Church, we have an interesting dilemma. Our physical locations are losing effectiveness, and as our giving and attendance drop as cultural Christianity wanes away, I find myself asking a simple question: what's next?
Here's what I believe. Reading Acts, we see the historical model of how the God birthed and grew the church. In the Corinthians, Paul gives us guidance into what the church should be. What we experience as church in North America is a model of "church", loosely based on scripture. But it's important to remember that it is A MODEL. The physical church model, often visualized as churches working very hard to attain a mega/gigachurch status, has been successful in America. The gigachurch model is bringing revival to Korea. But India and China are seeing a movement of God through another model. These countries are experiencing spiritual growth through much smaller units: house churches.
To say that God cannot use one model or another is simply not true. Whether a gigachurch, a normal church, or a house church... each expression of worship has cultural strengths and weaknesses. Let's be honest, it's very easy to see bias in one of these models. What type of church did you grow up in? Oftentimes, this bias, coupled with tradition, defines the model that a person calls church. Tradition or not, these expressions should be held to a Biblical standard... as should future models.
Once we acknowledge that both the location-specific model, as well as, the mega/gigachurch expression we see today are models of Biblical Church and not the pure form of Biblical Church, we're freed up to explore other models. As an aside, I always think it's funny when a traditional-worship church and a modern-worship church bicker with each other. Other than musical styles, it's the exact same worship service. Worship, teaching, announcements. Maybe more worship to close the service. From a spiritual context, type of worship is just a preference. The worship wars of the 80s and 90s were just a smoke screen to the larger issue: the prevalent model of church defaults to a place of creating consumers... the better we get at creating the show, the more we have lulled our people into becoming spiritual addicts of the one-hour-on-Sunday, only to have them disassociate from their God-given calling Monday-Saturday. Sundays become a tentpole for attenders to lift their spirits on Sundays, in hopes of making it another week. However, with cultural Christianity not driving people into the pews on Sundays, this model is obviously feeling some heat.
I may be blacklisted for saying this, but I believe there's another model:
- One that isn't built around that one-hour-on-Sunday, but recognizes God can move 168 hours a week.
- One that isn't about consuming a mega-event, but understands empowering a disciple-maker operating on-mission.
- One where the spiritual hero of the story isn't a Pastor, but each of us who is willing to be used by God
When I look at the model of a Digital Church, I see a discipleship-driven model of church. Driven by community. Led by disciple-makers empowered with the Gospel. Focused on reaching a specific audience for Christ. I see digital-only expressions of church. I see digital expressions growing into physical expressions. I see a new way to do church... that isn't going to break the bank, either.
There are already pioneers in this area by the way. We talked recently with Jate Earhart, leader of the Video Game Discipleship Ministry called Love Clan. Jate's going through Church Planting training, learning how churches launch in physical locations so he can hold his discipleship ministry to Biblical standards and pray through God converting Love Clan into a Digital Church. Others have already taken the step: DJ Soto or Daniel Herron have shared stories of how they've used Digital Church to impact hundreds to thousands for God using digital platforms like Virtual Reality or even the video game Roblox.
While many would question the validity of these models based on scripture, when you read scripture you actually find that these digital expressions of church actually hold up closer to scripture than many of the current models we are currently using.
For clarity, the mega/gigachurch model is not going anywhere. Bigger churches will get bigger. Smaller churches will likely get smaller. As we see different models wane in popularity, though, I think it's important for the Church to realize that, unlike before, it takes different models to reach different people.
Church, God is doing something (and will continue to do something) in our midst. Stay tuned.