Meditations (Web)Church

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

Web church success may be tied to customization

with 13 comments

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?

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Written by NickCharalambous

June 18, 2009 at 8:08 am

13 Responses

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  1. Seriously not trying to be negative here, just thinking out loud & I could be totally missing what you are trying to communicate here…

    Why do we assume that the mega-churches are doing things right? Is it just because there are lots of people?

    The approach that is laid out above, as I read it, seems to promote individualism & consumerism. I’m really not sure that those two things should be high values of a church.

    Can real spiritual growth happen outside of a community? Do most people really choose to be engaged in experiences that are challenging when an easier option is just a mouse click away?

    Sorry for all the questions! Just trying to think through all of this…

    Chris S.

    June 18, 2009 at 8:55 am

    • Chris, I’m glad for the questions. I think it’s important to wrestle with these issues. My assumption is that megachurches *are* doing things right is based on the research accomplished by the Hartford Seminary. Of course there is an assumption that we are catering to an individual needs — and you can call that cnsumeristic if you want — but I don’t think that’s automatically unbiblical … Jesus meets people where they are … and then calls them to live in his ways. Sometimes, I think churches are expecting people to behave as though God has completed his work in people, not as those who are being called into Lordship and discipleship.

      ipiphanist

      June 18, 2009 at 9:55 am

  2. Where does spiritual authority play into this?

    If the user can “craft their unique, customized spiritual experience to meet their needs,” but that exists outside an authority structure, who corrects them when they’re in error, or holds them accountable? Where is the personal sacrifice that marks much of church history? What if their perceived needs are born out of spiritual immaturity or outright sin?

    Obviously, there’s a huge element of spiritual maturity and growth that rests on the individual (Acts 2:42), but being in Christian community requires submission to authority (1 Peter 2:12-14), openness to correction (Jer 5:3), and a willingness to admit that we don’t always know what is best for us (Prov 12:15) because we’re selfish, prideful, and blinded by sin.

    Customization of a web experience is one thing; crafting my spiritual life to “meet my needs” on my own terms sounds borderline heretical.

    Joshua Blankenship

    June 18, 2009 at 9:04 am

    • Great comment again, Joshua. Living under authority is critical to the obedience of faith, of course. I’m not suggesting that all customization amounts to setting your own terms about what the Christian faith means or how we are meant to live. That should be upheld by preaching of the word and the authority structure of our churches.

      Personally, I’m a great fan of the types of strong covenant memberships for churches that have been advanced by the likes of John Piper and Matt Chandler.

      I think my point, perhaps poorly stated, is that people as individuals we are situated in a different social context, different stages of our walks, different struggles … the preaching of the word is how we are brought together in unity, but the specifics of how someone interacts with the church, either as an institution, or within the body of Christ, might be more individualized than some of our churches allow for.

      the point is not to make the Christian faith about the individual. It is to give individuals more ways and paths to engage God and one another in the Christian faith…

      BUT I think you are absolutely right that the church’s authority is precious and has been eroded by the way our society has changed in the modern era.

      ipiphanist

      June 18, 2009 at 10:06 am

  3. I understand where you’re coming from on this. How many people would love to put together their favorite attributes from different churches they’ve visited all into one experience? I know I would and I think it would be highly effective.

    It has nothing to do with crafting your own Gospel. It’s as simple as lining up what programs or church methods fit the way you learn. The message of the Gospel and God’s word wouldn’t change. The idea is no different than comparing and compiling translations of the Bible in youversion.com, right?

    I definitely think people are already doing this online and it’s just another sign that the Church is uniting through the use of technology.

    Funny thought…if today’s technology existed during the days of the early church, would Paul have used Skype or Tokbox to communicate with churches? Wouldn’t he have been considered just as much a part of their communities or more if the technology existed then? 🙂

    Chris Hill

    June 18, 2009 at 10:11 am

    • Agreed … i think you’ve captured the essence of where i was going. I’m all about pushing the boundaries of how we do church in the 21st century, but I would rather be struck dead now than lead people into heresy.

      ipiphanist

      June 18, 2009 at 10:25 am

  4. > The approach that is laid out above, as I read it,
    > seems to promote individualism & consumerism. I’m
    > really not sure that those two things should be high values of a church.

    “Should” and “shouldn’t” are always fascinating word choices when used in the face of inevitability.

    It is INEVITABLE that people are going to choose “better,” whatever that means to them. It’s a matter of enlightened self-interest, not a matter of wanting one’s ears tickled; we’re not talking heresy or anything unbiblical here. It’s a matter of return on invested time, and, with one choice just as readily available as another, a person will most often choose the one that best matches his or her preferences while having at least another one or two in mind as fallbacks or alternate choices.

    Church leaders, all the way up to the now-labeled “senior pastor,” are going to learn firsthand about the first being last and every aspect of Matthew 20:25-27. Those involved in church leadership who’ve sought that position for the purpose of exercising control over people are about to become permanently unemployed. To realize that most of the world will never again be like the small town with only one church choice per set of beliefs is to be seeing only the tip of the iceberg.

    I have much more to say, but I’m starting to think I’ve got a consulting business in the making…. 😉

    Brian Conard

    June 18, 2009 at 10:44 am

  5. […] already a great conversation already swirling around on Nick’s blog about Customization and Web Church and how “success” might be measured in one’s ability to “customize the […]

  6. great convo. love it. blogged. 😉

    John (Human3rror)

    June 18, 2009 at 10:36 pm

  7. […] the web church can learn from the 2009 Hartford Seminary Megachurch Study, parts 1, 2, 3, […]

  8. […] choice?What the web church can learn from the 2009 Hartford Seminary Megachurch Study, parts 1, 2, 3, 4Is this the front door to the church in the 21st century?Is Christian community an end or a […]


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