Meditations (Web)Church

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

Archive for the ‘volunteers’ Category

Web church challenges, part 2: Is it fruitful?

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Part 1, of this blog series bidding goodbye to web pastoring focused on the Biblical warrant for only physical church planting.

So if in fact the highest and fullest expression of “being the church” isn’t the disembodied spiritual network, but actually to be a physical body of local believers, can online churches serve a redemptive purpose in discipling people into local churches?

That “starter church” model, which we pursued at NewSpring after moving away from the “full campus” concept early, also surfaced a significant set of challenges.

The three biggest were:

  • An experience trap: Community, identity and connection comes from “co-laboring” for a common purpose. We developed plenty of opportunities for people to exercise spiritual gifts in serving one another, building up one another and advancing the kingdom. But the web environments, while collegial, couldn’t adequately capture the richness important in non-verbal communication of spiritual truths that come out in physical service. It didn’t allow us to transcend our private experience. Additionally, the need for specific tools and the medium’s over-dependence on cognitive and expressive gifts most definitely hobbles the notion that everyone could play a role.
  • A leadership trap: There was a dearth of spiritually mature people willing to lead others in exploring, developing and using spiritual gifts, and those that were spiritually mature were involved in other churches. This raises many thorny issues surrounding how a believer can properly function within a body with allegiances to “two masters.” More important still was that so few of our online-only NewSpring attenders were located in truly churchless area. That meant the growth path from discipleship to leadership within the church was logically contradictory: Our ethical obligation was to encourage those who can to be involved in and mature to leadership in a local church.
  • A transfer trap: Megachurches, with their resources, their visibility, and their gifted leaders can serve as extraordinary magnets for those who are spiritually immature. But once their spiritual appetite is awakened through the dynamic teaching and worship styles they’ve experienced online, they’re not eager to be pointed in the direction of local congregations unless they follow the same megachurch style. It was hard to show them the superior value of a local church, even if it was less “excellent.” On a related note, the informal church networks that are growing up around modern, non-denominational evangelicalism are growing fast, but don’t map nearly enough with the scattered geographies of attenders to improve the chances of matchmaking attenders with local congregations.

So where does all that leave us? A complex, time-intensive evangelistic outreach ministry with significant challenges to truly successful outcomes.

In response, some will argue that spiritual maturity can be properly achieved online and outside of a physical body of believers, given the development of the right tools, environments and leadership. There’s probably some truth that the online church can get better as our relationship to the Internet matures.

But my sense is that you can’t “copy” what doesn’t have an original. As the first digital church generation, we might be safe applying what we have learned and experienced in our physical communities of faith to “organize” and grow online faith communities. But what of those digital generations to come? How comfortable are we really in staking the future of the church on those digital copies-of-copies of Biblical physical community?

I honor my brothers in churches all across the world who are laboring in this important mission field who believe very passionately that they are following God’s will as they pursue online church.

But I still don’t see why the vast majority of those benefits can’t come from local, physical churches that are properly extended online. (See the previous blog series, Web church reflections, parts 2, 3, 4.)

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Written by NickCharalambous

March 11, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Web Church reflections, part 3: The Spiritual Power of Interactivity

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This is a blog series of personal observations from my year as NewSpring’s web pastor. Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 4 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.)

Christ’s call on us is a relational one, and as I used to counsel my volunteers on the NewSpring Web Service, every communication online is an opportunity to image Christ and minister his grace, with or without explaining the Gospel.

Live instant message prayer and open chat was the aspect of our web church experiment at NewSpring that most intrigued me: Would it be embraced by attenders? Would the Holy Spirit use it to apply healing balm to a broken heart or convict someone of their need to turn away from sin and to Jesus or would it simply serve as a giant distraction from more God honoring things?

I witnessed incredible moves of God in both environments. What was the learning point? The children of God are abounding in questions and needs, and they are starving for people to pour into them in a meaningful way when they are “harassed and helpless.

