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A point of clarity is in order. In this article I am referring to “the digital church” in a very specific way. I am not referring to the many uses of the Internet available to churches: church web sites; social media; and a plethora of training tools. Instead I use the phrase to refer to those churches that view a significant part of their constituencies to be online rather than in person.

The “digital church attendees” likely view the worship services online. They may be in some type of online small group. They have the ability to minister to others via the Internet. And they can support the church financially online as well.

Some churches now view these persons as integral participants in the life of the church. A small but growing number are willing to grant them membership. And many churches see the digital church attendees as an extension of the ministry of the church, even if they do not have full membership status.

This phenomenon is not transitory. It will be with us for the foreseeable future. As I speak with pastors and other church leaders across America and beyond, here are the key issues being discussed.

  1. There is a lively debate regarding the status of the digital church attendees. What are the ecclesiological implications of the digital church attendees? Are they really a part of the church? Is physical presence necessary to be connected with a church? Should they be granted membership? Should they participate in communion/Lord’s supper?
  2. Many churches are using a “both/and” approach to the digital church. They have worship services and small groups where people gather and meet in person. But they also have an extension of their ministry that includes the digital church attendees. Some church leaders have shared with me the particular effectiveness for homebound persons and military persons deployed around the world. Only a small number of churches today are digital churches only.
  3. The digital church movement is growing. My information at this point is anecdotal, but I hope to have some good data from LifeWay Research in the future. Still, I have little doubt that the movement is growing and will continue to grow.
  4. Church leaders are struggling to find meaningful metrics for the digital church. Do such metrics as pageviews or unique visitors have any meaning for the effectiveness of the ministry? Do donations from digital attendees have any implications for the health of the ministry? What metrics are possible and also meaningful?
  5. Many digital church attendees are faithful financial givers to the church. I’ve been somewhat surprised to hear from church leaders about the financial support the church receives from the digital attendees. From my conversations, I’ve learned that the financial support is proportionate to the effort the church expends in connecting to digital attendees.
  6. The digital church is rapidly evolving. In a few months, much less a few years, we will know more about the digital church. For now, we know it is both growing and changing. This movement, for better or worse, may be one of the most significant in churches across the world for years to come.

I almost always ask for feedback from the readers of this blog. For this post, I particularly hope to hear from you. I know that many church leaders will be looking to this particular article to get insights from others. Please take a few minutes to share with the readership any insights, experiences, or opinions you have about the digital church. You readers are incredibly bright. I look forward to hearing from you.


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Comments

  1. says

    We’re aiming to launch a digital campus soon–rather, an online experience. I’m not sure campus is the right word. People are gathering online for lots of reasons. We want to go where the people are.

    • says

      Shalom and thank you for the article. I am currently the online Pastor for Bayside Christian Family Church in the bayside suburb of Wynnum West in the state of Queensland, Australia. I work on a volunteer bases so its not a cushy job. We started live streaming a good quality service at the beginning of this year. There are many reasons as tp why

      • says

        Continued, sorry. There are many reasons why and I will list them in no particular order. 1) Our Senior Pastor has been in his position for over 30 years. In that time many of the congregation have moved out of the area but still feel connected and part of the church 2) There are also alot of people who we reach overseas as our service times in Australia on a Sunday are generally late Saturday night/early Sunday morning in the UK and Europe and mid to late Saturday afternoon into Nth, Sth and Central America. We have had many people come online and partake in our services especially with the ugly weather the northern hemisphere has experienced this winter. 3) having had the same Senior Pastor for 30 years, some of the maturing housebound people still want to be a part of the live service. We are looking to expand this in to nursing homes etc in the future. As part of our live streaming we have a designated email address for prayer requests, we also run a fb page? You tube (archives) and twitter accounts. Whilst actual streaming is happening we even have a dropdown prayer request box where people can remain annonymous. At the beginning of the service we have a designated intro for our online family either by myself or one of the other Pastors. At the end we do an outro and pray for people as well. During the service we run a chat room where we can talk to people. It is a growing ministry and certain houses have a spiritual dna thats different. Ours is very pentecostal and prophetic and we do minister to them from main platform as well. There is no distance in the Spiritual realm and because of the opportunity have had people in the Middle East come online as well as in China. We have had healings, salvations and recommitments in our two short months. Thank you for the opportunity to share and I pray it is relevant to your post. If not feel free to delete. Rev Phil

