Meditations (Web)Church

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

Archive for the ‘ruminations’ Category

Journey’s End

with 2 comments

Thanks for stopping by.

This blog capturing my thoughts during NewSpring’s experiment in online church has run its course. Below are my favorite and most provocative posts for your reading pleasure.

Watch out for my new blog charting my new role as storyteller for NewSpring Church.

Web Church Challenges, parts 1, 2, and 3

Web Church Reflections, Parts 1, 2 and 3 and 4

The future of the Church is online

The local sermon is crumbling

The rise of net campuses: Are local churches on the ropes?

Can churches deny human choice?

What the web church can learn from the 2009 Hartford Seminary Megachurch Study, parts 1, 2, 3, 4

Is this the front door to the church in the 21st century?

Is Christian community an end or a means?

The rise of social media means the church is running out of excuses

Is the modern church ready for radically personal ministry?

People who diss social networks are hypocrites

The digitally networked church is a dangerous church

Advertisements

Written by NickCharalambous

March 19, 2010 at 12:23 am

Posted in ruminations

Web Church challenges, part 3: Is it dangerous?

with 4 comments

Part 1, of this blog series bidding goodbye to web pastoring focused on the Biblical warrant for only physical church planting. And Part 2 questioned whether web churches might be helpful in discipling believers into local churches.

In this final post, I reach the end of my thoughts on web church – and the end of my time as NewSpring web pastor – praising God for the opportunity to learn so much in such a short time about pastoring in an environment that will define our world over the next 50 years.

I also want to honor the many serious and astute pastors and church leaders dedicated to the cause of Christ who are seeking to “pioneer” the new mission field of the Internet. I was one of them, and I saw instantly the tremendous need to connect with the “lost sheep” in our communities who would never find their way to a local church, or who might not be willing to give faith a chance were it not for the easy on ramps and off ramps that the web offers.

My contention is simply this: The web church doesn’t solve any problems that Jesus hasn’t prepared and equipped the church to handle in the past, the present, or the future by physical means. In fact, the Web church may, in time, cause problems for the larger church that are harder to fix than the original problem of the declining evangelistic power of our physical church communities.

For perspective on a similar effort to analyze “online church,” I would refer to Paul Steinbrueck’s series of posts, although I was not aware of it until after writing.

So far, the argument for online church has tended to revolve around whether we can constitute churches in the online space with a kind of “functional equivalency” to the real thing to the do the work others can’t or won’t.

I would question why we wouldn’t work to invest in and improve the original disciplemaking “machine” — physical church as defined by Romans 12 and Corinthians 12 — rather than settle for a simulation?

I see a disturbing trend of online church attenders, if they are not also connected to local churches, behaving like “super-consumers” chasing the best teaching or the best worship or the convenience of the web church every week. Few of these people are “churchless” in any true sense of the word. They’ve decided their local churches simply aren’t good enough.

The danger is as obvious as it is serious: web church “gatherings” could create an even more deceptive path than “lone-ranger Christianity” for the unchurched and the dechurched to sidestep the sometimes ugly but always sanctifying realities of true church membership. And all the while, they may believe that this partial experience is, in fact, reflective of true Christian community.

There’s a chilling bonus danger, too: Physical churchgoers who attend online churches only for extra teaching, might also, almost imperceptibly, begin to question their commitment, participation and submission to their local church.

One of the intriguing aspects of the web church was the potential for the Internet’s powerful network effects to bring people together, expose them to values and beliefs, and provide a supportive environment for faith. I saw the possibility of the web overcoming the isolation and disruption of physical community in especially modern, western, urban societies, which has aggravated the decline of institutional churches over the last 150 years.

But it occurs to me that these network effects, while real, may be too open and fluid for them to produce adequate spiritual formation over the long haul. And they may be too distributed to create the epidemic-style effects of true community revival.

Only physical relationships anchored in time and space — and now perhaps leveraged through the web — can provide the relational density and relational layering over time to maximally expand the reach of our faith and, most importantly, deepen the lived-understanding of our faith needed for orthodoxy and orthopraxis.

