Lately this question seems to be popping up more and more so I thought I’d post some initial thoughts. For example, while at the Echo Media Conference I have met several ‘Internet Campus Pastors’. Including a church planter who has planted an online (only) church. In a question I used the term ‘virtual church’ and he corrected me saying virtual implies ‘not real’ so therefore it is an online church. As I’ve reflected on the question, I feel like we are asking the wrong question. Let me explain:
The question of whether online community is ‘real’ is one that the entire culture is going to ask. It is in the realm of sociology, philosophy, etc. I believe people do have ‘community’ online. I can meet, get-to-know and develop real relationships with people online. The questions we as Christians should be asking is:
What are we called to be as a Biblical community? And can this be done with technology?
Our question is not just one of whether ‘community’ is happening but of definitions of what life/community looks like for the people of God. One place to examine is the ‘one-anothering’ passages:
John 15:12 – Love one another
Romans 5:13 – Don’t pass judgment on one another
Romans 12:5 – Be members of one another
Romans 12:10 – Honor one another
Romans 12:16 – Live in harmony with one another
Romans 14:19 – Build up one another
Romans 15:5 – Be like-minded toward one another
Romans 15:7 – Accept one another
1 Corinthians 12:25 – Care for one another
Galatians 5:13 – Serve one another in love
Galatians 5:26 – Don’t provoke or envy one another
Galatians 6:2 – Bear one another’s burdens
Ephesians 4:32 – Be kind to one another
Colossians 3:13 – Bear with each other and forgive one another
1 Thessalonians 3:12 – Abound in love toward one another
1 Thessalonians 4:18 – Comfort one another
Titus 3:3 – Don’t hate one another
Hebrews 3:13 – Encourage one another
Hebrews 10:24 – Stir up one another to love and good deeds
James 4:11 – Don’t slander one another
James 5:9 – Don’t bear grudges against one another
James 5:16 – Confess your sins to one another
1 Peter 4:9 – Offer hospitality to one another
1 Peter 5:14 – Greet one another
1 John 1:7 – Fellowship with one another
1 John 3:11 – Love one another
Ephesians 5:21- submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Now maybe you think you can add ‘online’ to each of these so that “Love one another online” seems to fulfill these. But since we are the only community not formed for ourselves but we are gathered as a people for God and others there is no way with the current state of technology that we can go to the depths of this type of one-anothering community. Quite frankly most of churches that do meet throughout the week will struggle with this type of intense call of communal life.
Instead of asking, “Is virtual community real community?” Let’s spend more time considering “What is Biblical community?” Which leads us to consider “How can technology assist the life of a Biblical community?”
I want to encourage those Christians in the tech space to attend the Christian Web Conference. Where most conferences on technology are geared toward ‘how’, ‘what’, and ‘who’ this conference will ask more ‘why’ questions. As the conference main site states, “The Christian Web Conference is designed to equip individuals with the vision, knowledge, and relationships that are necessary in order to be thoughtful practitioners and consumers of developing web technologies.”
For example, one of the highlights of the conference is a debate about whether the online church is community between Andrew Jones (tallskinnykiwi) and Matthew Anderson (Mere Orthodoxy).
At the conference I will facilitate the session, Internet Strategy: What does the gospel have to do with Social Media? where we will investigate the role of social media in the church. How and what as Christians should we consider regarding our use of social media. For example in the initial results of a survey so far:
7 out of 10 church leaders believe that “If Jesus were alive today He would have a profile on a social network.”
Source: The State of the Church Online | Member Community and Social Networks (take this survey to help!)
What are ways we can redemptively participate in social media and what are lines we need to create. Join us for these discussions and much more….
Often it may be tempting to pick where you will host a small group primarily on issues such as convenient location, size of house or willingness of the host to open their home. Avoid these temptations. If you agree with the necessity of mission for small groups the host is one of the most important elements to being missional. In our missional communities we call each group to three ‘missions’:
1. The neighbors where the group meets.
2. The people in the life of the community (eg. co-workers, activities). Inviting the community into these groups or inviting these people into the community.
3. Third places like a cafe, pub or restaurant.
The Crowded House has found that location #1 is the singular most powerful element in creating these gospel-missional communities. For example, when a group replicates proximity trumps other factors. Location is the most effective and persistent to invite the community into. The host is critical because they must be the bridge by which the entire community connects to the neighborhood. If the host is not missional and in relationship with those they live by, it will be difficult to build the necessary relationships in spite of a non-missional host. It’s like the Law of the Lid (which says an organization can only grow up to the level of it’s leadership). In this case, the community will most likely only be as missional as the host’s relations with their neighbors.
