Meditations (Web)Church

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

Posts Tagged ‘social media

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

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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 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

Parting thoughts on my year as NewSpring’s Web Campus pastor, part 1

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(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, a live streaming webcast of each of our four Sunday services on the Anderson campus.

The new webcast replaces the “Web Service,” which was launched in February 2009 as an experiment in “online church” but evolved quickly to become an environment focused on leveraging web attenders and seekers toward local churches.

The webcast continues to allow us to serve attenders of our physical campuses who cannot make it to church and to offer an extra teaching resource to the broader movement of the gospel in the world. What it doesn’t do is make any promises — real or implied — that this can or should replace physical church attendance over the short, medium or long term.

It was humbling and, frankly, scary to have the opportunity to begin my ministry career in such a pioneering role. I learned quickly the healthy desperation for God’s guidance that every good pastor needs. This blog now stands as an archive to the values, ideas, and debates that framed my work in this area of ministry.

Some of what I wrote now makes me wince because of its naivety. Some is no longer relevant given the changing online environment. But I believe some of what I wrote may have been written with prophetic force that may remain useful to church leaders and pastors who are only now engaging in this area.

Over the next few posts, I plan to offer some personal observations about the “Web Campus” phenomenon and to suggest a few ways we might be able to evaluate its spiritual health.

The change to a pure “webcast” is, I think, another triumph of NewSpring’s “simple church” philosophy, a reflection of our pastor Perry Noble’s single-minded desire to stay focused on the vision God has given him as well as a demonstration of the humility we try and bring to everything we do for Jesus’ fame.

Technology offers the church amazing opportunities to bring God glory. But when it comes to the church Christ died for, there’s no reason to doubt that the Biblical bedrock of all our efforts to multiply the faith is the planting of real, physical churches until the glory of God covers the earth.

We can and should discuss how churches must remain culturally relevant.

We can and should explore ways to extend onto the web the relational bonds that are the basis of disciple-making.

But I don’t see anything in the history of civilization or technology that warrants departing from the priority of preaching the Gospel of Christ within local, physical bodies of believers under right authority and rightly administering the sacraments.

More than 1,000 people on average joined us for one of our interactive “Web Services” each week during the year that NewSpring experimented with the video-chatroom form of online church that has been popularized by LifeChurch.tv and inspired many others.

We recorded more than 120 decisions for Christ.

We enabled hundreds of conversations that reminded people in need of the hope in Christ.

And we were used by God in his sovereign glory in many thousands of instances to bring his children one step closer to him.

But as great church leaders such as Perry Noble have discovered through the ages, the mark of our surrender to Christ is when we are willing to sacrifice our ministry success for the sake of surrender to God’s plan for His church; when we forego the good idea for the God idea.

Written by NickCharalambous

March 5, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Community is about doing something together

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Reading Mark Batterson’s recent interview with Neue Ministry on community rung so many bells it felt like a carnival in my head this morning.

Some choice snippets: (emphasis mine)

“To me, the greatest adventure is God inviting us into this thing called the Great Commission—how He didn’t call us to do something on our own. God loves the adventure of doing things together … We have a range of about 90 different groups, and they range from Bible studies to running a marathon together. They are so diverse; they’re as diverse as our leaders are. What it is, is just finding touch points. … I think one reason why God wants to be in commission with us is because nothing brings people together like common mission.

…. Ultimately, we want people to have a face-to-face, physical community, but we’re discovering that often starts with a virtual community

To me, my late-blooming fascination with technology, which resulted in pastoring the NewSpring Web Campus, is all about exploring how our social web tools can help us become visiable, powerful, contagious, “communities of grace.”

Slowly but surely, i believe we are building a community on the web campus. But i can’t shake the feeling that the more opportunities we give to our attenders to do something together, the more likely we are to building deep, lasting relationships — and far quicker, with far more of them.

For instance, the kind of lifestyle groups Mark talks about absolutely flourish online. Crafts, photos, music, you name it. It takes my breath away just thinking about the impact that one surrendered Christ follower can make in that kind of environment.

Do you have thoughts to share in crafting an online active community strategy?

Written by NickCharalambous

July 1, 2009 at 10:43 am

Web church as “safe space” to explore Christian faith

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This is my last post exploring the fascintating conclusions from Hartford Seminary’s groundbreaking study on megachurch attenders and what the web church can learn from it. You can read posts one, two and three and four if you missed them.

One of the more fascinating parts of the study showed that:

some people intentionally don’t want to establish friendships, even if they are highly committed to the church. Certain people come because they can be, and want to remain, anonymous. … almost a third of those at these churches over five years still report having very few close friends there. For some attenders even long-term participation in the megachurch is about something other than having a network of close friendships.

Let’s face it: “community” can be intimidating to some people, especially those who may only be just starting to live the Christian life.

