It’s no secret that we live in a technology-driven, media focussed world. This can present some challenges to the church, but can also give great possibilities and ways of reaching out to a wider group of people. The church is no longer limited to communicating with the small group of people that gather together once on a Sunday and once mid-week. Social media, live streaming, blogging and podcasts are just a small number of things which many churches today have adopted to help them reach a wider group of people.
Today, however, I want to talk about a trend that is cropping up across lots of big churches, particularly in the USA, which takes the ‘reach’ of a church to a whole new level. This is something people are calling ‘Online Church’ (or church online, online campus).
The idea is simple: a church sets up a version of a meeting online for people to join. It usually includes the ability to live stream a church service, a chat room space where you can talk with other members of the online church, a link to give online during the tithes/offering time, and the ability to request prayer for something.
Many churches are adopting this as one of their ‘campuses’ or ‘sites’; understanding that there are a significant number of people who might not be able to attend a church service on a Sunday, either because of distance to travel or time restraints. An online church provides a way for these people to connect with what is going on and take part in the common parts of a church service.
This isn’t a new concept; many of the larger churches have been doing this for a number of years now. They have understood that there’s a large number of people, often in the 1000’s, that want to be a part of their mission, agree with their teaching, and live in another part of the country or even the world, so the church has made a way for them to be involved.
What seems strange to me, though, is that in the last few years, we have experienced an unprecedented increase in loneliness and separation in our society and culture. Whilst social media aims to bring people together, is it actually doing the opposite? Are people hiding away and trying to show the world an idealistic version of their life, when in reality it’s nothing like it?! If this is the case, then should we, The Church, be offering something that encourages this loneliness and separation? Should we really offer a form of church that doesn’t bring people together in to fellowship, relationship and community?
Have we tried to offer an easy way for people to hear our preaching and to watch our super-cool media productions whilst sacrificing our core values and beliefs that everyone on the earth deserves to be a part of the family of God? Should we stop worrying so much about our online ‘reach’ and instead focus on going out and reaching people face-to-face?
Feel free to offer your own comments on Online Church! Has it worked for you? Do you think it’s a positive thing for the church to embrace?