Thoughts & resources on the online church

A couple of weeks ago you may have been suspicious about being an online church but now that’s what you are whether you like it or not. My dad at 74 years old preached his most recent message through Zoom. He is one of the most technologically incompetent people I’ve ever met but someone (my Mum I think) set him up and so preached he did.

In this post, I want to share a whole host of resources about the practicalities of the online church but also remind us that concerns we had about church and technology have not gone away simply because we no longer have a choice. Yet it’s also not a new phenomenon, churches have been moving online for a while now.

I’ve been writing about technology and following tech developments for a long time on this blog and you’ll find a whole range of articles and a massive amount of links. You’ll see that I’m positive about the tools of technology but cautious and aware of the dangers.

The Medium is the Message

It’s worth remembering that although the internet is a tool that we use to shape things it is also a tool that will shape us. The medium we will use will shape the message. So we need to think through our understanding of technology. Some background reading to guide you.

  1. What is the meaning of ‘online church’?
  2. The internet as religious experience – the internet may be the perfect place for religious experience
  3. How smartphones and social media are changing Christianity
  4. How should Christians engage with technology?
  5. The Technological Church – (full-length paper – take your time).
  6. Cyborg Church: One Body, Many People

We will need to remind ourselves to take digital sabbaths which is only more important when our sabbaths are spent online:

The Concerns

In 2009 there were discussions for and against notions of the virtual church. Jared Wilson wasn’t a fan in 2009 and he’s not a huge fan in 2020.

If church is simply an “experience” for religious consumers, of course we don’t need to go any deeper than “It’s cool and people like it.” But the reluctance of many to take church online this week is indication we all know church is deeper than that. It’s not purely about religiously resourcing, is it?

We need to remind ourselves that the title Pastor of Technology makes no sense and that huge amounts of screen times rewire young brains, for better and worse.

I’m going to link to several articles from Carey Nieuwhof here but it’s worth noting the first three things he says here about what is and isn’t church.

As Matt Hosier says,

But true church is about the people of God physically gathering together, ‘greeting one another with a holy kiss’, taking the bread and wine, looking each other in the eye, and loving others despite their – and our – strange or irritating habits. We must beware falling into the trap of thinking that gathering together is one option among many for ‘doing church’ – that you can just as well do it sitting on your sofa with a phone in one hand and a coffee in the other. That approach will produce consumers, not disciples.

The Positives

It wasn’t all that long ago that we were worried about the isolating effects of social media (although perhaps overstated) and smartphone addiction. Those worries will come back but we’ve shelved them for now.

It’s worth thinking about this quote from John Stott:

Much less welcome will be the probable reduction of human contact as the new electronic network renders personal relationships ever less necessary.

In such a dehumanized society the fellowship of the local church will become increasingly important, whose members meet one another, and talk and listen to one another in person rather than on screen. In this human context of mutual love the speaking and hearing of the Word of God is also likely to become more necessary for the preservation of our humanness, not less.

The irony is that in this present moment the opposite is true. The internet is rendering personal relationships as possible and that meeting one another on-screen is the context for mutual love and speaking and hearing the Word of God. There is much to be thankful for.

The Practicalities

  1. COVID-19 — Taking Your Church Online — Best Practices From The Church In Shanghai (podcast)
  2. What we learned from our first online service
  3. Taking small groups online
  4. The way we are doing church services just changed…
  5. Here’s my two-parter on The bible guide to surfing the internet (one and two)

Six, seven, eight…

7 Steps Toward a Digital Church Response to the Global Crisis

8 Early Tips for Producing Digital Content During The Current Crisis

Some kit ideas

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