Meditations (Web)Church

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

Posts Tagged ‘social networking

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.

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Written by NickCharalambous

March 8, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Web Church reflections, Part 2: Proclaiming the Gospel

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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

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

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

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I read this interesting post from social media/PR guru Brian Solis about the future of the news industry, and I couldn’t help thinking that he may also be describing the 21st century “front door” to our churches.

Solis’ imagines the new news industry as personality-focused, community-based, and distributed through the network.

An information producer, passionate about his “subject,” will cultivate a network of people who will help him create content and ultimately publish it through his network’s statusphere and its viral effects. Content serves as the supply of “social objects” around which conversations occur and networks build.

As a former media exec, turning the focus away from the industrial model of news organizations to individual “information evangelists” was almost exactly the blueprint for the future of news I was trying evangelize myself inside the E.W. Scripps Co. beginning in 2005.

Why wouldn’t the “good news” industry work the same? Isn’t this proved by the rise of the pastor personality who uses online social tools to proclaim the good news and gather and “care” for a flock? (And also the decline of the denomination and the church-as-institution?)

Rarely a day that goes by on the NewSpring Web Campus that someone doesn’t say they first heard about NewSpring through NewSpring Senior Pastor Perry Noble’s phenomenally successful blog or the NewSpring podcast.

I think there are a lot of opportunities for traditional church pastors, online pastors and thoughtful church members to serve as a new breed of online evangelist.

And if that’s true, we need to pay for more attention to and what information people receive, process and pass using social media, as well as why and how.

I fear that most churches’ current emphasis on promoting invites and interest in church in our ambient friendship networks online aren’t really all that effective, and worse, may actually be turning people off.

Maybe the news industry can teach the “good news” industry something. At its most successful (online or offline, professional or amateur), journalism delivers information that’s useful, easy to understand, and easy to apply. Some of it is practical, like how to save money, raise good kids etc. And some is just ambient knowledge, so you can be part of conversations and build friendships around what you know and like.

When it comes to evangelizing Jesus “in the network,” the new front door of the church, we need to start with first principles, not assuming that anyone who reads us knows anything about Christianity.

We need to embrace seeker-sensibility by making our message less about church, or even the Bible. We need filter everything we say so that it’s useful, easy to consume and more relevant to everyday people who don’t care about “religion” and are just trying to live life the best they can.

What if the “new evangelist” did what great teachers and preachers, just like Jesus, have always done: Take the stuff of life, the stories of our culture, the news of our world, and the practical challenges and felt needs we daily face, and offer spiritual insight, practical wisdom and life modeling to help people live better.

Maybe that way they’ll earn the equity to point people to Jesus as the true fulfillment of this crazy, beautiful life, and then be able to invite them to taste and see that the Lord is good.

Thoughts/

Written by NickCharalambous

April 11, 2009 at 4:12 pm

Church community platforms are the next big idea

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If there’s one nit to pick about the techno-church’s embrace of the web as a platform for advancing God’s kingdom, is that our hunches, ideas, and theories about how that might work doesn’t have much of a foundation of data to support it yet.

That’s why I’ve been so encouraged by the work that Drew Goodmanson and his team at Kaleo Church. Their research into church web sites and in examining churches’ use of community platforms has been eye-opening.

The big takeaway for me from Wednesday’s unveiling of the early findings of its research on community platforms was that among church tech influencers, such as web pastors, tech pastors, and communications directors, EVERYONE seems to be eyeing some kind of turn-key seamless community platform.

And EVERYONE is worried about the potential for creating Christian subcultures, given the so far dismal performance of Christian social networking sites in making in roads into the church.

That’s a good tension.

Take a look at the top five features or functionalities for the community platform:

1. Ability to find, register, and/or get details for events.
2. Ability to post prayer requests or needs.
3. Ability to find serving opportunities at the church based on interest or gifts.
4. Ability to join and interact with home/bible study groups.
5. Integration with existing church website.

