Last fall, I wrote an article called Do Web Campuses Cannibalize Community? In the article, I outlined some potential pros and cons of doing church online. A quick recap:
- They could provide an on-ramp for people who are just checking out Christianity and your church.
- They could offer a less intimidating way to ask questions.
- They create a way to connect with the life of the church even when out of town or stuck at home.
- They could provide a way to connect with people before attending a small group or other church gathering for the first time.
- They could help newcomers build relationships more quickly by helping them connect with people all throughout the week.
- They offer a way for people who live out of the area to understand and financially contribute to the church’s mission and vision.
- They could potentially cannibalize attendance to services and groups.
- They don’t provide the same level of accountability as an in-person meeting.
- They could limit the effectiveness of specialized ministries (kid’s, students, etc).
- They could greatly limit the amount of serving opportunities for individuals.
- They could limit an individual’s leadership development.
Kenny Jahng, the Church Online Pastor at Liquid Church in New Jersey, left a comment on that article that I just had to follow up on. Kenny suggested every one of these potential cons could actually be pros, if approached from the right direction. I caught up with him a few weeks ago to expound on what he meant.
First, a little background:
Liquid Church is a non-denominational church meeting in 5 locations, adding its sixth this year. They run about 4,000 in attendance, and God is doing something great there. They’ve seen approximately 1,000 baptisms since the church started 8 years ago, and 682 people accepted Christ on Easter this year alone.
That’s in the Northeast. Where church supposedly doesn’t work.
Right now they have five live-chat, interactive online worship services on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays, and the rest of the week, the service is available on-demand. They’re reaching 2,000+ each week through Church Online, representing people over 200 nations, but most are in the U.S.
They used to use their web campus to focus on global reach, and they even had a group of people in Australia watching services online who eventually formed their own physical church. Now, however, they’re using Church Online to focus on New Jersey. They consider the website the “welcome mat” to physical church.
In Kenny’s words, Church Online is full of real people with real faith — not virtual people or virtual relationships. Here are his thoughts on how the potential disadvantages of church online can actually be flipped to be advantages:
Con #1: Web campuses could potentially cannibalize attendance to services and groups.
KENNY: It’s literally the other way around for us. Think back to another recent shift in the Church. When churches started looking at online giving, they were worried about credit card fees, afraid they’d collect less money than before. But Millennials haven’t written a check in the last year. When you switch to mobile giving, online or kiosks, giving actually goes up.
In the same way, the preferred mode to check things out is online first. People who won’t walk through your doors will check you out online. You will gain more than you will lose.
Con #2: Web campuses don’t provide the same level of accountability as an in-person meeting.
KENNY: A classic objection to church online. “Web-based relationships are not real.” But look at the rise of online dating. Pew Research Center earlier this year reported that now nearly half of the public knows someone who uses online dating platforms or who has met a spouse or partner via online dating.
Physicality is not necessary. Do you know everyone sitting in your seats intimately? Do you need physical presence to have community? Not necessarily — it takes intentionality and a covenantal relationship. When I was in seminary, I found a group of people on Twitter who are online late at night during the same time I’m working on school work. We met so often, a video chat prayer group formed that met weekly. When you laugh with someone, and cry with someone, you have a real relationship.
Another thing, the younger you go, the more absurd this argument is.
Con #3: Web campuses could limit the effectiveness of specialized ministries (kid’s, students, etc.)
KENNY: We haven’t haven’t launched student ministry online yet, but we understand it’s a new frontier where we should be spending our time. We have to challenge family ministries to keep innovating. See my last point. The younger you go, the more online mediums can help relationships and communities start and continue. The generation coming up behind Millennials won’t know anything different.
Con #4: Web campuses could greatly limit the amount of serving opportunities for individuals.
Kenny: There are definitely volunteer opportunities, and they offer a lot of flexibility for people who have unusual schedules to still be able to participate in ministry. We have roles for hosting our live chats, leading web-based life group meetings, prayer team and spiritual care, remote tech help and more.
Pastoring and discipling happens in life groups, and we have a spiritual care team dedicated to church online to help. And importantly, we are trying to use online experiences to connect people with offline opportunities. Some people start online and end up launching an offline small group. We even have a “life group planter” in one area where we don’t have a physical church anywhere close by. It’s a great example of helping one of our community members put their faith into action.
Con #5: Web campuses could limit an individual’s leadership development.
KENNY: This takes intentionality, but you can still develop leaders with online serving opportunities. We provide training for their volunteer role all online. We have also launched a leadership book club for the more interested people, which uses video conferencing for weekly discussion and a private Facebook group for discussion throughout the week.
The Church as a whole must continue wrestling with new technology and how it shapes our culture. The pace of change is not slowing down. Thanks to Kenny for sharing how Liquid Church is innovating.
Is your church ready to innovate to reach more people? Learn how The Unstuck Group’s 4 Phase Process helps churches clarify vision and build a focused strategy and action plan to see it through.
Photo Credit: Unsplash CC0