5 Axioms of Online Church

Observations from XPS 2019

Over the past two decades of serving the Church from various platforms, I have found myself thrust into the conversation about online church. In the early 2000s, when I served a large group of churches in Southern California, we focused on convincing and coaching churches on how to have a web presence and be found. When I served as the Executive Pastor of a midsize church going multisite, our challenge was to use online as a way to bridge the culture of two congregations. And as a member of the executive staff at one of the largest churches in California, our strategy was to create specific content only available online across multiple channels and to eventually launch a full virtual campus.

My experience is not unique, and for the past 20 years the struggle has been real. It is the struggle to find a way to connect people to church online, the struggle to find ways to use content to extend the church experience, and the struggle over whether online church is biblical. For many of us, 20 years in, the conversation continues.

As part of the annual Executive Pastors Summit (XPS), held this past January at The Crossing near Las Vegas, CDF Leadership Capital brought together leaders from four very different ministries to have a conversation around online church, how they approach it, and why.

The result was a great mix of styles, philosophies, and theologies that touched a wide swath of the spectrum of online church. I recommend that every church, no matter how big or how small, engage in this conversation with your leadership and ask this question: what will we do about online church?

As you do, use these five key takeaways from XPS as a primer for the conversation.

from left to right: Clay Scroggins, Mark Venti, Will Peddie, Kevin Penry

1. Understand the changing rhythms of church.

Whether we are prepared for it or not, the rhythm of life in church has changed significantly over the past two decades. With so much at our fingertips, and so much more available, Sundays are no longer the priority they used to be. Sean Morgan, Vice President of CDF Leadership Capital, noted, “We all deal with changing rhythms of the people we are trying to reach and the people we are trying to disciple.” Strategies for online church must address the changing rhythms you are experiencing in your churches.

Strategies for online church must address the changing rhythms you are experiencing in your churches.

2. Redefine what “sitting in a pew” means for your church.

The most basic metric the Church has had over the past 2000 years has been the pew: how many people sit in seats on Sunday (or whatever day you have services). With the changing rhythms of church, the pew itself needs to be redefined. Clay Scroggins, Lead Pastor of North Point Community Church in Georgia, puts it this way: “It is amazing how . . . now instead of just coming and sitting in the pews and not being engaged, people are getting engaged and sitting in the pews in a different way.” Our strategies must go beyond simply being online and move toward redefining engagement (and how we measure it).

3. Move beyond content and into community.

There is a race to the bottom on the internet to be the baseline of information—the default search engine for knowledge. What happens, though, when knowledge is not enough? Many secular companies are shifting to build community around their online presence. But has the Church moved with them? Mark Venti, Executive Pastor of Central Ministries at Churchome in Washington, paraphrased an idea originally noted by Billy Graham Ministries: “We use every communication innovation possible to carry the Gospel to any willing heart on Earth.” The key phrase here is “willing heart.” Online church is about people, not just content. Our strategies must drive people to community—in person or online.

4. Figure out what you want to accomplish online, and do that.

In the halcyon days of the interweb and the Wild West that was the Dot-Com era, there was a real Field of Dreams “if you build it they will come” attitude toward the internet. And it worked. Most companies started online because they wanted to beat someone there. Now everyone is online, so simply being there is not enough. Will Peddie, Operations Manager of Hillsong Channel, explains why Hillsong decided to launch a broadcast network: “We didn’t do Hillsong Channel to be another church; it was more of a way to find the lost that weren’t coming into our walls.” Any online strategy should be tied to a purpose or goal and be built to achieve that.

“And it is every church, no matter what the size—you are placed there by God’s doing, to complete this. For God so loved the red line.” —@kevinpenry

5. Now is the time.

During his time sharing, Kevin Penry, retired Operations Leader for Life.Church, put a slide on the screen that showed the population growth of the world over time. The visual was simple—a red line that flowed slowly across the years in the midst of a yellow highlighted timeframe, showing his lifetime. In the midst of the yellow timeframe, the red line thrust sharply up, illustrating the sheer scale of the modern global population. Kevin poignantly stated, “And it is every church, no matter what the size—you are placed there by God’s doing, to complete this. For God so loved the red line . . .” There has never been a more necessary time to explore church online. There has never been so many people who need us to figure it out.

Read more from The Cornerstone Winter/Spring 2019

We hope you are inspired by the stories in this issue of The Cornerstone. Thanks for being a part of God’s work to transform churches and lives.