  2. says

    The digital church is also a way for people with conditions such as Autism Spectrum Condition to attend when they might not otherwise be able. For example, my variant of ASC causes bright light to be physically painful, and crowds/ strangers/ unfamiliar situations tend to be issues as well…

  3. Russ Sharrock says

    I agree that the “Digital Church” is a phenomenon that needs further exploration. But for me, it only raises more questions. Are we truly making new disciples through this medium? “Church” is not just to “spiritually feed” the masses, although this seems to have become the over-riding goal of many churches, and the primary reason many attend church at all. But if I’m not mistaken, that’s not the ultimate goal of the church in my Bible.

    If the focus of churches is to add members to their “rolls” and to increase their tithes, then I see a very successful use of this medium. But if the goal is to see lives changed and people discipled, and going out to fulfill their God-given purpose in life; becoming missional believers with a desire to be a part of carrying the gospel throughout the world as Christ commanded us, then I see a weak and faulty system.

    I use social medium. It has it’s purpose, but promoting fellowship and developing servant’s hearts is not the best of them. In my use of social medium for ministry, I always attempt to connect people to a local body of believers. People need the physical church. People the physical fellowship. And people need to be trained and “sent out” to do the work of the kingdom. That can only be done physically.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Your perspective is shared by many with whom I speak Russ. It will be fascinating to watch the direction of this trend in the months ahead.

    • says

      I’m not sure that *all* people “need” the physical fellowship. For a wide variety of reasons mostly related to my Autism Spectrum Condition, i tend to shun going to church physically – but I’ll read blogs/ watch videos (even livestreams) all day long. There are reasons Christ is “The Word” long before he is “The Body”…

  4. says

    Yes, the digital church is growing and we’re learning new and exciting ways to engage those online and often unable to regularly attend a physical location. I view the digital church as an extension of the physical church. There are many advantages the digital has over the physical church, when done well.

    I’m very encouraged to see churches embrace and resource the digital church.

  5. says

    The subject of the digital church is an intriguing one, to be sure. I can see the value of ministering to those unable to attend the physical worship services through online experiences. But, I draw a sharp distinction between ministering to those unable to physically attend and church membership. If membership means anything it must mean a commitment to the local body of believers. I am not even sure what it would look like to extend membership to someone who never participates physically with the church. (I am not here referring to someone who did participate as an active member at one point, but age and/or physical problems now inhibit that participation).

    I suspect this will be one of the areas in which leadership and culturally efficiency will run aground on the biblical concept of local church membership.

  6. says

    The church at Corinth was not one large group meeting in one location, but a lot of smaller groups meeting in various locations. Each of these gatherings functioned as one church in their submission to leadership, their concern for one another, their support of the ministry and their emotional identity with the larger Body. The real issue is how do we restructure our leadership technology to function properly as one church in multiple locations. (Internet pastors, lay elders, church-at-large events, inter – church communication that is inclusive of the digital community)
    The issue is not “are these people ligit” or “how can we control this phenomenon” but rather, how can we leverage this technology to make disciples and advance the kingdom. Digital communication happens every day, biblical community must be intentional and strategic. That is our new challenge. I believe it has the potential of unleashing the Gospel as it moves from a large church building into the fabric of the culture.

    • says

      Well said Jim, I couldn’t agree more.

      “The issue is not “are these people ligit” or “how can we control this phenomenon” but rather, how can we leverage this technology to make disciples and advance the kingdom. Digital communication happens every day, biblical community must be intentional and strategic. That is our new challenge.”

  7. says

    Making disciples is life on life. Much of the digital technology ‘seems’ to have produced isolation rather than genuine life on life connection. I am taking a ‘eat the meat and trash the bones approach.

    • says

      The advent Walkman in the 1980s tended to produce isolation: just you and your music. That was not social. The digital technologies developed over the last few years have encouraged interaction and connection: Life-on-life wherever we happen to be.