Bottom line: The most reliable way to spur spiritual growth is relational connection. Many churches spend vast amounts of money to bring people to their churches and put on classes or various sorts to handle a diversity of issues their congregations face, and yet too few have a “live” channel of preferably private pastoral communication to handle needs as they arise.

In-person pastoral counseling, and well-led serving and group environments are always the best ways to minister to one another.

But in my web church experience, too many people are too scared to speak to someone face to face (especially if they have relational equity at stake) or they need help too quickly for this to be always practical or effective. I know all churches have care staffs that answer phone inquiries or have “care lines,” but I’ve noticed that even phone calls appear to be intimidating or unappealing to some people.

Sure, some of that is poor discipleship, but cursing the darkness won’t make the light come on. In fact, there are some issues that I am certain would never have surfaced or been addressed without the “safety” of a cool and more anonymous medium like the Internet. Perhaps the Catholic confessional wasn’t a dumb idea after all?

The touchpoint doesn’t have to be a staffer or even an ordained pastor. There are plenty of mature believers with the gift of mercy and discernment and there are plenty of simple tools available to schedule on-demand live help nearly 24-7 if there’s a will to do it. I know there’s a need.

If we’re serious about helping our own people and the lost who come to our Web sites, we can do better than schedule an appointment or give people voicemail. If it’s not a commercial IM live support tool, maybe it’s a guaranteed “fast-response” through a church social media presence or email. Whatever. It’s an easy extra option with a lot of value and only needs to be adequately publicized.

We are way overdue in leveraging the web and our people for close-to-real-time pastoral care.

Written by NickCharalambous

March 8, 2010 at 3:00 pm

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

Reflections on an amazing beta test of the NewSpring Web Campus

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NewSpring has a history of launching things before they are ready. I guess that’s our way of making sure that we’re desperately depending on God.

Joshua hit the wall

Joshua hit the wall

At 2 a.m. Sunday, NewSpring’s creative director/web strategist/sometime front-end coder, Joshua Blankenship, had admitted defeat.

The all-important chatroom on the NewSpring Web Campus wasn’t functional. Joshua told me later he wasn’t expecting that we could move forward with our beta test at all. Next week’s launch was looking iffy, too.

God had other plans.

Today’s web campus “private” beta was successful beyond everyone’s wildest dreams.

What started out as a closed test broke-out across Twitter world in an unplanned way after someone in Overland Park, Kan., twittered about it.

We decided to embrace our “public” beta, and we ended up with nearly 250 visitors in our two services. We saw only a few minor issues, most of them user-interface related, and most of them known beforehand.

It was tremendously encouraging to receive so many positive reviews from our techno-evangelist friends in the “Big C” church.

But from the campus pastor’s point of view, I was even more amazed — and humbled — at how brilliantly our video production and web staff and 20-strong volunteer team performed today under considerable pressure, without much practice, with a total unity of purpose.

From the beginning, our volunteers — most would admit not being technologically sophisticated at all — were willing to believe on faith that God was in control of our Web Campus and would bring glory to himself through it. More than one volunteer shed tears of joy today when they finally saw what was possible.

Video producer Will Rodes (left) and Web genius Joshua Blankenship working the web campus chatroom

Video producer Will Rodes (left) and Web genius Joshua Blankenship working the web campus chatroom

Volunteers Tim and Rhonda Evatt

Volunteers Tim and Rhonda Evatt

Volunteers Micah Swift and Lynn Whitfield and Care Ministry Director Julie Keith

Volunteers Micah Swift, Elaine Payne and Lynn Whitfield

Amid all the techno-chatter, there were some amazing stories:

  • We had two people watching from hospital beds who received encouragement and prayer.
  • We had one couple burst into tears while they watched video of baptisms in the web service stream.
  • We had another person, struggling deeply, stumble across the campus while randomly surfing and receive comfort and prayer from two others who had experienced a similar heartbreak.

