The Day We All Became Digital-Only Expressions of Church
So, near the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020, we – THECHURCH.DIGITAL and Stadia – were on an experiment to develop a new model of church. One that was not grounded on physical locations for ministry, for discipleship… one that met the biblical standards, the biblical ecclesiology of church, digitally. I’ve written blogs, recorded podcasts, facilitated virtual conversations, even sat around coffee shops having these philosophical “what if” questions.
The response? Before Coronavirus (BCV), the conversations were mixed at best. The controversial idea of a Digital-only Church affects people differently, as the conversation ultimately challenged people’s opinions, traditions of church. Honestly, the conversation leads to extreme reactions. I either get the joyous “Thank God, I’ve been waiting for someone to do this! How can I help?” to the furious “I don’t know what you think this is, but it’s not church.” Very rarely is it a lukewarm reaction. Regardless, we pressed on, developing a theoretical model.
Mike Tyson is Right
Then, Coronavirus happened and we, the Church world, got proverbially punched in the face. The great theologian Mike Tyson said it best: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Well, Coronavirus forced the church overall to rethink its strategy. Pastors who had once said “I am theologically against streaming services online” were now scrambling to find streaming solutions for online. Volunteers who didn’t even know Zoom existed a couple weeks earlier are now creating tutorials on how to use the software, and training church members on how to use it. Our worship centers, our buildings, our physical church… shut down for the foreseeable future.
Congratulations. Today, many, many churches are digital-only.
Welcome. Glad you are here.
While you’re here, let’s pause and ask some questions.
Questions the Church Should Ask While Socially Distancing
What if our church does not re-open it’s physical doors? The longer Coronavirus season goes on, the more likely churches may not be able to stay afloat. Coronavirus is hurting small and big businesses alike, although larger organizations may have a better financial reserve in place, it’s fair to say this could be a struggle for small and medium-sized churches. With the economy likely in flux, it’s likely that tithes and donations will be in trouble. As Coronavirus Season extends, sadly, I suspect a substantial number of physical churches will not be able to reopen their doors. What if churches that had to physically close looked to a digital model to continue ministry?
What is Coronavirus doing to our culture? The longer our Coronavirus season goes on, the more our culture will be impacted. Psychologically, what is social distancing doing to our mental state? Do we trust environments again? Tragedies and disasters leave scars emotionally. Global epidemics like COVID-19 will be no different. Do we, the Church, really know at this point what people need? What if we, the church, listened and ministered to the needs of the people. What if we took the time to truly understand the culture-shifts we’re experiencing?
What if we listened as much as we talked? Here’s a tip to churches out there doing this digital stuff for the first time. If you want to be effective online, don’t make statements… ask questions. Getting people to talk online is the best way to get to know them, and that is only magnified in this Coronavirus season. The more technology we use in ministry, the more personal interaction we must have. I did a talk recently with the American Bible Society on this topic in context of Coronavirus. As difficult as COVID-19 is making life, how else can we minister to people unless we listen to them.
What if we did something different? For decades the American church has largely operated on a traditional model. Sure, we changed our worship styles from traditional to contemporary to modern. We stopped calling it Sunday School and started calling it Small Groups. Megachurch, gigachurch, multisite church, small church, church plant… they’re far more similar to them than different. These are effective models of physical church, but may not be the most effective in digital space. A pastor recently asked me if a 30 minute worship set is most effective for an online audience? My response back was “You’re assuming music is the only form of worship?” What if churches used this season to experiment with new ideas instead of copying and pasting physical ministry online.
How do we keep our people on mission? What if the challenge is not broadcasting church services. What if it’s keeping people on mission? A digital-only expression of church is only as good as its ability to impact people in the physical realm. Broadcasting church services is one thing. How can we be led by the Spirit to the place where we’re leading our Church on mission, even though we’re socially distancing ourselves from not only our people, but the people we are trying to reach?
Church, while asking these questions you may find yourself not only learning more about Church Online in this Coronavirus season, but maybe you’ll discover something about Church overall. Continually praying for not only our digital-only churches, but all churches in this Coronavirus season, that God would do something God-sized in our midst.
With about 20 years experience serving the church in the digital/technological realm, Jeff loves working with churches. As passionate about Discipleship as he is Technology, Jeff uses his passion to help Churches develop technology systems to bring people far from God closer to him. Oh, and he loves Digital Church & Church Online.