I know I haven’t thought this through nearly enough, but it seems to me that there’s just a spiritual power to proximity and “locality” that we must continue to pursue — and that Jesus meant for us to pursue.

Again, the bottom line is not whether the Web Church can do anything spiritually fruitful.

My question is whether all the effort in the Web Church reflects a Biblical missiology that is likely to produce the kind of rapidly growing, robust, orthodox Christian communities of faith long term that will leave the church healthier than it is now.

What do you think?

Written by NickCharalambous

March 14, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Web church challenges, part 1: Is it even necessary?

with 5 comments

My reflections on my year as NewSpring’s Web Pastor have focused on what I see as the Web Church’s three potentially strongest contributions to the greater church: proclaiming the gospel and enhanced pastoral care and empowering personal ministry.

The deepest challenge for the web church is to clearly define what kind of space it’s trying to be, and warn people about what it it isn’t.

Andrew Conard was asking himself that question as I was writing this blog, so I’m going to borrow a useful four-part typology he found to help think through his church’s efforts

  • Religious identity – “online community” committed to each other through their shared faith and common religious expression.
  • Spiritual network – “online community” purposefully designed and initiated by God for a specific purpose.
  • Support network – “online community” providing a spiritually and emotionally supportive atmosphere.
  • Worship space – “transmission tool” for transmitting spiritual activities.”

It’s obvious that religious identity, support and worship space could be healthy and potentially legitimate ways to look at online church. What I’m wary of is the “creep” from those three modes that could surround and take hold as a “spiritual network” — which is a direct counterpart to the body of Christ and neatly explains what’s at stake.

It’s hard to tell how many online churches are claiming the status of “spiritual network.” But if they are — explicitly or implicitly — I think the burden is on them to justify why groups of people who only ever gather online for “church” should exist at all if the Bible is our ground for church practice?

The early church faced far more formidable obstacles to the spread of the Gospel than any of us can imagine, and yet it was in precisely these circumstances at the fullness of time, that God came to die in human so that we could live to build his church, his chosen “tool” to fill all the earth with “God glorifiers.”

Believers faced persecution and potential death to gather physically, even though their faith taught them that they belonged to one God in the spirit “over all, through all and in all.” The message of the Gospel itself traveled on the feet of believers, not mere emissaries, across unexplored, harsh and dangerous terrain for the sake of establishing not mere “propositional truth believers” but actual communities of a lived-out faith.

If the early church believed so powerfully in the primacy of physically planting the gospel, what circumstances are so pressing that they give us the right to seek an alternative method for building the church today?

It feels a lot like the online church “movement” as much if not more driven by technology and opportunity than proper missiology.

Location awareness is already maturing as a way to organize physical information and relationships on online space. I’m anticipating that, if properly led, the online spaces for religious identity, support network and worship could be very fruitful way for the church to connect scattered believers and bring them together as local bodies of believers where they can proclaim the Gospel, apply the sacraments and live out grace-giving community.

Perhaps the Internet was given as a gift to us by God for the very purpose of church planting? Where are the scriptures that indicate we will be held to account because we didn’t use another method?

A common objection will be that if “one person” receives Christ as a result of online-only church, it’s worth it. I am not downplaying the eternal difference that has been made to individuals all over the world from online-only church communities, but we need to remember that in God’s sovereign will and purpose, the health of his church overall is necessarily connected to the proper fulfillment of God’s promises.

I am sure there are some believers who live in circumstances where there are no churches and the web church presents a lifeline, but why wouldn’t we lead that believer in gospel planting, rather than giving them the sense that web church is enough?

Difficult, dangerous and painful are never sufficient grounds in our Gospel for us to shrink back from God’s plan for his creation. How does Jesus respond to Peter, the foreman of the biggest glory-organization project in human history?