At the end of last year I posted a document on Kaleo’s Philosophy of Ministry created by Tim Cain as he worked to plant a new church site as part of Kaleo. As an updated now there is an added section on Vision to the document. This is the shortened version of a longer document but at 58 pages it has some weight to it. Included in the Vision portion of the document:
- Vision Statement
- Core Theological Convictions
- What Gospel Community Looks Like
- What a Community formed for Mission Looks Like
- What is Mission
- ..and much more such as the role of the Holy Spirit, prayer, God’s glory, etc.
The Philosophy of Ministry section discusses how we practically live out the above vision. Practically how do we gather, how do we gospel one-another, how we fight to treasure Christ, worship and much more.
DOWNLOAD: Kaleo Vision and Philosophy of Ministry
Kaleo Church is still learning what it means to be a community of believers gathering throughout the week in homes across the county. We call these groups Missional Communities. Why? Our desire is that we would be gospel-centered communities on mission. As we’ve got a few years into this church plant there are a couple observations:
To ClarifyÄ¶A Missional Community is not PRIMARILY:
1. A Small Group
2. A Bible Study
3. A Support Group
4. A Social Activist Group
5. A Weekly Meeting
1. Small Groups as Bible Studies are the easiest to form but the most dangerous.
Why are they dangerous? In our early days we did much more class or Bible study gatherings. What we found is that theology “in theory” often leads to knowledge without wisdom. Thinking through the problem of evil and suffering in abstraction is quite different than sitting next to a young couple that lost their baby. Groups should use theology to re-orient people back to God/Truth but in such a way that it is focused on heart transformation and right thinking. Sometimes we call this teaching “theology on mission” since the aim of the theology is directed to specific worldview conversion.
2. Small Groups that deal with Support of one-another inevitably become exclusive and accommodating.
While not as easy as a Bible study, a support group can become the default when people are not on mission. Recently a church decided to move to a neighborhood small group model. Several of the ‘established’ small groups resisted. They provided an apologetic saying that their group had 30-years of deep relationship building that wouldn’t allow others to jump into this deepness they sought. 30 years of not being on mission will lead to exclusiveness and without mission the group will never get beyond itself.
3. Missional groups without a Community Centered on the Gospel can not last.
A missional group will quickly run into circumstances that require it to drink from the grace-renewal well of the gospel. Groups that gather around good causes and can-do attitude will eventually peter out as people become absorbed into something else or lack the motivation to continue.
Mission is a necessity for small groups to avoid #1 & #2 because mission requires gospel-supporting of one another that causes us to stand on the promises and truths in God’s word. Our hope is that our understanding of God’s word is intensified, our support through gospeling of one another is continual and the result is mission that causes us to seek the Kingdom of God first in all we do.
Monk Development has begun our shift from a Content Management provider to an Internet Presence Management company. What is the difference? Most Content Management Systems (CMS) focus on managing the content to publish to a client’s website. “If no one visits your award-winning new website does it really exist?” may be the existential question of the Internet age. Too often organizations spend all their time and budget on a website rather than establishing their presence across the web. We believe the CMS market needs to go beyond a website and that organizations need to ensure they are managing their presence across the web. What is your organization’s presence online?
Let me give you an example of how this would work. On Ekklesia 360 when a church publishes a sermon a number of things happen.
1. The Sermon is published to their website.
2. The church sermons are syndicated and churches can build custom syndication lists by sermon types and categories.
3. The church can connect their Facebook & Twitter accounts so that an editable status update announces the sermon. We even use bit.ly to shorten the url for you. Videos can be distributed to YouTube & Vimeo.
4. During setup we connect the churches podcast feed into iTunes.
5. Churches will have their sermon pushed to The Cloud Network where we route tens-of-thousands of online visitors a month to our church clients.
At the end of the day we want your sermons, articles and events to have as broad and far as reach as possible and to reach people where they already are. And this requires that we help you connect with people far beyond your website.
Cobblestone was created to help your community be the church. Cobblestone is designed to encourage behaviors that are important for the body of the local church. Learn how Cobblestone can assist you with objectives such as:
- Helping People find opportunities to Serve
- Connecting People into Community
- Creating effective and powerful Communication channels
- Managing Events
- Discipleship and Accountability Groups
- and many more features.
Cobblestone is designed to move people deeper into real relationships. Cobblestone automates much of the administration, for example it can automatically connect people into home groups based on your criteria, so you can spend your time in relationship not administrating. This powerful web application automates many of the processes to allow your people to focus on the relationships not the administration. For example, our Group Permissions Agent can connect new members to the small group nearest them (or other criteria your church sets.) Use Cobblestone to manage Events on both your public website and within your community site. Push missional events into third-party Social Media sites such as Facebook. Learn more about these and many other ways Cobblestone can help facilitate the mission of your church.