That’s where the Web church’s perceived weakness — its so-called anonymity — might prove to be one of its greatest assets.

To begin with, it might provide a private, anonymous, low-commitment way to experience Christians and Christian teaching. But there’s also a clear path toward Christian community for those who want to explore it in a controlled environment, calibrated along a continuum of casual conversation, friending, commenting, messaging and physical meetups, to name just a few.

From a theological standpoint and a practical standpoint, discipleship occurs best in a community context, and the Web Church could provide that safe, community space in a believers’ formative years.

Thoughts?

Written by NickCharalambous

June 19, 2009 at 8:30 am

Is your web campus embracing your physical church attenders?

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A church would be foolish not to see a Web Campus as a key to its growth at physical locations.

And a Web Campus would be foolish to ignore its church’s physical worshipers as a way to be successful.

One of the most biggest realizations we’ve made through the first few months of the Web Campus ministry is that our campus serves many different audiences.

Our Web Campus primarily targets the unchurched and the dechurched. People who have been relocated from your church who can’t find a good, Bible-believing church near them. Maybe people who are searching for God or for a church and seem to “connect” to NewSpring’s vision and theology.

Then there’s the sizable number of our attenders who are connected to our Anderson, Greenville and Florence campuses and are sick or out of town or just aren’t able to make it to church that week. It’s wise not to overlook the power of that second constituency to the Web Campus ministry.

No. 1In the mobile society that we all now live, physical attenders are bound to have many family and friends spread across the nation without access to a church like NewSpring, and who have been impressed by the ministry during visits or through casual conversations.

As we know, the power of personal ministry is greatest in relationships of deep love and intimate connection, and it’s in these family connections that a web campus or web ministry can best flourish.

Each family member or friend can have a shared experience — whether during the service in the chatroom or private IM or in conversations after the service. And the friend or family member can provide the instant and extended support and ministry needed by every believer to flourish in the Lord.

No. 2. Those physical attenders exposed to the Web Campus, have a natural opportunity to share a “preview” of the NewSpring experience with those that might be skeptical, reluctant or intimidated so that they can then be invited to a physical church location.

And to prove this isn’t just theory, here’s a story that providentially dropped into my email box Sunday:

I normally attend the Greenville Campus and serve on the care team. I was really bummed this morning because I had a terrible migraine and would not make it ! Thankfully I was able to attend today’s 11:15 service on the web. What an amazing experience! It was awesome to have a chance to interact with everyone in a chat room environment during Perry’s message.

After the service I came into contact with two people who have been wanting to attend the Greenville campus but didn’t want to go alone. I look forward to meeting both of them there this Sunday!

I also posted a link on my Face book profile at the start of the service . I received a reply from one of my contacts thanking me for the posting. She and her husband attended the Anderson campus last week and were looking forward to this Sundays service. She had fallen ill and couldn’t attend. Thanks to the web campus they were able to hear Perry’s powerful message today! I never ceases to amaze me to see how God move’s in our church. I can’t wait to see what’s next !

Got a take on this? Got a story or several of your own?

Written by NickCharalambous

June 1, 2009 at 2:15 pm

Storytelling is about storymaking

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Everyone has a story.

But not everyone knows how to tell a story.

I want to do everything in my power to encourage a greater use of personal stories in my ministry here at NewSpring. But a key to success is recognizing that stories don’t just happen. They are made.

That’s media 101.

I’m not saying that there aren’t a lot of “spontaneous” stories that we share about what God has done or is doing in our lives.

I’m not saying that stories are only stories if they follow specific narrative forms, like a personal testimony.

And I’m not saying that stories can’t be generated by ordinary people using ordinary tools everyone has at their disposal.

I am saying I think that we’re being naive if we think that our responsibility ends the moment that we ask people to share their story with us.

There are ways staff or trained volunteers can employ traditional media techniques to help people:

See their story. This is about recognizing when a private experience of God or a spiritual learning can carry a message of the gospel and/or help teach others about how to respond faithfully to his call on believers.

Express their story. This is about being a “midwife” to the story, making someone comfortable sharing their story, and helping them choose the best tools to capture the story in multimedia.

Shape their story. This is about framing the story by putting it in a context where it will offer the maximum impact and the maximum exposure. That could be focusing the message to speak to a particular topic or audience. That could be choosing the media for the story, the length of the story, or whether the story should be able to stand alone or whether it depends on its place within a wider web of information.

God commands everyone to tell of his good works. This isn’t optional.

In fact, the true richness of our faith and the true greatness of our God can only be captured by releasing the stories in the lives of every faithful follower.

And churches have a critical role to play in harnessing and focusing that storytelling — even, or perhaps especially, now that everyone has the tools to be a media creator.

Written by NickCharalambous

April 23, 2009 at 2:12 pm

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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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