Written by NickCharalambous

March 10, 2010 at 2:35 am

Web Church reflections, Part 2: Proclaiming the Gospel

with 9 comments

This is a blog series of personal observations from my year as NewSpring’s web pastor. Read Part 1, Part 3 and Part 4. (In all references to “web church,” it’s simply a shorthand for the (re)creation of a worship environment online. There are other weighty aspects to “being the church,” and I’m not dealing with them here.)

The most powerful justification for any use of technology by the church — printing, radio, television, internet — is gospel proclamation. I saw and heard countless encounters involving people who never would have experienced “church,” whether for salvation, or in discipleship, prayer or guidance, had it not been for a tweet, a Facebook status update or some other providential coincidence in our hyper-networked world.

Bottom line No. 1: Web churches live on a continuum with podcasts, vodcasts and livestreaming — and radio and tv church before them — as an effective way of maximizing exposure to the Gospel.

Every church that is financially able (and that should be pretty much every one) should be using one or all of these new mediums. At least 20 to 30 percent of church attenders are skipping one or two messages a month, so for that reason alone it’s worthwhile.

And if we do believe that the church is a community that has its fullest expression in physical gathering and action, then let’s state clearly what classifies as a healthy use of these “private” worship mediums. I think Tim Keller’s disclaimer on his web site is a good place to start. In fact, why aren’t more people doing this?

Bottom line No. 2: I’ve seen our own stats on our church’s use of Facebook and Twitter, and the traffic they drive across our various resources, and the power of these two social networks alone is simply staggering.

Given the limits of communicating in print and the pitiful number of true conversations that happen inside our atriums, social networks offer every one a way to get people informed and engaged in a place where they have everything they need to integrate Biblical “one anothering” with their day-to-day lives.

The churches that are wary of engaging in these media are, to put it bluntly, clueless. The risks associated with opening up conversations inside your church and exposing your church and your people to their friendship networks (in both directions) is the same as fearing what people would say when they’re talking at the YMCA or Bojangles.

Are you so insecure about your church’s discipleship or are you so lacking in confidence in the supremacy of Christ that you can’t handle that?

There are some wise practices to follow. Lead through them. Just don’t be chicken, for Christ’s sake.

Written by NickCharalambous

March 7, 2010 at 8:01 pm

Digging SimChurch

with 2 comments

I’ve been excited about Doug Estes book SimChurch ever since I heard about it in the spring.

I’ve been among a number of web pastors/bloggers who have been trying to break through the resistance to online church by explaining both what we are trying to do and not trying to do.

But I’ve been looking forward to someone with credibility and maturity offering up a reasonable, respectable and theologically sound book-length case for why gathering as the church online can be powerful and God-honoring. (Books still seem to be the ultimate path to credibility, no?)

If the Q&A with Doug Estes at ChurchRelevance.com was anything to go by, all practitioners of online church might be strengthened and encouraged — and in some cases humbled, no doubt — by the book.

I was nodding my head all the way through.

(And, selfishly, it was comforting to see echoes of many positions I’ve expressed here over the last year.)

This quote really stood out for me:

“… a lot of testimonies from virtual churchgoers that I saw, read, heard, or heard about are in fact from people the world would write off—but why would the church do this? Just because a person feels uncomfortable in a Western-style brick and mortar church makes them unworthy of Christian community?”

I would read the whole interview. And buy the book.

Written by NickCharalambous

October 22, 2009 at 10:21 am

Posted in ruminations

A tuneup for the NewSpring Web Service

with 5 comments

It doesn’t feel like 8 months since NewSpring launched Sunday worship services on the Web, and it’s hard to believe how much they have become a part of NewSpring life for nearly 800 people week after week who otherwise wouldn’t be able to be part of the NewSpring family.

Everyone knew online services are a major opportunity to expand NewSpring’s mission to spread the word about Jesus and see people far from Christ come to know him as Lord and Savior.

But we also knew that it was the kind of experiment that would lead us into territory whose theology and methodology was far from clear, and for which we would beg desperately for God’s grace and leading.

