Do not merely listen to the word ONLINE, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says IN THE REAL WORLD. - James 1:22
It's a great time to be a fan of Church Online. Within the past month national attention has been drawn to the controversial topic.
- In December the New York Times published an opinion by one of their columnists citing Internet Church isn't Church, cause it lacks Community.
- January saw several prominent church leadership podcasters come out negatively against the concept of discipleship online, citing the inability to engage relationally in a one-on-one context.
- February saw FoxNews release an OpEd piece written by Judah Smith, Pastor of ChurcHome... a church who literally moved their entire discipleship process online. The goal? To create disciples 168 hours a week (not just one hour on Sunday).
March brings another FoxNews OpEd, from Church Online's favorite YouTubing Aussie Dave Adamson with a dramatic article: Church, As We Know It, Is Over. Dave nails the article. Churches have always been slow adjusting to the newer trends, and Dave's explanation of single-channel, multi-channel, and omni-channel are pretty spot-on, although I'm a tougher critic.
- SINGLE-CHANNEL: Even with the current spike in awareness of Church Online, the majority of churches out there (>98%) still operate ONLY as a single-channel. With single-channel churches, ministry can only happen at a physical location.
- MULTI-CHANNEL: Some have taken to streaming their services online on Facebook or YouTube. Podcasts and Sermon Archives are prevalent in many churches today. Some churches have adapted to a multi-channel approach, but really the churches operate as a location-specific church, because there is no discipleship, no Biblical community, online. There's more to church than just one hour on Sunday, right? Even our multi-channel approach is really a disguise for a single-channel church, only doing ministry in physical spaces.
- OMNI-CHANNEL: Finally, a few churches are starting to understand, and are truly creating an omni-channel experience online... one that creates a comprehensive experience for Church Online. Comprehensive meaning more than just church services. Our physical churches are more than just the one hour service on Sunday right? There's Biblical community, serving, discipleship... An omni-channel Church Online is going to allow for these experiences in Church Online.
In some ways I understand the nay-sayers surrounding Church Online. So often Church Online becomes the world of "engaging content." Biblically, church, we're not called to create content. We're called to create disciples. And while our content is helpful, it's the means (not the end) to Church Online. Losing site of discipleship, the relational aspect of church, is exactly why people are afraid of Church Online. It's not about the technology; it's about the perceived loss of community. The nay-sayers are right... because we've lost sight of the relational aspect of Church Online.
Those of you doing ministry in these virtual spaces, don't lose sight of our "why". Our endgame, our goal isn't technology. It's not content. God called us to go create disciples, and the digital mission field is ripe for the harvest.