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Purposeful Online Groups, or What the Church can learn from Call of Duty

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Call of Duty is the future of your discipleship strategy.

No, seriously. That’s not click bait. That’s the truth. 

To be fair, you could insert any number of things into that sentence:

Fortnight is the... 
Among Us is the… (without the lying, or course)
Destiny 2 is the...

And on and on.

Let me explain. 

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We all know that discipleship happens in groups of people. Many churches have equated discipleship with the traditional small group structure that we’ve seen spring up from a lot of the 40 Days Of Purpose and Willow Creek models of the past 20 to 30 years.  

  • 8 to 12 people meeting in someone’s house on a weeknight. 
  • Some snacks or dinner beforehand.
  • 2 to 3 of them late because of traffic.
  • Some sort of Bible book study or video curriculum is played on the TV in the living room. The leader of the group asks some questions. 
  • 4 people dominate the conversation.
  • 1 of them sits on their phone and doesn’t say a word.
  • 3 of them offer off-topic suggestions.

Everyone prays, stands in the kitchen for 10 awkward minutes, and drives home.  

But once COVID-19 reared its ugly head, churches were scrambling to try to implement this same scenario. We began to impose ourselves on the Internet’s denizens, which now included everyone.

Because, you know, we need to keep people interested in church throughout the week or else they’ll never actually WANT to learn about their Savior, right? (sarcasm intended)

And so, we took over Zoom en masse. We tried to run our groups the same way. 

  • No dinner together, so there wouldn’t be any real connection happening to start with.
  • A video would be streamed very badly through Zoom.
  • 3-4 would still dominate the discussion.
  • 2 married couples would sit on the same iPad and never figure out how to turn their mute off (or on).
  • Someone’s kid would inevitably take their shirt off and run through the background.
  • A cat would crawl on the desk.
  • And the rest of the group would be watching something else on another screen because we all have at least 3 other screens around us at all times.

To be fair, most of these groups started off on fire...and then 3 weeks into it, started to trail off. 

And the attrition rate was incredibly high.

It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Discipleship needs to happen in order to fulfill the Great Commission. But if we can’t keep people in groups, how do we live out the connected community that the Bible calls us to?

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We need a new model. We need something that has been working. We need something that is both smaller AND larger at the same time. 

Enter: Call of Duty. 

Specifically, the multiplayer portion of Call of Duty. 

Whereby 2-4 people gather together in a party chat of some kind, be it Discord or the platform-specific chats, and said people start to shoot away. These people may be just up the road from each other. Oftentimes, though, they’re in different parts of the country, or even the world.

And anyone will tell you that the game is just a background for a conversation happening in the party chat. This small group of people is living life together, learning about each other, having fun. 

In short, doing life.

Which is what we’re called to do in the first place. 

I have a background playing competitive Halo. Back in the heady days of 2007 and 2008, I had a small group of guys that I would play Halo 2 and Halo 3 with. We actually would sit in a lobby once a week, do a small Bible study, pray together...and then proceed to “pwn n00bs” (because 1337-speak back in the day was super cool). 

But Halo was just the medium for our Bible study. I made connections with people that I had never met over some forums, we started playing, and boom, discipleship started to happen because of our shared love of Jesus and capture the flag strategies. 

Though we don’t play Halo anymore, I still talk with those guys on a weekly and monthly basis via socials. We pray for each other. We lift each other up in the down times. We learned about Jesus together, and that should never be discounted.

That never would have happened if that group was larger, however. That 2-4 people is the sweet spot, in my humble opinion. More people means more personalities, which means less freedom to speak and less freedom to question.

Deeper learning happens in SMALLER small groups. The medium, whether its a video game or a published discipleship book you’re focused on, is simply the conduit for the conversation and the growth therein.

Jesus taught 12 people, but He had a smaller group of guys within that 12 (Peter, James, and John). Much like everything else, I don’t think that’s by accident. Peter, James, and John grew deeper with Jesus, and He imparted His wisdom more clearly to them. 

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I want to put forth this idea:

In your church, your digital ministry, your small group and discipleship, start to think SMALLER in your strategy. Don’t think about putting people in groups of 8-12 on the Internet. It just doesn’t work. 

Instead, create a medium or a curriculum, but let the conversation and the life flow from that. Let your groups organically form around something. If the Great Commission calls us to go to the “ends of the earth,” and much of the world’s population is sitting playing a multiplayer game on their phone or PS5, then we need to visit it. Be open to new ideas from church members that are listening to the Holy Spirit.

Chances are, your next ministry opportunity will be found in this year’s hottest new release.

 

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About Author

Andy Mage
Andy Mage

Andy is the Digital Pastor for Bay Hope Church, located in Tampa, FL. He was a worship pastor for 10 years before that, and can routinely be found drinking every single drop of coffee he sees. Andy lives in Odessa, FL, with his amazing wife and 3 amazing kids.

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