February 7, 2020. It wasn’t that long ago, and yet it feels like a distant memory. I guess that is how 2020 is gonna roll. February 7, 2020, is the date my family of four moved into our townhome in Bedford, New Hampshire.
I’m not originally from around these here parts, as you can probably tell from how I wrote this sentence. I am originally from Oklahoma and more recently lived in North Carolina. My wife, two sons, and I moved from the Tar Heel State to the Granite State when I accepted a position at Manchester Christian Church (MCC) as the Online Campus Pastor.
Drew Crisp and his family
My first thoughts when my wife floated the job description to me were: What in the world is an online campus pastor? How does that even work? Are we just calculating algorithms to get all the chat bots saved or spending all our time in chat rooms trying to insert Jesus into every conversation? Do I use lines like, “You guys know what’s not a Game of Thrones? Jesus … on his throne … as the King of Kings. Am I right?” (Long pause with no interaction.) “Here’s the link to my church. Winter is coming! Catch you guys tomorrow.”
Leveraging Digital Technologies
When I began to research the role and the church, I was immediately intrigued; maybe this position was made for me. Manchester Christian Church and their leadership were ahead of the curve when they saw a need in their community and decided to pioneer in developing an intentional and successful online experience.
God has always used the prevailing technologies of the day to spread His invitation to the gospel, whether it was papyrus, shadow puppetry, oral tradition, the printing press, newsprint, or even a keyboard attached to some pixels. The Sovereign Lord has leveraged these technologies to advance the gospel forward.
What does it mean to be an online campus pastor? It means co-creating with the Creator to leverage these digital technologies to move forward the mission of the church—to make disciples. Is this something I could get behind? Yes, for sure. Was I a bit skeptical of it all? Yes, absolutely. So I asked God to help me learn to lead and serve in ministry this way; I was prepared to begin the slow journey of finding my groove in this new way of doing ministry.
What could go wrong?
Online Ministry: a Tripod
On March 13, 2020, I was called into a meeting where the decision had been made to close physical church buildings and provide online ministries only with our worship services while practicing social distancing to stop the spreading of COVID-19. Just one month into the role of online campus pastor, and it went from, “It would be great if you can join us in this meeting” to, “You are the meeting.”
Obviously that is a gross over-exaggeration, because there are no islands at MCC. We work as a team, and I am but one player on this team. Truthfully, it did feel as though I needed answers to questions I had never heard before and that I needed them yesterday. Everything was moving incredibly fast, while slow and methodical as I had hoped was not an option.
What does it mean to be an online campus pastor? It means co-creating with the Creator to leverage these digital technologies to move forward the mission of the church—to make disciples.—@drewcrisp
Within a month of moving to New Hampshire and experiencing the shutdown, I had outlined three key areas for MCC’s online campus and highlighted three goals to be completed by the end of 2020—“the three legs of a tripod,” I was calling it. I even presented an illustration at a team meeting. It was cute and clear, I thought. I love when things are cute, and when they are clear, it’s an added bonus.
The three legs of the tripod were:
- volunteer recruitment/training
- original content creation
- numerical growth of the online campus as a whole
With the decision to go online only, each of those three conversations were expedited immediately. We needed more volunteers because we had more services online and more people attending those services. We created an original daily talk show to provide regular consistent communication and encouragement. In terms of numerical growth, there was immediate online growth because the online campus was the only open campus where people could participate in a worship service with MCC.
This, of course, expedited conversations about bandwidth issues and the reliability of each of the platforms we use. Also, we were constantly forecasting the needs that people would have or the barriers they may face in terms of experiencing the worship service. Those conversations and meetings happened within the first few weeks of having church services exclusively online.
My cute and clear illustration of the tripod was all well and good, but if my paradigm didn’t shift—and shift quickly—I would be behind. I needed to learn to hit refresh on my ministry philosophy browser and hit it often.
There is a trick that every online host has used when encountering someone who is having technical difficulty. It’s a simple question: have you tried refreshing your browser? And that is the question I want you to ask yourself.
Since the shutdown, I don’t know how you have been feeling about this new season of ministry, but when it comes to trusting the sovereignty of God, have you tried refreshing your browser? Think about why you got into ministry in the first place. Refresh your mind and trust that God—who was and is and is to come—will continue to be glorified.
Refresh your mind and trust that God—who was and is and is to come—will continue to be glorified.—@drewcrisp
Refresh your browser by being willing to rethink the methods you utilize as a church body. Refresh your browser by approaching online tools and resources with intention and strategy. Refresh your browser by occasionally stepping offline to unplug and seek wisdom from the Spirit for next steps. Refresh your browser by stepping out of the repetitive feedback loop you find yourself in and hear from a different perspective than your own.
These helpful refreshers and many more are what we need as the body of Christ moving forward for the digital days ahead. Leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ must be adaptable, flexible, and up to date so as to best serve this ever-evolving world. Hit refresh!