  8. tim smith says

    Regarding the importance / necessity of physical presence, for the sake of discussion let me throw this out there, maybe tongue in cheek maybe not…..Did Jesus really need to come to earth or could God have just shared a “digital” message? I am thankful for and see a place for digital ministry but not to the exclusion of physical presence. I am thankful Jesus physically came, suffered, died, rose, and will physically come again. I am also thankful for God’s “message” the Bible that He uses to grow me.

  9. says

    I can see this available for special needs, homebound, military, etc but there is nothing like meeting with the Body of Christ, Jesus loved being with people and there is nothing like true Christian Fellowship, accountability, discipleship. You lose the eye to eye, heart to heart, unity. I love being with my Christian Brothers and sisters

    • says

      I think it’s an error to assume in an online small group…
      “You lose the eye to eye, heart to heart, unity.”

      This is an over generalized assumption. The online small groups I lead allow everyone to be seen and heard via videoconferencing technology. We are eye to eye and heart to heart in ways that being in the same room doesn’t accomplish. I’ve experienced people feel much safer sharing their heart front the comfort of their own place in an online group than they ever would sitting in physical room together. I’m not arguing one is better than the other. They both are needed, physical and digital. I tend to react to those who dismiss the value of online fellowship done well.

    • says

      I actually disagree on this, sort of. I agree that the connection and accountability is absolutely necessary, but I think that the form it’s taking is morphing into something different.

      I’m part of the “Digital Generation”. I met my wife online and dated “online” for about 2 years before we were married. I regularly frequented chat rooms growing up and have quite a few people that I’ve never meet “in person” that I feel extremely close to. I still talk one-on-one with a lot people, but they take the form of video chats, phone calls, and (if they are close by) coffee meetings. My regular interaction, however, is digital, and I feel as close to them (and in some cases closer) than people I see on a regular basis face-to-face.

  10. Tosh says

    We have for years used a tape ministry to share sermons with the homebound, or those who aren’t otherwise able to attend our services at the church location. Being able to record sermons as MP3s and post them on the church website was an extension of that, and now, being able to view it live and interact with each other and with other members of the congregation is not only an extension of this type of ministry, but to those not able to attend for whatever reason, it’s an enhancement.

    As with any disciple-making endeavor, it is going to be imperfect and there are going to be changes made over the course of weeks, months, and years. If we waited for every opportunity to be perfect, then we would never do anything to reach unreached people.

  11. Notestein John says

    I view the digital church as one more way to tell the good news and make disciples. To me, church I always changing and this is one more change. There are people who can’t or won’t attend a service at a physical location for lots if reasons. This is a way to reach them. The one thing you can’t get, however, from a digital church is personal physical interaction, like watching body language, handshakes, a hug, etc, which is why I will attend in person until physically or mentally unable. But I do see it as a need and a great gift for those who need it.

    If people are worried about making disciples this way, I would offer the observation that we have people who attend all the time who aren’t growing even though they are physically present.

  12. Philip Scott says

    Thom,
    I want to thank you for your time in both writing these blogs and also responding to the comments. I am a young pastor in a average size church in Texas. One of the things that I wrestle with is staying current with the change of culture and technology but also being sure to stay true to scripture. I was always taught by my father “when you choose a path you choose an end” if we step back from the excitement of a new idea and actually look at where it could lead I am not sure we want to go down that path. I am sure these verses are not new to this debate but never the less they are vital to the debate. When we look at Hebrews 10:25 at what point is an assembly not an assembly? I would suggest that it is when you are not in the same location. I understand that during the time that scripture was written they did not have this kind of technology, but I also understand that God even in his omnipotence still chose to send Angels, Prophets, John the Baptist (the voice crying in the wilderness) and even Christ himself (made flesh and dwelt among us) to meet with man. There is something to be said of a personal relationship with people and I believe that is the way it was intended.
    There is another verse out of Hebrews that comes to mind and it is Hebrews 13:17. If people are to submit to the leadership i.e. pastors or elders. Then it stands to reason that they need to know who they are submitting to. Likewise if I as the pastor am going to give an account for those who I pastor than I want a personal relationship with them. I believe there is a reason why God uses the sheppard and sheep illustration. You would never hear of somone who raises sheep doing something like this because sheep need to be cared for personally.
    I believe that the churches who take part in this really have the best intentions in mind but over the years they will look back at this decision and realize it did not work in their favor. I fear we will see weaker Christians and weaker churches because of it.

