What you are doing in the digital realm is ACTUALLY church.
That out of the way, let me give you some advice, Church Online leader, pastor, or worker:
What you are doing is ACTUALLY church.
Congrats. You’re fulfilling the Great Commission better that most would have anticipated.
“But,” you’ll be hearing more and more, “how can what’s ostensibly a TV broadcast be a church?”
This, or some varying form of this statement, is being uttered in every church council, boardroom, elder’s meeting, or leadership gathering ad nauseam as we begin to look more and more at physically regathering our churches following the wake of COVID-19-related closures.
You, of course, believe fully in what you’re doing to engage, equip, and evangelize the world through Church Online. You know its merits. You see its potential. You’re along for the ride.
The rest of the church world may not fully be on board with you, though. Dissidents to the Church Online world may be bringing up such things as the revival of the “this is my church” mentality that comes with belonging to gyms, schools, businesses, and organizations that have purported “faith” aspects, which, to most, is a false notion.
James Emery White’s latest blog, “This Is Church,” is an eye-opening example of what we’re up against. If you’ve never read anything from White, please do so. He’s leading the charge right now in terms of how we can connect to the generations behind us and, thus, to the rest of the world.
This article is no different.
The prevailing notion that local church gatherings in a building are the only way “church” is done started to be derailed more and more back in the mid-to-late 1990s with the Emerging Church movement, which sought to really get back to so-called Biblical basics. It called people to be the church wherever they were. A solid, Scripturally sound thought. And the tenets of the Emerging Church were based around connecting people to Jesus in a loving, Christlike manner.
However, its adherents began to take these core principles a bit too far, go so far as to calling collections of Christians in a business environment a church. Or a gathering at a gym as a one-stop-shop for church and health (I hang my head in shame, since I was one of these gym owners). And so on.
A revolt in many actual churches took place, who stumped against the Emerging Church primarily because it started to take on too many postmodern traits. Church leaders began to advocate for “traditional” church movements to take place.
This is the same argument that is guiding much of what we’re fighting for today in the Church Online sphere. We believe that church CAN and DOES take place online. But the traditional mentality would state that the Internet and digital expressions of church are not valid places for “church” to be happening.
Outreach online? Sure.
Missions digitally? Sure.
But church? Hardly.
White breaks down the 5 C’s of what local church is made of in Acts 2, and I HIGHLY advise you to read through the article to get his take.
However, in your next meeting about Church Online, I’d love for you to be equipped with a couple of thoughts regarding how these 5 C’s actually can be seen in the digital sphere...and thus can be thought of as a valid expression of a local church:
- Community: an easy one; as long as you, the leader, are sowing seeds of community digitally via groups, discipleship, and more, you’re building community
- Confession: surprisingly, this is not about airing your sins before God, but instead “confessing” and professing your faith in God together, in one accord. Again, if community is built, this is an easy rallying point for your digital organization.
- Corporate: White labels this as a means of organization and hierarchy. Do you have leaders and pastors and deacons in your Church Online? Great. You’re doing this one.
- Celebration: Are you gathering together regularly to celebrate the Lord’s grace and mercy? Are you working towards figuring out baptisms and the sacraments? Congrats, you’re on the way to checking this one off the list.
- Cause: This loops back to the discipleship path. Is your mission to seek and save the lost, even in a digital world? Are you seeking to serve the poor and weary? This is the “distinguishing” mark of the church, according to White (and I would agree), and if you exist to fulfill the mission of the church...well, you’re doing the work of the local church!
If your Church Online organization is seeking to fulfill those 5 C’s, then you’re doing it. You’re fulfilling the Acts 2 vision of what the local church should be.
Your task, then, is going to be to show your elders and colleagues HOW you’re succeeding in this (or trying to). In love, you can guide the conversation toward the truth of Christ’s church existing in a digital sphere.
And then? Then you can get on with the job.
Go forth, Church Online leader. You’re doing the Lord’s work. For real.