The list seems to confirm my own hunch that there’s a deep need for relational connection both within and beyond the community of God right now, and that our physical churches are obviously not empowering or enabling their congregations in this vital area.

A church community platform can and should be evangelistically powerful.

It would be a shame indeed if fear or generational guilt surrounding the church of the past that was evangelistically weak and missionally challenged were to stop the people of God from living in the fullness of Christian community using our currently blossoming social technologies.

What we see in Acts church is not a church scared of subculture, but a subculture that embraces its role as one that is to build itself up for the purpose of evangelism and outreach.

Church leaders need to be helping Christians recognize that community is a means not an end in itself.

That’s not a technology issue. That’s a leadership issue.

Agree? Disagree?

Download a PDF of the study.

Written by NickCharalambous

April 9, 2009 at 9:39 am

Are churches leveraging their members for radical personal ministry?

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One of the most powerful and often undervalued parts of our faith is Jesus’ call for us to do personal ministry leveraged within “one body” of believers.

I think it’s in this area the web will make the greatest contribution to the church.

Perry Noble has always emphasized the importance of volunteers to NewSpring‘s ministry. What gives NewSpring’s staff-led, excellence-oriented ministry theological coherence is that we should trust and encourage the body to do most of the ministry.

We have serving rates of more than 60 percent, which is impressive.

But I’ve always wondered whether there are some practical (but needless) barriers to the other 40 percent contributing. And whether the 60 percent who do contribute are being leveraged fully.

That’s where I think a ministry utility could be a killer app.

What if our church members were connected to each other, their resources for personal ministry were searchable and transparent, and they could self-organize and self-resource for personal ministry projects of their own?

Such a church app would generate a flowering of ministry and community like we’ve never seen, and create hands-on discipleship into the bargain.

Want to host a small group? Post your study and your credentials, recruit people, meet online, share materials.

Want to organize an evangelistic block party? Find and contact all the church members in your neighborhood. Create a ministry account to collect donations.

Got a spare washer and dryer? Pledge it to Jim and Bob’s inner-city ministry where you know it will meet a need and be used to share the gospel face to face. Find someone with a truck to pick up and drop off.

Want to get groups of people to church who don’t have reliable transportation? See who’s willing to offer rides, and create a route planner.

Have special expertise? Read what’s happening in other ministries and offer your guidance.

You get the idea … the possibilities are endless. Either as a series of web apps working off a central church database that has an API or as one seamlessly integrated piece of software.

No matter how many fancy commercial web apps there or how many social networking-savvy members we have, trying to create micro-communities of purpose on borrowed and cobbled-together platforms is a real struggle.

That’s why I hope the web developers and web thinkers of the web church — maybe you! — will build an app or apps for ministry.

People just don’t have the information they need about each other to imagine potential ministry, let alone the simple, integrated organizational tools to make it achievable.

It seems to me that too many of our serving opportunities are church-heavy. They are defined by the church, they are primarily for the benefit of the church (although I’m not devaluing the evangelistic purpose of church gatherings,) and they take place on church grounds.

The more our churches can release their members’ resources beyond the church walls, the more impact we are bound to have, on the world and each other.

Written by NickCharalambous

April 2, 2009 at 9:17 am

The good news in 140 characters?

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It’s amazing what we can pack into 140 characters on Twitter. But is that enough space for the Good News of Jesus?

I thought it might be fun to have some fun on a Tuesday afternoon to see if we could kick off a gospel meme that would fly around the Twitterverse in time for Easter.

Here’s mine:

The world sucks. Pain. Sickness. Death. We know we’re meant for more. Jesus will show you how much. He rescues anyone. Just ask. #goodnews

Be original. Be creative. Use the tag #goodnews. Give it your best.

Imagine the power of folks hearing the truth of Jesus simply by scanning their Twitter or status updates.

Post yours in the comments below.

Written by NickCharalambous

March 31, 2009 at 2:10 pm