  13. Heartspeak says

    There is no doubt in my mind that social media, electronic communication and virtual communities are here to stay as long as the lights stay on! I seriously doubt that it automatically precludes personal proximity and relationships. Rather, it serves to enhance them, or can. For every argument about the ‘dangers’ of such things, there are multiple examples of being assembled together physically can go awry. Of course there are limitations, extremes and abuses–we live in a fallen world after all.

    However, electronic media actually serve to bring relationship, comfort and thoughtful discussion into our lives. How long have we heard the ‘I’m too busy to….” refrain? Email, forums, social media, etc are places folks never seem too busy for and thus serve as an excellent entree into their lives.

    Rather than rail against the lack of assembling together and imposing a limited definition of togetherness, we would do well to embrace and affirm the benefits of gathering together electronically. People ARE relational, and good electronic relationships can foster the flesh and blood ones and indeed, can create a hunger and desire for more ‘on scene’ relationships rather than less. Local churches do well to affirm and acknowledge these relationships instead of dismissing them as ‘risky’ and marginal or ‘lesser’ than the oft time marginal offerings we receive from the physical assembling of ourselves together.

  14. Mark says

    Webcasting a church service can get attendees that live most anywhere in the world. If I can participate in a service originating from Dallas, even if I don’t live there, that is better than nothing at all. Some people don’t care for the churches where they live. A good minister may have a following throughout the world and not even realize it.

  15. says

    I’m curious to see the ages of those responding here? I have a theory, related to some of Thom’s earlier work. I’m 31, on the leading edge of the Millenials (with some GenX traits as well).

  16. David says

    I would like more information on the digital church; what it is, how it works, how it is set up. Can you help with resources? If I have a better understanding the. I may better inform an opinion and better determine if it is something I would like to pursue. Thanks.

  17. says

    I have worked with small groups for 30 odd years–both in a Christian and a non-Christian context. You cannot do with a group of people online what you can with a group of people who are there in the same room with you. For example, you cannot observe their body language, which can be very revealing. They may be saying one thing with their mouth and another thing with their body. You cannot physically comfort them if they need that kind of comforting–give them a reassuring hug. You cannot share a meal together. These are just a few of the many things that you cannot do. They are very important part “doing life together” in a small group. While online groups meet a need, they are in the final analysis no substitute for the kind of small group in which the participants are physically present to each other. They have limitations.

  18. Cassandra Jones says

    I agree with some of the other posters in that I think I would need more details/examples of what actually counts as “digital church.” Because I switched from the church I grew up attending and first did ministry work in to my current church (well, actually for a number of reasons but the transition was triggered) due to their practice of putting the sermons online via mp3 streaming and downloads. But I listened to the sermons for a month before I actually stepped foot in their building. And many other young adults (friends of friends and their friends, etc) apparently listen to my new church’s sermons, but don’t switch fellowships. Maybe the bigger issue is how we define and use words like “member” or “membership”. I’m considered a member of my new home church, The Gathering, I suppose, but they don’t have a letter of transfer process like denominational churches do. I think physical presence in a community of believers is vital for things like accountability, authenticity, and everything else that comes with discipling and sending out believers, but I’m also not sure if it’s a matter of either/or or which is better. After all, how many “members” in traditional churches/church plants don’t contribute beyond sporadic physical attendance and financial offerings when their budgets/memory permits? I know it varies church to church and denomination to denomination, but maybe the digital church debate (question? Speculation?) has more do with contemporary church culture’s emphasis on membership, which doesn’t always incorporate or value discipleship… And for the comment about ages/demographics, I’m a twenty something female.

    • Mark says

      There are also people who listen online to sermons from particular ministers. There is a group of women who are D.Min. candidates in a particular seminary and they preach periodically. I can tell you they have a following and quite a few men who listen to them. If I were in the same place where one of them were speaking, I would go to hear it.