No one felt that dangerous tension more than me, as NewSpring’s first “web pastor” — and a non-ministry, non-religious professional at that.

Anyone who’s followed this blog can trace the “arc” of my thinking.

From the early excitement about how Web services could pioneer a new frontier in church growth, offering a response to a post-Christian world where “going to church” is not the first or natural place one thinks to encounter a life-giving spiritual message.

To a prophetic recognition that our use of the Web will radically and inevitably reshape the way we minister to one another and worship.

To a sobering view of the practical challenges of ministering in an online environment where the motivations, learnings, and behaviors of attenders are hard to fathom and even more difficult to guide.

And finally — now — to a theological “peace” about the fact that worship on the Web is just another tool in realizing and actualizing the “visible church.” As messy, flawed, inspiring, and incomplete as any gathering of believers in a sanctuary in Anytown, USA.

The last month of silence on this blog has coincided with a refining of the vision of the NewSpring Web Service that focuses the vision, resources and efforts of everyone on our team toward maxing out our opportunity for evangelism.

There’s a lot we don’t know about how to “do church” online. And we want to be humble as we seek to shepherd people online. We certainly don’t want to — inadvertently, naively — lower the bar for what it means to belong to and “be” the church.

But what we do know is that the Web gives us an opportunity — just like the printing press, radio and television before it — to spread the message of God in a new world without boundaries — geographic, temporal or cultural.

I came to know Jesus because NewSpring did everything in its power to remove barriers to hearing, believing and living the Gospel of Jesus.

As long as there are people who are intimidated to step foot in church …

As long as there are people who have never heard the good news of Jesus …

As long as there are people who do not live near a church where Jesus is lifted up …

The NewSpring Web Service will be valued, needed and used.

We figure that when people are connecting and engaging and surrendering to Jesus, that’s when we have the true opportunity to disciple people into local, physical, grace-filled and grace-giving communities of faith that are God’s plan A for glorifying himself through his son Jesus Christ.

Perhaps we don’t need to reinvent the church online? Perhaps the wisest thing to do is work with other Christ-centered churches and courageous church planters to help seed communities of faith?

Our strategy is to be OK in taking this journey one faith step at a time.

if you’re active in web ministry and web evangelism, where are you on this learning curve?

Written by NickCharalambous

August 27, 2009 at 10:19 am

Posted in ruminations

“The local sermon is crumbling”

with 4 comments

A few months ago, I caused quite a stir with my post “The Rise of Net Campuses: Are Local Churches on the Ropes?” It picked up 903 page views, and dozens of comments, which in my opinion far outclassed the quality of my ideas.

In a post that seems to take up where I left off, Matthew Anderson challenged evangelicals to “properly articulate why the Church gathers and hears the Word of God, and then shapes its churches accordingly, [or] we will continue to be co-opted by technologism.”

I think Anderson is right to suggest that the “local sermon is crumbling” amid the abundance of excellent teaching now available online — in video podcasts, live web services, and even services like VideoTeaching.com. In fact, Kent Shaffer wrote an excellent blog series on why VideoTeaching.com is the next big church model.

NewSpring is a multi-site church, so I obviously believe in the power of video teaching as it is used in the context of a local body of believers overseen by a local pastor.

But where I worry is not that mediocre local teaching will be superseded by excellent remote teaching, but that this trend will be accompanied by an erosion of understanding of the importance of both local gathering and local authority.

Ecclesiology isn’t sexy in church circles. And I don’t think it packs pews or auditoriums. But the stakes are high enough that we need to do better in explaining the importance of being the church in a local context, and why membership of the “universal church” is not sufficient.

Typically, we cast the importance of local church as the ministry of the body. But I wonder whether it has to be more expansive even than that, perhaps along the lines of Frank Viola’s recent musings on Ekklesia and discipleship.

Anderson will be debating Andrew Jones as part of the Christian Web Conference at Biola in September.

I’m going to do my best to be there. It should be fun.

Written by NickCharalambous

July 31, 2009 at 9:40 am

Posted in ruminations