Meditations (Web)Church

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

Web Church reflections, part 4: Online discipling can be a difference maker

with 8 comments

This is a blog series of personal observations from my year as NewSpring’s web pastor. Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Any references to “web church” are shorthand for “doing church online.” There are weightier aspects to “being the church,” and I’m not dealing with them here.

Social networking has produced an explosion in the amount of interpersonal interaction in our lives, and that represents an important opportunity for all churches to emphasize the power of personal ministry and see results.

Mentoring, accountability, caring or Bible study can all be leveraged by social media tools. Yet my hunch is that too many church leaders, lay and staff, fear “sending the wrong message” that online connections can replace or substitute for doing life together.

It’s an understandable fear, but it may be counterproductive when there are so many barriers to “one-anothering” that come from the increasingly complex and overscheduled lives of believers. Just the difficulty of setting up face-to-face meetings, let alone the cost of breakfast/lunch/dinner or coffee can become burdensome.

My conclusion is that we can’t afford not to use these tools for relational growth, such as small group gathering and one-on-one discipleship, but we should also educate people on how to use them within a healthy relational framework that’s grounded in physical community.

On the NewSpring Web Service, we saw that growing and investing in online relationships wasn’t as easy and it wasn’t “the same” as doing things in person, but it was still a difference maker.

Our largest experiment was with online groups. Overall, we were disappointed, because only a fraction of those who expressed an interest followed through with consistent attendance and a commitment to other group members. We also saw a surprising aversion to video groups, possibly because being instantly “seen,” especially for women, is instantly judged.

But those who followed through with consistent attendance also showed a commitment to other group members outside of group time, a sure sign of spiritual health, such as by praying for one another, holding themselves accountable to one another and engaging one another to offer or receive Biblical guidance.

All self-reported that the group — which is continuing — had contributed to their spiritual growth. Many had never before been able to make a group work, whether that was a result of scheduling conflicts or other practical issues that are all too numerous and all too real. And there was a very real sense in which it created a spiritual appetite for real physical group meeting if the circumstances were right.

From my own observations and the reports of volunteer leaders, one-on-one discipleship conversations, especially those via video, also displayed a high-degree of parity with offline conversations in so far as serious, genuine and open dialogue.

No one doubted that they could serve as a healthy supplement to face-to-face meetings between individuals or as a substitute method of “pouring into” someone from afar, provided that they were relationally engaged in other ways within a physical community of faith.

The biggest issue is whether the parties understand and abide by the expectation that each is fully present in the online space and not “multitasking.”

All of us have to make tough decisions about how many people we can properly invest in. If there are ways to explore smarter ministry, we should investigate them.

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Written by NickCharalambous

March 9, 2010 at 2:35 pm

8 Responses

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  1. Loving this series so far Nick. I appreciate your transparency.

    Chase

    March 9, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    • Thanks. I’m a little disappointed that I don’t have the time to get more detailed with linking and resources … But right now, it feels like I just need to “close the book” and “start fresh” conceptually as I turn my attention to my new NewSpring storytelling project. Stay tuned 🙂

      NickCharalambous

      March 10, 2010 at 11:36 am

  2. […] Parting thoughts on my year as NewSpring’s Web Campus pastor, part 1 via ipiphanist.wordpress.com […]

  3. […] part 1 (Update: You can read the other three parts of this blog series, here, here and here.) A new chapter in NewSpring’s web ministry begins Sunday with the launch of NewSpringLive, […]

  4. […] are properly extended online. (See the previous blog series, Web church reflections, parts 2, 3, 4.) Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Web church challenges, part 1: Is it […]

  5. […] Web Church Reflections, Parts 1, 2 and 3 and 4 […]


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