Meditations (Web)Church

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

Posts Tagged ‘ruminations

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

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

Whatever happened to the sacred?

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My ministry is the web church, so it’s not surprising that my heart skips a beat when I come across critiques of what God laid on my heart to do.

I actually welcome criticism, partly because I love God too much to be outside his will, and also because I want to be humble about what I think I know about the majestic God that I worship with my life.

In one such critique below, there was one point (or maybe I’m misunderstanding?) that made me pause: Can we truly experience the sacred online?

[the cyber-church] … risks the danger that in the electronically mediated virtual world the experience of the holy will become visual and secularized. It also faces the danger that the Word of God pervading the depth of the soul will be changed into the on-screen messages of the electronically reduced multimedia.”

Yuang Han Kim (HT: Tall Skinny Kiwi)

The concept of reverence seems stuffy and unfashionable. I get that. And I know all the theoretical and theological stuff about God being part of your everyday life, God being your friend.

The problem for me is that there are just too many words like “awe” and “fear” and “glory” and their synonyms in the scriptures to not believe that the question of sacredness is valid.

Growing up Greek Orthodox, I was clueless about a lot of things, including Jesus, but I definitely knew the moment that I stepped foot inside the church that I was supposed to feel oh-so-small and unworthy in the presence of a Holy, Holy, Holy God.

In megachurches like NewSpring, the lights, the music and the sheer size of the congregation help build that sense, I think. But that doesn’t really transfer on the web.

Of course, God being God, there are times when the move of the Holy Spirit is dramatic and unmistakable no matter what environment we’re in.

Such as when RoseAngela breaks down while singing the old hymn “Softly and Tenderly”.

Or when evangelist Clayton King decides to make an invitation before a single word is preached and sees hundreds declare Jesus as Lord and Savior. (Watch at least part of the 20-minute portion of this service, beginning at 21:30)

What do you think?

Written by NickCharalambous

May 6, 2009 at 9:09 am

Posted in ruminations

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Christina Aguilera is a messenger of God

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NewSpring Worship Creative Arts Pastor Shane Duffey and Worship Leader Lee McDerment talked about their philosophy on using secular music in the worship service in an interview with Tony Morgan Monday.

The purpose of a worship service is that “the end result is salvation and repentence and that only comes by the hearing of the word … Everything else around that is preparation of and cultivation of people’s minds and hearts to receive Truth.

Whether it is a song written by Christina Aguilera or Chris Tomlin, it is our job to prepare people’s hearts … Hurt focused people’s minds in a very dynamic way … to prepare them to hear the truth. We will sing anything at any time that we believe will do that so salvation and repentence is a result — Shane Duffey

Here’s the song they’re referring to:

Lee followed up that thought with a critical caveat: Context is everything.

What that means is that the song clip I just shared isn’t really completed (and redeemed) until it’s framed by the word of God and pointed toward him.

Here’s the point for me: For too long, the church’s engagement toward culture has revolved around borrowing reference points and packaging. What we can and must do is add back the sacred dimension to whatever secular culture has emptied out and turned on its head.

That’s what makes the difference between a culturally engaged church that’s confronting culture and bringing people to salvation and repentence.

And just another hip church.


Written by NickCharalambous

February 4, 2009 at 10:11 pm

The tears in church are just as real on the web

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The NewSpring Web Campus launch was thrilling. You can read the official account at the Web Campus blog, including video.

But what blew me away was not the number of people that were gathered. Or the fact that people from all over the world worshipped with us.

It was that amid all the philosophical and theological debates about the Web church and whether web community is real and whether sacraments can be rightly administered, we forget that real people need us to make this work.

They are in real pain, they have real souls, they have real lives and real eternities.

Perry brought a tough, intense sermon today. He challenged people to totally forgive. He asked thousands in the auditorium on the Anderson Campus to write names on sheets of paper and to tear them in unison as they were set free from Satan’s grip.

Everyone heard that sound. It brought Perry to tears. And it brought the Web Campus to tears. It drove many people to seek help in our live prayer. And for one reason or another, these people were not in a local church on the ground in their neighborhood.

Sure, we could try and persuade them that physical attendance is the “right thing to do.” We could even take a crack at justifying why they should attend a local church.

Even if they are not being challenged and stretched spiritually.

Even if they are not in fellowship that encourages and strengthens them and that can hold them accountable.

Would we be successful? I doubt it.

But here’s the thing: They were at church. It was just online. And they need the church to stop arguing about whether they were really there and just figure out how we can be the church online for them; how we can help each other love God, love others and make disciples.

It’s time to stop talking about bit-rates, and web design, and the latest, shiniest new tools and to start talking about how we build genuine, Christ-centered community for the long haul.

The web has changed social arrangements forever. We cannot argue about that any longer.

In post-Christian Europe, local churches everywhere are being shut down and turned into luxury condos or bars. Physical, bricks-and-mortar church holds little to no meaning other than prejudice and anachronism for hundreds of millions of people.

We would be sinning against Christ and his sacrifice on the cross to turn our backs on them.

I plan to charge the gates of hell with our Web Campus. Who’s with me?

Don’t lose sight of basics in the tyranny of the new

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I have a confession.

It’s been just four weeks since I took on this role as Internet Campus Pastor, and God’s already teaching me some hard lessons about how I view success and what I’m trusting in to achieve it.

God showed me my fallen desire to “prove myself” in this new, breathtaking world of church possibility when I should be letting him focus my heart on reaching and deeply touching people who desperately need to know more of Jesus.