  19. Heartspeak says

    (Hitting the big six-oh this year). I lean more toward the both/and viewpoint. Every limitation of electronic interaction can be duplicated even when folks are in the same room. Folks’ comfort and familiarity with the medium has significant bearing on that medium’s effectiveness. A poor sermon or small group environment can have a negative effect on participants’ ability/willingness to interact. Being unable to reach out and put a hand on someone’s shoulder when they express hurt can be a limitation but doesn’t mean that the phone can’t be picked up and used to ‘reach out’ either. Btw, a phone is an early example of first, analog, then digital church.

    We also have our preferences and comfort zones, familiarity with various tools tends to color our perspectives. Our perspectives may be limited in some cases, on either side of the discussion.

  20. jonathon says

    The only measurable semi-useful metric is whether or not the digital minstry can pay its own way.

    The issues I’ve run into with digital minstries are:
    * Those with a11y requirements can’t participate, because the prequisite software does not integrate with existing a11y tools;
    * The software required for people to utilize the content is not available for the world’s most deployed operating system;
    * The software required for people to utilize the content is not available for mobile platforms;
    * The content is exclusively on sites that are owned and operated by third parties;

    The problem the first point raises is, “if the user can’t find anything to click on, then the user can’t participate”. Thus far, every audio-visual solution I’ve looked at, has not been usable, once one has thrown away the keyboard, mouse, and video monitor.(FWIW, most software fails that basic requirement.)

    The problem with the second and third points, is that if the software either is not available, or does not work on the individual’s platform, then they can not participate in your digital church.(Ponder on inviting a non-Christian to your congregation, then barring the door on them, because they weren’t Christian. That is precisely what you do with solutions that are only available for a single platform.

    The problem with the fourth point, is that whenever the third party decides that they can no longer host your content, they remove it, probably with little to no warning. (Take, for example, YouTube blocking NASA’s videos, simplyt because several news organizations claimed that those videos infringed upon their copyright.)

    Related to the digital minstry of a congregation, is the digital Biblical software that it uses, or more commonly, fails to use. How many congregations can point to an individual and say “s/he can help you select, install, and use Biblical software on your digital electronic device, regardless of what that device is”?

  21. says

    My biggest question about the rise of the digital church would be the effectiveness in actual shepherding. How can true biblical shepherding and discipleship occur in a purely digital format? What of accountability? Are those people who only attend digital services being encouraged to participate in physical fellowship and discipleship as well?

    I am not trying to minimize the important role that a digital service can play. It seems great for people who are homebound, living in countries where it is impossible or too dangerous to find and participate in a local church or away from their local church for some reason. However, I don’t think it can replace the role of being a physical attendee at a local church.

    It might be worth noting that I’m someone who has grown up in the digital age and believed that I could get the real church experience from the comfort of my home as a new Christian. It was not until I started attending a physical local church that God began to kick my spiritual growth into high gear. Personally, I believe this may be due to the role of service, or lack thereof, in the digital church experience.

    Maybe I am being too critical, I would love to hear someone who is a strong supporter of the digital church make their case.

    • says

      Continued, sorry. There are many reasons why and I will list them in no particular order. 1) Our Senior Pastor has been in his position for over 30 years. In that time many of the congregation have moved out of the area but still feel connected and part of the church 2) There are also alot of people who we reach overseas as our service times in Australia on a Sunday are generally late Saturday night/early Sunday morning in the UK and Europe and mid to late Saturday afternoon into Nth, Sth and Central America. We have had many people come online and partake in our services especially with the ugly weather the northern hemisphere has experienced this winter. 3) having had the same Senior Pastor for 30 years, some of the maturing housebound people still want to be a part of the live service. We are looking to expand this in to nursing homes etc in the future. As part of our live streaming we have a designated email address for prayer requests, we also run a fb page? You tube (archives) and twitter accounts. Whilst actual streaming is happening we even have a dropdown prayer request box where people can remain annonymous. At the beginning of the service we have a designated intro for our online family either by myself or one of the other Pastors. At the end we do an outro and pray for people as well. During the service we run a chat room where we can talk to people. It is a growing ministry and certain houses have a spiritual dna thats different. Ours is very pentecostal and prophetic and we do minister to them from main platform as well. There is no distance in the Spiritual realm and because of the opportunity have had people in the Middle East come online as well as in China. We have had healings, salvations and recommitments in our two short months. Thank you for the opportunity to share and I pray it is relevant to your post. If not feel free to delete. Rev Phil

  22. Darrell Mishler says

    Age? I’m 63…and digital…at least for an “old guy”.
    The debate you present sounds an awful lot like what I remember from the “bad old days” when TV church came into being. Almost to the letter, the same questions existed, I think, about nationally–world-wide (?) TV live broadcasts or tape broadcasts of “church”…ala…The Crystal Cathedral, etc.

