Meditations (Web)Church

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

Posts Tagged ‘culture

Web Church challenges, part 3: Is it dangerous?

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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. 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

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 can support believers through life’s seasons

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The Hartford Seminary megachurch study illuminated, among other things, the fact that their appeal was dramatically greater among the young and the mobile. In fact, the study found that it was precisely that demographic that was missing from more traditional churches.

So what happens when these highly mobile individuals decide to, well, be mobile?

I think it’s obvious that the Web Church can provide a home to those “young and mobile” individuals, especially if there’s no megachurch-like environment where they live. It’s a demographic primed to adopt technology and most interested in redefining their engagement with church.

But the web church can also help this mobile group avoid the potential for Christians to fall out of fellowship and find themselves outside the church for months or years as they move from place to place — more than enough time for Satan to attack and potentially shipwreck someone’s faith.

What I’m calling the “seasonal audience” could be huge for the church: Those people in every demographic who find themselves unable to attend physical church regularly because of chronic illness, relocation, work schedules or a myriad of other artificial barriers. Some of those barriers may originate from poor Lordship or discipleship, but the church must be open enough to work with people where they are — and encourage them to grow into who God wants them to be.

In being able to “take your church with you,” believers can maintain the healthy connections and the spiritual family that has helped believers grow as lifestage and lifestyles change, or at least until they are in a position to plug in at brick and mortar churches.

Written by NickCharalambous

June 17, 2009 at 8:58 am

Posted in community, web campus

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

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Andy Stanley’s NorthPoint Community Church yesterday joined other progressive, nationally-known ministries in jumping on the internet campus trend.

I think it’s safe to say that what started out as an outreach experiment has quietly become a “standard” part of the modern technomedia church, which includes vodcasting and podcasting, streaming video of sermons, multi-site video teaching and the various social media efforts, including twitter, facebook, and community infrastructure.

Not only am I pumped for the good folks at NorthPoint, including John Saddington, Jeff Henderson, and Los Whittaker who are behind the initiative, I think having several heavyweight ministries exploring this terrain is only going to speed up our learning about how best to grow strong churches online.

This tweet about the news did catch my eye Tuesday, and I thought was worth commenting on:

Lifechurch, Central/Vegas, NewSpring, et al w/ net campus; now Saddleback & Northpoint…local churches better figure out a reason to exist. @BrianConard

For the record, I don’t think local churches will ever be replaced by cyberchurches.

But I think it’s already true that ubiquitous access to skilled, accessible and powerful preaching from the super-ministries of Perry Noble, Mark Driscoll, Andy Stanley, Matt Chandler and Francis Chan and others, along with their church “life” that can be shared through and in other media and online venues, are transforming people’s expectations of how a local church fits in the modern Christian life.

Especially if that local church is mediocre, passionless and tone deaf to the culture we live in.

I think it will “raise the game” for every church, since every demographic is adopting technology at a rapid pace, and the acceptance of modern worship (including web worship) is accelerating daily.

If anyone wants to bet against this culture shift, they should take a lesson from the demise of the newspaper industry, speaking as one with a foot in both cultures. (The traditional church and the traditional media are both presumptuous about how well they know their “audience” and are meeting their needs. Both have a deathly tendency toward believing that their audience isn’t smart enough to know what’s True and what’s good for them. And both like to arrogantly assume that their people “aren’t going anywhere,” despite the mushrooming number of choices around them.)

Small local churches will close. Large ministries will grow larger.

Only the excellent will survive.

The bigger question for the health of the church is how well this bridge generation — US — will develop the new leadership structures and new community structures that will provide the bone and sinew of “membership” of a “body of believers” in this new era.


Written by NickCharalambous

June 3, 2009 at 10:55 am

When Easter is all Greek to me. Part 1

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This was my first Easter as a pastor, and what an Easter it was.

Record attendance of 15,400 at NewSpring’s four campuses — 803 on the Web Campus alone — and 322 people met Jesus, seven of them on the web.

It got me to thinking about the type of Greek Orthodox Easter that I celebrated with my family in North London when I was a kid.

Talk about traditional.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, the eastern Orthodox churches make catholic churches look contemporary. Lots of icons, stained glass, incense, robes, an altar that isn’t visible to the congregation.

And everything in a foreign language.

Yes, it really was Greek to me.

The entire service, from the psalms, to the prayers to the homily, were spoken in Ancient Greek.

Easter along with Christmas, just as in the south, were big turnout days for North London’s huge Greek Community. We would wear our Sunday best along with a fixed expression of “solemnity” as we stood and sat (but mostly stood) through two and three hour services that I couldn’t understand a single word of.

Looking back on my path to God, I can’t deny that I felt the tug of the Holy Spirit year after year at those events. But I didn’t have a hope that I would ever hear the power of the gospel for salvation.

I have a great deal of respect for my orthodox cousins, and its theology is well, “orthodox,” but i just can’t understand how you would want to keep good news to yourself.

That has got to break the heart of Jesus.

And if it wasn’t for NewSpring, I’d still be on my Highway to Hell.

So forgive me if I just couldn’t care less about what people think about using a song like that inside a worship service.

