Recently we had a very extended and animated discussion in our Strategic Leadership Team. And what sparked the debate? Our online campus, specifically:
- live streaming Sunday Masses
- “on demand” services and programming during the week
Basically the debate came down to one that, I suspect, is happening in many settings these days. Is the online campus going to cannibalize church attendance, water down parishioner’s commitment, and weaken parish fellowship? And, of course, being a Catholic church we must always ask “does it count?”
Short answer, we don’t necessarily know the right answer to all these questions, they are too new. A quick review of what some of the most successful churches in the country are doing reveals that they are all over the boards, nobody has cracked the code yet.
Interestingly, my friend Pastor Carey Nieuwhof wrote a brilliant blog on this very subject (at least I think its brilliant since he articulates exactly what I think). Here, in part, is his piece:
There’s an ongoing debate about how much church you can do online. Laura Turner wrote a helpful piece recently for The New York Times in which she argued that online church isn’t the same as in-person church. Laura cited this blog and we had a short but great chat via email about her piece. Largely, I agree with Laura and as a local church leader, I really appreciate her viewpoint.
I think what can be missing from the discussion about the online church is that too often our conversation is binary. Church online is good or bad. Wise or dumb. A cop-out or great.
Here’s what I think the future holds for online church. In the near future, online church will become almost exclusively a front door and side door, not a back door.
In the early days of online church, the Internet functioned as a back door. Consumer-oriented, disengaged or lazy Christians headed for the back door and traded the drive and the traffic for the comfort of a warm bed or the convenience of a treadmill. If your primary disposition toward church was to consume content, online just gave you a far easier way. But those Christians are an endangered species. We’re a decade+ into church online and they’ve drifted off into the background, and honestly for the most part, into Kingdom-irrelevance. You can’t change the world if your only connection with the Kingdom is through your earbuds.
The future of church online is not with the Internet as a back door. The future of the church is the internet as a front door and side door.
Church online will become a front door for the curious, the skeptic and the interested. It will be the first stop for almost everyone, and a temporary resting place for people who are a little too afraid to jump in until they muster the courage to jump in through physical attendance. What we’re seeing at Connexus where I serve is that almost everyone who attends for the first time has engaged online for weeks, months or upward of a year. They see online as the new front door, which it is.
It’s also a side door to Christians who travel or who can’t be there on a given Sunday. In that respect, it boosts engagement because it keeps people connected. They never miss a Sunday or a moment because of the seamless slip between digital and analog that our lives have become.
For the complete blog go to CareyNieuwhof.com