    Some was good, I’m sure, for those who, as mentioned above, needed to be “at home”.
    Metrics seemed to be connected to “funds needed to keep this ministry coming into your home”.
    And, I’m sure “market share” had something to do with what the TV broadcasters considered to be “successful”.

    Jesus said we should be …”in our going…be making disciples…” (that make more disciples).
    I think THAT should really be the metric we use the most.
    Is it occurring? How? How do we know?
    If “digital disciples” are maturing in Christ….then, according to Him…How EVER it takes place seems to be a good thing ?

  23. Torie says

    In a way, the digital church can be seen in light of how the early church was expanded. Believers of the NT were sent letters to be read to the congregation. These letters were circulated throughout the churches and, as we know, eventually compiled into our Bible.

    Digital media can be the same way. But, there was a delineation between memberships. The Church was all believers no matter their geographical location. People were added to the whole church when they were saved and baptized. How we do church membership today is a new invention per say.

    The caution I would put out there is who is accountable for how the person or group uses the churches name. Reality dictates that we have to be able to have checks and balances within the ministry and members.

    Question is how do you manage a local church under the umbrella of an internet body? This is no different than what most Protestant denominations have been doing for many years.

    And what benefit comes from outsourcing our church membership?

  24. Steven says

    I have retweeted the link to this blog and tagged some folks from lifechurch.tv with the hope that they will respond. I believe they could make a pretty good argument for digital attendees to be members. Since this blog has been posted and while you guys discuss the issue they have probably had several online services with thousands of people in attendance around the globe, not to mention a whole lot more here. They are having live chat sessions during the service, sharing prayer requests and giving tithes and offerings online. Many of the attendees/members are serving lifechurch.tv in many various ways. Some are serving by attending other online services, participating in those live chat sessions and leading people to Christ. Or they are using other forms of digital media to promote church online. The point is this: it doesn’t seem like there is really all that much to discuss when there are churches out there that already have a great model to reproduce, and have been doing it for years. They have already worked out most of the issues that I have seen mentioned here.

  25. says

    While I tend to be one who embraces new digital things I’m a bit unsure about this for a couple of reasons.

    One is that I’m not sure we can replicate everything that matters digitally. Sacraments are particularly a concern here. I’m not convinced that DIY at home communion or baptism is theologically legitimate. You also can’t lay hands on someone to pray for them or anoint them with oil via the internet ether.

    The other thing I wonder about here is the impact of the convenience on spiritual formation. I think there is something healthy about having to make the effort to go somewhere and sometimes sacrifice other things you could be doing to do go to an in-person church service. There’s much in the Christian life that takes sacrifice so that’s a good place to start! To be clear, my concern here is not at all with people who have some reason normal church services are difficult (disabilities, illness, geographic isolation, mental health issues exacerbated by crowds ect). It’s with people who could viably attend a normal church service but don’t bother because online church is easier and involves less effort. I think not feeding that attitude is something there’s a need to be really careful of in how online churches are marketed and run.

    • jonathon says

      > I’m not convinced that DIY at home communion or baptism is theologically legitimate. You also can’t lay hands on someone to pray for them or anoint them with oil via the internet ether.

      In the United States, between 10 and 20 churches permanently close their doors along side 11 to 21 new churches being started, every day. (Six more churches are started each week, than permanently close up shop.) What those statistics do not include, are house churches, cell churches, and similar forms of congregational worship.

      Give digital churches five to ten years. Baptisms, Anointing with oil, Communion, and other acts that require physical interaction, will be done by the individual heading up a house church/cell church/small group that either originated from, or is still a part the digital church. These will be small — no more than 10 people. They will break up frequently. (Half life of 18 months. Two new groups out of the “ashes” of the group that “closed up shop”. Growth by multiplication.)