God is undeniably moving at NewSpring, and I’m pretty sure that the energy behind the whole of the modern evangelical church movement comes down to two very simple things.

We talk to be understood.

We speak into people’s lives where they are.

That’s it.

Lights. Fancy video. Rock music. Social media. Whatever. In our noisy culture, that just earns us the right to attention and to be heard.

I came to Jesus at NewSpring while reporting a story that started out as an expose on whether NewSpring was really teaching the Bible and “right doctrine” or whether it wasn’t all just entertainment and a personality cult.

So you can see how that turned out for me.

Criticize all you like if you believe that Jesus needs to be harder to get to. You will be answerable to Jesus just as we are.

But you might want to remember Jesus very own words:

49 John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” 50 But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”

Written by NickCharalambous

April 15, 2009 at 11:35 am

Posted in ruminations

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Notes and reflections on my Unleash soapbox

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I’m new to speaking gigs. Kinda funny really, given that I’ve always liked to be outspoken.

It was a huge privilege to have the attention of about 50 to 100 folks for 5 minutes during Unleash, NewSpring’s balling church conference, on the subject of “How to Build Community.”

It was fun to have a box to stand on in the middle of the Anderson Campus courtyard with a bullhorn in my hands. And nerve wracking too.

Here are my notes, with a few more lines of explanation that I never got to give to my live audience. You can compare that with the video of the soapbox and tell me if it translated. (And you can be honest with me. Jesus would want that.)

My Challenge to the church: Build Community!
Everyone else is doing it
Jesus wants it (Matt. 5:14)
People crave it

What is community?
It isn’t affiliation. It is participation (1 Cor. 12) Community as a “goodness engine”

Three things you need for community (and one if you want to call it a success.)
1. Identity/Culture
Tell stories, encourage conversations; establish membership value to self, others
2. Interdependency
Create transparency about member resources; offer mechanism to exchange social value (Acts. 2/4)
3. Purposefulness
Leverage resources through collaboration, crowdsourcing (Ex. 25); embrace innovation
4. Legacy
Transfer value to succeeding generations; across different social spheres. (Matt 28)

For Church to be the hope of the world:
Message and people=open, attractive
Praxis=dynamic, integrative

My take-away message in three paragraphs:

1. We have the will of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, the best news anyone could ever receive and all the social technology imaginable to build powerful community everywhere that creates disciples of Jesus. So let’s do it!

2. It happens by the massive, web-enabled network effects of gathering the people of God and sharing their knowledge, resources and time with the world to create attractive, unimaginable, unbelievable social value. We can’t let the church sit on the sidelines while the world manufactures fake community for distraction, entertainment or financial gain.

3. The church cannot be afraid to harness the tools in its own way for its own people and its own purpose because it worries that we will create a subculture. Christians have always been a subculture. The difference is whether that subculture hides from the world or aggressively pursues the transformation of the culture. Doing community well will always add to our number daily from the lost, the oppressed and the dispossessed in our culture.

Do I hear an amen?

Written by NickCharalambous

March 12, 2009 at 6:19 pm

Posted in ruminations

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We rob God of power when our stories go untold

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The Bible commands everyone everywhere to tell the story of God.

So why isn’t storytelling part of everything we do as a church, not just part of a preacher’s anecdotes?

That makes no sense when we structure our reality as humans through stories we hear.
And when we shape our identity through the stories we relate.
And when we see God’s heart and will for us communicated through the stories in his word.

Stories are everywhere in our congregations. But up until now, we’ve boxed them in as testimony, as evangelism. I think we can easily overlook how important it is for stories to be told and heard by believers within a congregation.

Everyone needs a reminder about the great and mighty God that we serve. The Bible itself is one glorious and perpetual reminder … And our experiences of affliction and Christ’s overcoming grace are meant for others to be strengthened and encouraged.

It’s inspiring to see efforts, such as, harness figures with credibility — famous and ordinary — to help non-believers recognize that our faith is real, authentic and supernatural. And it’s natural to harvest those stories when they are unstoppable in a believer transformed by grace. Just consider the people in scripture healed by Jesus who ignored the warnings of God! not to tell others about what happened to them.

But the strategy tends to compartmentalize the role storytelling can play. It becomes “something for others.” Rather than a part of our faith journey together as a church in discipleship and sanctification.

The wonders of our God? They are how he has romanced, rescued, comforted and healed us and other people among us. The “greater things” Jesus promised we would do after him? Those are the things happening among us right now if only we knew about them.

I’d love to see churches all over America get on board with telling stories from their congregations. As a former media guy, that’s been my individual burden almost from the moment I was saved at NewSpring five years ago.

Over the years, NewSpring has documented a few great stories, like this one and, boldly, incorporated the video during services. But there’s so much more we could do all of us could do.

Tony Morgan and I had a conversation this week about the beginnings of that strategy, which he touched on here

So why do we hear so little about the spectacular and not so spectacular miracles that every believer experiences, daily, weekly, monthly or yearly?

Because we don’t ask for them. We don’t make it easy to capture them. And we don’t make it really easy to show, as a church, how much we value them.

Are you asking?

How are you doing it?

What’s your story?

What do you suggest?

Written by NickCharalambous

February 5, 2009 at 6:18 pm