There have been a few interesting posts circulating in the ether over the past week.
First up to the plate was Carey Nieuwhof last Monday with his astonishing post that nearly half of American churches were experiencing church growth through their virtual services over the past month.
For those not familiar with Nieuwhof, he is a Canadian church growth specialist who has a large internet presence. Here is some of what he had to say. The points below are what he encouraged his readers to re-tweet:
- Half of all churches, regardless of church size—from very small churches (under 100) to megachurches—are experiencing growth during the pandemic. It’s remarkable that this is true if you have 75 people attending, 750 or 7500.
- Church leaders need to realize (fast) that the people joining you online are not just your people, they’re new people. Curious people. Unchurched people. Lapsed Christians. Atheists. Agnostics.
- Instead of seeing online church as an obstacle, many church leaders are realizing it’s an unprecedented opportunity. The people you prayed would show up are showing up, just not how you expected.
- In 2020, life slips between the digital and the physical, and then physical slips back into digital. We all live there. So will the future church.
- In the future, the church will meet any time, anywhere, and sometimes meet in person.
- Online church transcends geographic, physical and time barriers in a way that physical church simply can’t.
- Here’s the reality of life on the internet: you can reach thousands or millions of people using the phone in your pocket for almost zero additional dollars.
- Digital may seem intimidating and expensive, but it’s far cheaper and easier than most church leaders think. Just ask any 14-year-old YouTuber.
Most of what Nieuwhof says rings true. My parents little country church had 170 viewing of their Easter Sunday service, some of these views represented more than one set of eyes, and that was much higher than they would normally get at an Easter Service. I attend an Anabaptist megachurch, where we use movie theaters to typically see the previous Sunday’s sermon our Easter Sunday sermon views have topped the 10,000 mark, with yesterday’s sermon viewed by about 60 percent of that. The little country church had a similar drop off in numbers.
But while it rings true, not all are convinced it is a good thing.
Author and speaker Mike Frost is worried that the “Coronavirus could set back the church 25 years.” Mike has a very different viewpoint to Carey Nieuwhof:
My grave fear is that this spike in online attendance will be as illusory as the growth of megachurches last century. It will serve to mask the reality that less and less people are devoted to a wholehearted commitment to Christ, and more and more people see church as an event, a shot in the arm, a convenient uplift that doesn’t challenge their everyday life in any way.
There’s an old marketing saying that goes, “What you win them with, you win them to.”
If you’re winning people to a ten or fifteen minute viewing of a prepackaged worship and teaching experience, devoid of community, mission, correction, reconciliation or justice, you’re not growing the church. You’re fostering religious consumers.
And while I am not trying to do a cop-out, I think that Frost makes some good points too.
Internet Monk friend and occasional writer Scott Lencke, picked up on both of articles on Wednesday, in a well thought out article he commented:
I don’t believe a whole new swath of people suddenly think that the church may have the answers to what they are experiencing. Some, yes. But not as a whole.
What I think the massive upswing in attendance is primarily about is easy access. Church in our pj’s, disheveled hair, and morning breath is so much easier than getting a family of five out of bed, fed, cleaned, dressed, out the door, and to the building within a certain time frame. I know. Been there, done that. Will do that post-pandemic. If we were able to be transported to our church’s gathering with a wave of a wand, having also been properly freshened and dressed, I imagine attendance would have risen a while ago.
…I’d postulate that if live streaming continues for all churches for years to come, those “attendance” numbers would flatten out, if not dip like they were falling pre-Coronavirus. Again, many want a product and if the product has lost its luster, we become disinterested.
It was Scott’s last paragraph that really caught my attention:
In all, as we all continue through this very challenging pandemic, may the Spirit be very real in leading our leaders and the church as a whole. Yet, even more, as we come out of this on the other side, whether in the summer or later in the year, may the Spirit’s voice be equally clearer, if not more. We need wise discernment in these days.
Before responding to Scott’s final comment here, I wanted to draw your attention one last post. On Saturday, Ken Braddy, of Lifeway Christian Resources had a post entitled “24 Questions Your Church Should Answer Before People Return.” In his post he discussed things like finances, passing of the offering plate, coffee time, volunteer staffing, children’s church, greeters at the door, size of gathering, etc. All very practical stuff.
How different his post sounded from Scott’s last paragraph! What is the Spirit calling us to do?
Over this last month I have been struck with how many seniors have been left lonely and abandoned. This was not something new. It is just that CoVid-19 drew our attention to just how bad it was.
I also have thought of prisoners, restrained to their cells and fearing for their lives. For most, their crimes do not deserve life sentences, yet that is what a number will be facing.
I think of the need for counselors to assist those who will have PTSD as a result of this.
I think of the desire to keep in closer touch with loved ones. I visited my parents a month ago. I knew then that I might not get to visit them again for a long time.
I think of friends who have had a parent die and aren’t able to hold a funeral.
I think of building relationships with neighbours as we help each other through very difficult times.
I think of those who have lost jobs and risk losing homes.
What is the Spirit saying to us the church in all of this? Where is the church in all of this? How is the church going to respond? How should the church respond?
What do you think? I would encourage you to read the linked articles. None of them are long. Then come back and give us your thoughts and comments.
As always they are very welcome.
P.S. Here is another post that you might want to consider. On Thursday Brian Zahnd wrote:
To prefer digital over enfleshed is a gnostic move; it’s a move away from what it means to be human; it’s an insult to the Incarnation. Gnosticism — the first and most persistent Christian heresy — is a complex set of dualisms, but at its core Gnosticism believes that the telos of salvation is a pure spiritual (virtual?) existence. Gnostic salvation is to be relieved from the burden of having to live in a material world. It’s the Gnostic, not the orthodox Christian, who will say, “this world is not my home, I’m just passing through.” The Gnostic, not the orthodox Christian, wants to escape this world and fly off to the Platonic heaven of the perfect forms. Christianity, on the other hand, says something very different.
God created an actual world, not a virtual world. And God declares that the actual world of creation is very good. God wants Adam and Eve (humanity) to live in his good world, not just watch it on a screen. The redemption of the world is found in the mystery that the Word became flesh, not computer code. The blessed hope of the Christian faith is resurrection and the restoration of all things, not an escape to a non-temporal, non-corporal spiritual (virtual?) afterlife.