      The _major_ stumbling block, is how much time the individual puts into studying the Bible, and praying to God, each day, In 1967, the Baptist Bible Institute at Debi Neck (sp?) was teaching its ministers that they should spend two hours a day in prayer, and another two hours per day studying the Bible. (How much time does your minister spend in prayer each day. How much time does your minister spend studying the Bible, each day? The final test is: “Can your minister give a four hour sermon on any pericope in the Bible, with no preparation”. That is what Debi Neck was training its students to do.
      An individual today, can obtain more Bible study tools and resources, for gratis, than were available in the typical third world Bible college in 1980.

      This change to laity doing the things that require physical interaction, will, arguably, destroy the raison d’être of the clergy. The end point is either akin to the _Universal Life Church_, where everybody is clergy, or _church of Christ (Mutual Edification)_, where everybody is laity.

  26. says

    Thom, great topic. Our conversations at Leadership Network with churches in this space has shown that most of them are taking a both/and approach to ‘digital church’. Churches that have been pioneers in the online campus/church movement place a high value on forming community and connection both online and offline. In fact, a pastor I spoke with recently who will be launching and ‘online first’ church (not a broadcast from a brick and mortar church) shared that he wants to see online attendees come together offline for community, service, etc.

    In addition, technology brings opportunities in our digital culture that don’t exist for the church otherwise. I think we would be foolish to ignore this. And I think we’ll see in the months ahead that it isn’t just about broadcasting. Technology, particularly the mobile platform, allows for ‘narrow-casting’ to the individual, where they are, within the daily rhythms of life.

    As an aside, it’s funny to me that you could take the word ‘digital’ out of most of those questions/points and make healthy application to church in general.

  27. says

    I love this discussion and appreciate all of the different perspectives shared within the comments. This is a road that our church (Lake Pointe) has been down over the past 2 1/2 years. As churches continue to launch a “digital church,” “church online,” “internet campus,” etc… the philosophies and strategies will be as varied as they are with “bricks-and-mortar” churches/campuses.

    Here at Lake Pointe, we definitely have the philosophy that gathering in person is always best, if possible. We realize that for many it is not possible. There are so many people that have physical, emotional, social and spiritual difficulties that prevent them from walking through the doors of the church. This provides them with solid, evangelical teaching and the opportunity to engage in community. We are continually striving to build wider, stronger and better bridges for people to travel from where they currently are toward a physical church in their area.

    We have story after story of people walking across the “bridge” of our Internet Campus into a physical church and are now thriving within a church they had never been introduced to before coming to Lake Pointe’s iCampus. We also have story after story of people who cannot go to a physical church who now have a level of community that they have not had in decades, if ever! The Internet Campus of Lake Pointe IS their church home and will be for the foreseeable future.

    Now, having been down this road for 2 1/2 years, there is no way we would go back. The ministry that takes place on a daily basis because of the iCampus is phenomenal and well worth the challenges that it presents. I encourage every church to strongly consider this area of growth for your church. I would LOVE to talk with anyone about what we have learned and how we could help you in your journey down this road (natem@lakepointe.org)

    I believe that history will look back at this time on how the Church is leveraging the Internet in the same light that we can look back at how Gutenberg leveraged the printing press, which enabled the Bible to be printed in mass production for the first time. For His glory!!

  28. Kristina says

    I think it’s important to remember that there are many silent and hidden ways to serve the body of Christ. One person might spend hours on their knees in intercession for the pastors, members, and activities of one’s church or for the lost or for our government. Will anyone but the Father ever know about this service? Not likely. Another might spend hours crafting emails or hand-written notes to the lonely or discouraged or those serving overseas. Will the pastoral staff ever know about this work? Again, probably not. Then there are those who would engage in sharing the gospel of Christ online. Would the entire church know about this commission? Maybe, but maybe not. There are many ways to serve Christ and his bride that are obscure and immeasurable and not likely to be known or recorded by man. These things should be considered before assuming that someone who does not physically attend the church does not serve the church.

    • Mark says

      Look at any nun. They show more concern for people, than anyone I ever saw. No one knows how many hours they sat with someone in the hospital and then went to the chapel to pray. They did not talk about this, but they did it. I am sure plenty of nuns skipped mass at times to sit with someone.

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