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Can We Disciple Online? A Deep Dive on Send's Church Planting Manifesto


Well, Church, we're wrapping up our little academic experiment. Ed Stetzer & the Send Institute released a "Church Planting Manifesto", with guidelines and directives for Church Plants to launch stably and healthily. Of course, anytime we're talking Discipleship in the Church I immediately think Church Online. That being said, I leaned into the hypothesis: Can Send Institute's Manifesto be applied to Church Online? Taken a step further, can Church Online be used to Plant Churches? We've already discussed #1-8 of Send Manifesto's 12 points in previous blog posts. Go back and read thru to catch up. Today we're finishing off #9-12 by examining Send Institute's drive towards church-driven discipleship, and how Church Online can play an instrumental role.

(Italics included below the main points are direct quotes from the Manifesto's PDF. Download to get Send Institutes full take.)

09. Healthy communication and collaboration among groups, especially at local levels, is an essential dynamic for multiplication.

Church Planting Manifesto: The ideas of free enterprise and start-up culture are useful for innovation, but has often created an isolationist mentality... We believe that when church planters and leaders communicate and collaborate... a more conducive environment is created for the Spirit of God.

Does it work for Church Online: Church Online, too, can struggle with start-up culture and we've talk before about the struggle of church-in-isolation. But the big win here is collaboration. Communication. Working with others. American Churches can struggle to collaborate with other organizations. Oftentimes, the knee-jerk (and errant) reaction is to circle the wagons and hire an expert to represent the church on any given issue. If Churches embrace "doing ministry" via Church Online, they'll discover this philosophy will become a lid to ministry, especially in context of Online. Rather than hiring experts, continually centralizing ministry at the physical campuses, Churches need to work to decentralize their ministry... therefore by decentralizing the church's ministry into people regardless of their location, suddenly Church Online's ministry opportunities have ample opportunities to collaborate locally, regionally, or nationally. Church Online's privity to micro-locations will thrive in a collaborative, decentralized environment. A centralized environment will eventually cause the micro-locations to choke.

10. Regular and ongoing evaluation of mission strategies, structures, and systems is necessary for contextually-appropriate methods and models.

Church Planting Manifesto: The successes of the past can often be our greatest hindrances for the necessary discoveries of the future.

Does it work for Church Online: Ever feel like Church is stuck in a rut? Like you're doing the same thing over and over? Leonard Sweet was quoted on Facebook recently: "In the 60 times Paul uses the term “ekklesia” in his letters, Paul never uses the word “ekklesia” to refer to a church building." Maybe it's time to re-think church. Church Online has the potential to be a missional strategy, a system to engage contextually with a whole other type of person. 

There are people in this world who will not walk through a door of a physical church. Using Church Online to create disciples enables us to reach people that would not be reached by our church locations. Evangelism in the future does not happen in cathedrals and temples, but in living rooms and homes. Discipleship thru Church Online is the key to reaching future Americans. If it's not being considered for "contextually appropriate methods and models" then the Church is operating with one hand tied behind their back, severely limiting the resourcing capacities available to them.

11. Mobilization for mission is rooted in a hopeful belief in the progress and future reality of God’s completed work and the renewal of all things.

Church Planting Manifesto: We affirm that the decline of church membership over the last few decades is one of the useful metrics to gauge the climate of North American spirituality. But church membership decline is merely one narrative among many others that motivate the Body of Christ to greater mission work.

Does it work for Church Online: Leaving are the days when Church had influence in their communities. The question Church should be asking now is "if we were gone, would our neighborhoods even miss us?" Vision, within Church as well as Church Online, is very useful in mobilizing people. What better vision to mobilize them, though, than to share the Gospel? It may be simplistic, but discipleship in its core form would best be suited as the core of Church Online. Truthfully, the Gospel can only bring about the Revival that America is in such great need for, regardless of whether the Churches are physical, or virtual.

12. Men and women leading in mission—from different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds—is a demonstration of the power of the gospel.

Church Planting Manifesto: We affirm that God has sovereignly allowed high levels of diversity to descend upon North America as part of his plan to raise up new disciples and new churches. All movements must continue to look to Jesus and the New Testament pattern for how to disciple and release both men and women into mission.

Does it work for Church Online: Yes! Church, when it's done well, should have blinders on for racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds! The good news is that Church Online at some level is a mirror of Church. If Church is accepting, so will Church Online. Is there a place for women in Church Online? Of course!

Download eBook: What Happens When Church Online Grows UpIf a Church follows a discipleship model, suddenly the people who attend our church services are trained and empowered with the Gospel, ready to share with their friends and co-workers. If the Church utilizes Church Online into their Discipleship strategy, then now the people can utilize the Internet to connect with friends and family from out of town, connecting them into the Church's Online Discipleship Pathway. For more on how a Church can utilize Church Online to create a Discipleship Pathway, check out our eBook: What Happens When Church Online Grows Up?

So, after three blog posts and twelve points, can the Church Planting Manifesto be the guidelines for an effective Church Online? I think so. Church Online operates best when it's not about broadcasting personalities or brands, but when it's distributing the Gospel over a virtual network, discipling people across the city or around the world. In this situation, which is typically the heart of Church Plants, Church Online operates best when it's held to these Church Planting standards.

However, as we've stated several times, Church Online is really a mirror. It reflects the characteristics of the parent Church. Question, when a church doesn't like Church Online, are they really disappointed by the "consumer-driven" model that they don't like about themselves? Maybe it's time to change it?

Church, take a chance on Church Online. See it as an opportunity to reclaim discipleship in the Church. To the Send Institute, thank you for challenging Churches to refocusing us on what's important.

Church Planting via Church Online? A Closer Look at SEND's Manifesto
Start With Why: The Church Online Picture Storybook

About Author

Jeff Reed
Jeff Reed

With about 20 years experience serving the church in the digital/technological realm, Jeff loves working with churches. As passionate about Discipleship as he is Technology, Jeff uses his passion to help Churches develop technology systems to bring people far from God closer to him. Oh, and he loves Digital Church & Church Online.

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