An internet campus?

OK.  I’ve referenced it a few times in passing, so I might as well throw it out there directly.  In my time out of the office this summer, I sensed that God may be leading us toward launching an online campus.  I almost cringed at first when I mentioned it to anyone…our elders, our staff, friends in ministry, our community group, but I was very, very interested in getting critical feedback. 

We are far from announcing (and may never announce) that we are going to launch such a campus, but the enthusiasm and critque in the dialog has been off the charts!  A few thoughts:

  • We certainly would not be the first church doing such.  Many do it and do it with an amazing level of interactivity.
  • If you think internet campus means just watching a sermon in your pajamas at your convienence, you would be totally wrong.
  • In a very short time, Suncrest has been welcomed into the conversation by some of the biggest innovators around the country in leveraging technology for ministry.

Yesterday, DJ Chaung, used some questions Mary Beth Stockdale and I gave him on his “Digital @ Leadership Network” blog to carry on the conversation about online campuses.  You can see that here.  (Leadership Network is the same group that pioneered the Leadership Community I’m in with other young pastors of larger churches.)

For what it’s worth…here is the first set of questions I’m personally working through…would love your feedback on any or all of them in the comments section below.  You can see it is wide-ranging…and that when someone asks me for 5 questions, I figure out a way to make it 15!

1.        What makes something church (or, conversely, what keeps something from being church).  What are the essentials biblically?  Is it Acts 2:42?  Other passages?  Is there a reason any of this can or can’t happen online.  What are the experiences that MUST be a part of it?  Worship services?  Communion?  Offering? Small Groups? Bible Study? Serving those in need? Do all of these happen online?

 

2.       How do spiritual gifts work?  Serving?  Leadership Development?

 

3.       Is an online campus of a “located” ministry the best expression?  I think this suggests that an online campus is an experience legitimate enough to qualify as someone’s “church” experience, but not fundamentally different enough from the bricks and mortar church that it can’t be “part” of it.  Would it be better for a church just to use the internet as a tool for the aspects of ministry that are best carried out online, but don’t make it someone’s whole church experience?  Or, on the other hand, should we let internet churches lead their own way without potentially limiting them when seen as a campus or a part of a physically located ministry.

 

4.        Practically, what are the liability factors, if any?  Is there church responsibility for any relationships…especially where there is the potential of being taken advantage of?  In bricks/mortar world, we think of children’s volunteers and background checks…are there any parallel issues online that put the larger church at risk?

 

5.       Also practically, how does this work financially?  After start-up, would it be projected to fund itself?  What type of front-end investment is there?  What staff positions are essential to doing this well?

 

~ by Greg Lee on October 23, 2008.

4 Responses to “An internet campus?”

  1. I have to be honest, Greg. This whole idea completely overwhelms me. My first thought is can we (are we able to) do this with excellence? and second, have you yourself experienced an internet campus? It’s hard to just throw that out there and not need more info…so where can I experience this? If your serious, then we as leaders need to experience it before giving feedback… 🙂

    I love and appreciate your forward thinking, as always! You keep us on our toes!

  2. Great questions, Kay. A couple thoughts…

    1. Excellence is a value of ours, so if we can’t do it with excellence, we simply won’t do it. We would have to be confident of that to move forward.

    2. I have experienced an internet campus on a very limited basis. Mary Beth has much more so. That basically means I’ve participated in worship services of an internet campus, but Mary Beth has experienced some of the group life online, etc. That is key since I believe there are many possibilities online, but (just like at brick and mortar churches) if you are only connected to a worship experience, you are just scratching the surface of what church is.

    3. Here is the one I’ve looked at the most: http://www.lifechurch.tv

  3. […] An internet campus? […]

  4. 1. This question is the most important question you can ask regarding this topic. However, this question could be wrestled for hours…Theologians have written thousands of books throughout the ages on ecclesiology!

    -The church described in the Bible was a community rather than an individual enterprise. The American church often implies an individual aspect of faith, and puts less emphasis on the corporate nature of the church. You would really have to be careful with this at an internet Church. It is amazing how the internet brings people together: Facebook, myspace, blogs, e-harmony…the church would be missing out if they didn’t try and utilize the networking capabilities of the internet. However, the internet is also a place of anonymity. If you think people wear masks on church, just think about what it is like online! You might be willing to share something more personal with someone if you didn’t have to look them in the eye, but then is that real community? I think having a counseling component to this would be HUGE!

    -The American church often looks very much like an established institution, but the church in Acts looks more like a nation. It is a corporate body of believers sharing their lives together. The church is more than just a mere building. Despite racial, gender, and social boundaries the church in the New Testament shows us that the message of the Gospel is universally for everyone. Personal faith is important, but the church is also called to be a unified body of believers. Much like the nation of Israel, the church is called to be the people of God (Acts 16:31-33). An internet campus would certainly cross gender, racial, political, and economical boundaries. (Most likely it would do this with even more ease than the traditional church structure). However, is unity lost when you are not physically meeting together? Does this do anything for a physical community? You can’t go to online communities and rake an old ladies people’s leaves!

    -Evangelism is imperative for the church. The church proclaimed the Gospel in everyday life, and they met people on their own turf (Acts 17). We live in an internet culture, and sadly the church is often behind in terms of culture. An internet church would certainly meet people where they are at. However, the church in the New Testament also fulfilled physical needs…could an internet church do this as well?

    -Like I said, ecclesiology is such a broad thing, but those are some of my initial thoughts on the subject.

    2. If you are going to have a church based out of a website…it has to be a quality website. Someone has to upload videos and moderate the message board! I see blogging as being a key way to serve as well. The goal of spiritual gifts is to build up the church…and internet campus would have to learn how to be creative with this.

    3. Jesus often used physical things as teaching tools. He used, bread, water, sheep, and even himself as a way to communicate truth. We would be missing out if we could not physically take communion or be immersed in a watery grave. In the same way, I think that we would also be physically missing out on the warm handshake and the genuine hug from our church family. I am not sure a hug, smile, or handshake is a required attribute of what it means to be a church, but I think that those things are certainly a physical component of what biblical community truly is.

    4. I am constantly hearing about children being taken advantage of by predators on the internet. People are free to lie about themselves as much as they want. The internet is not the safest place to give out information. Who knows who might see your physical address or get your credit card number?

    5. Website tech person for sure. Someone to create videos, music, blogs, and other forms of media. Counseling (I think this would be HUGE for an online church). Teaching.

    Great questions Greg! I am curious to hear about your convos with Groeschel and stuff.

    tim

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