On three different occasions in one week, God showed me that I shouldn’t be relying on innovation to have an impact in my ministry.

  • The first came last Sunday during’s beta test of its new icampus. We noticed that all the main components of the site we were building were practically identical, right down to the open, public chat and the map showing global attenders.
  • Then came word on Tuesday that Mars Hill Church’s On The City community building application had been bought by Zondervan. That reminded me that in spring 2007, after at least two years of envisioning what I call the “networked church,” I submitted a plan for such an application to E.W. Scripps Co.’s enterprenuer fund. They loved the concept. They just couldn’t see a way to make money at it from churches.
  • And then today, debuted its new icampus, with a post-service live show webcast using Mogulus. Yup, you guessed it: We planned a live show to start just a few weeks after our Internet campus launch. I referred to in this post as a “distinctive.”

I should have been happy that two leaders in the Internet or Internet campus church movement had affirmed our strategic direction and gut instincts. Instead, I was worried that we’d look like copycats.

That’s when it helps to have a friend and colleague like our Creative Director Joshua Blankenship. “Who cares?” he said. Thanks Joshua.

Living in the online world carries a certain slavery to it. Be new. Be original. Be innovative. Be successful. Be discussed.

But those can be huge, distracting temptations if you’re not holding every tool, every platform, every community building strategy captive to Christ and the work he wants to do through them in people.

What’s new quickly becomes old.

There’s nothing new under the sun.

When it comes to online church, what counts is the quality of our attenders’ devotion to Christ and the depth and durability of their relationships to each other.

Tools are just tools. It’s how you use them that makes the difference. An eternal difference.

For internet campuses, offering an excellent, authentic experience of the love of God and the love of his people is infinitely better than making your site shiny and slick and original.

I need to remember that.

Written by NickCharalambous

November 23, 2008 at 7:50 pm

The digitally networked church is a dangerous church. If not now, when?

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Christians hate to play catch up with culture. They just hate to admit that, more often than not, they missed the boat because they weren’t as smart, imaginative or innovative as the world.

And too often, when then they do see value in a great idea or technology, they’re more interested in the way it can provide “a safe alternative” to a secular phenomenon or a social support for the (typically personal) challenges of Christian life, rather than the ways it can be used dangerously for the Kingdom.

There’s a lot of buzz about the sale of Mars Hill’s On The City community building application, which boasts “real not virtual community for Jesus Fame.”  The buyer, Christian media powerhouse Zondervan, is likely hoping for mass adoption by churches.

I’m predicting a lot of uber Christians have already decided to dismiss On the City as “just Facebook for Christians.”

In my view, that fatally misunderstands what On The City is about.

And if we keep rejecting the fundamental premise of the digital revolution as “just another social network,” we’ll just delay building massively influential networked church bodies that will be empowered and seen to do incredible, dangerous acts of God.

Distinctly Christian community is important and indispensable. One of the most powerful theological premises of our faith is that everyone can contribute and must contribute to building the kingdom of God.

From a spiritual perspective we can’t be faithful, powerful and influential Christians unless we are surrounded by encouraging, disciplining and inspiring practical wisdom about how to “work out salvation.”

From a practical perspective, we need to be aware of the gifts, abilities, and resources of other Christians in order that we can work together with them to help a hurting world for God’s glory. No matter whether you are in a small town or a big city, you can live out your God ordained role in the Church.

Distinctly Christian community is not a substitute but a supplement to broader community. There is no doubt a danger that Christian community could become a “holy huddle,” but that’s only if it’s oriented solely around fellowship in a kind of social “bunker mentality:” keep me safe and affirm me.

Create a different pivot point, and everything changes.

The fact is, in the networked world, all of us belong to multiple communities right now – for work and for fun. If the Christians in our churches use the opportunities of the digitally networked church poorly, it is the fault of individual Christians and their pastors, not the potentially life-enhancing technology.

A networked church is a healthy church. A digitally networked church body can be present to itself at all times in all locations, providing instant support and giving the devil much less of an opening.

And a digitally networked church body allows a large and wide range of its social interactions to be transparent to everyone, making it easier for church members to recognize a need for help and guidance, and for church leaders to provide correction and discipline.

On the City has many if not all of the elements of the four principles of healthy church life. It’s not the ultimate church utility, but it’s a good starting point. And it’s way more revolutionary than the new trend of icampuses.

  • Engage: The detailed user-profile features allows you to make connections between like-minded churchgoers so they can develop their own sub-networks, where all the real social and spiritual change happens offline and online. If you could have the ability to declare your gifts and resources (time, money, possessions) and enable others to search for instant matches for whatever burden or vision the Lord gives them, that could be truly revolutionary.
  • Endure: Offering daily bible readings, journal space, and groups feature offers a chance to make learning social (and therefore easier and more pleasant) in self-selected groups that are much more cohesive and productive than those created more or less arbitrarily. Imagine a YouVersion social Bible or a social Bible study guide combined with the power of multiple video chat? That would be a powerhouse for discipleship.
  • Enable: Its events and marketplace features when combined could form the core functionality of a service application, where any community member could take on “project manager” responsibility for a service project, large or small, identifying, gathering and deploying Christian resources for God’s glory.
  • Enlarge: Any amount of digitally networked social activity creates a media overflow that can be displayed, embedded, and discussed across the full range of the secular social media landscape. We know that when Christ is lifted up, he draws people to himself.

What’s your take on On The City? What other functionalities would make the ideal church utility?

Written by NickCharalambous

November 19, 2008 at 4:25 pm