The web campus ministered to people. It was authentic. It was grace.

All I can say is “Thank you, Jesus!”

I don’t know how I got to be in this place and in this time, amid an extraordinary, unexplainable move of God. I’m all too ordinary. All I can do is praise God for his grace on me, and our church, and beg that he continues to shine his face on our ministry.

We had nearly 200 salvations today at NewSpring’s three physical campuses, bringing the year’s total to 650.

Join with me in praying that, with the help of the web campus, the number of those placing their trusting in Jesus for the first time will be multiplied by 1,000 times this year.

Written by NickCharalambous

January 25, 2009 at 10:13 pm

NewSpringers “get it” when it comes to our web campus

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I can see why the concept of online church would make some people cautious.

I understand that folks are skeptical about whether you can have true online-only community.

And I expect some folks to be plain dismissive.

But as I pointed out in a comment on Church Crunch recently, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the response I’ve gotten from regular church members here at NewSpring about our web campus.

When I cast vision Sunday to our launch volunteer team (of all ages, backgrounds and technical aptitudes, mind you) that the web campus is a legitimate way to do church, I braced for at least some resistance.

Zip. Nothing. Nada.

Thought you might want to read some of the encouragement I have gotten from them via email.

“I am so excited about our new web church. I think it is going to go through the roof.” – Cheryl

“For years I’ve heard people say (who were tired of standard church) we watch (TV preacher) for church .. webcampus will offer much more to people in that position, I’m excited.” – Mike

“Looking forward to this spectacular ministry” – Gloria

“At first I didn’t really know what to think about it (except that I wanted to be a part of it in some way) but now I am just really excited to get it cranked up” – Micah

Yes, NewSpring Church is awesome.

It has awesome, can-do, ready-for-anything members who believe God is HUGE and wants us to use everything at our disposal to round-up his lost children.

That’s the answer for why we’re growing like crazy, in case you’re wondering.

But you knew that already.

Written by NickCharalambous

January 5, 2009 at 4:46 pm

Meet Blaine: The true miracle of tech is unlocking the power of God in people

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I haven’t been a pastor very long (and I don’t yet have a real flock, so to speak) but God has been gracious enough to give me a chance already to taste one of the greatest and unexpected joys of the job: Seeing how God can use me to help others live in the fullness of who God made them to be.

Today, I added a volunteer to the NewSpring web campus team, Blaine, an Anderson University student, who is simply a walking miracle. A man who is the grace of God.

In the carefree prime of his teenage life, on short-term leave from the U.S. Army Reserve, Blaine took his muscle car for a joyride on S.C. 81 in Anderson County, near Easley. The single-vehicle wreck, which occurred at speeds estimated at more than 90 mph, should have been fatal.  Blaine spent time in a coma. The doctors said that if he did survive, it would be in a permanent vegetative state.

But by the mercies and the power of God, that’s not how the story turned out.

Instead, he recovered his motor skills to the point where he can walk unhindered. He maintained all his brain function, right down to his fluency with French and his conversational Spanish. His only “disability” is that he is mute and has one withered hand.

That’s OK. When he’s out and about he can still hold his Jornada computer in his good hand and type out his conversations with the one protruding finger from his other hand.

And when he’s at home and hooked up to the Internet, that’s all he needs to handle live prayer on the NewSpring web campus. There he’ll be able to actively encourage potentially thousands of other believers in their time of confusion or need to trust and believe in the power of God to make things new.

Many of us evangelize the power of technology for the gospel. But for me, it’s just not how far we can carry the message of Christ that is so God-inspiring about our future. It’s all the people who will get to carry that message who would have been unable to a generation or two ago, whether through their “disabilities” or their social circumstances.

The body of Christ has many stories like this. Share them here, share them there, share them everywhere. Just share them.

Written by NickCharalambous

December 27, 2008 at 4:04 pm