality content. Or it could be offering opportunities for spiritual growth in partnership with regional, national and international ministries. It could even be providing the support systems, resources and “open access” to the Web church’s people to build new ministries and recruit for them across the web.

A believer’s attachment, then, to a Web church might not be traditional “membership,” but in the personal relationships with individual believers as they come across them in different ministry area.

What do you think?

Written by NickCharalambous

June 18, 2009 at 8:08 am