Should I Go to Church in My Family Room? 6 Key Considerations

A point of clarity is in order. In this article I am referring to “the digital church” in a very specific way. I am not referring to the many uses of the Internet available to churches: church web sites; social media; and a plethora of training tools. Instead I use the phrase to refer to those churches that view a significant part of their constituencies to be online rather than in person.

The “digital church attendees” likely view the worship services online. They may be in some type of online small group. They have the ability to minister to others via the Internet. And they can support the church financially online as well.

Some churches now view these persons as integral participants in the life of the church. A small but growing number are willing to grant them membership. And many churches see the digital church attendees as an extension of the ministry of the church, even if they do not have full membership status.

This phenomenon is not transitory. It will be with us for the foreseeable future. As I speak with pastors and other church leaders across America and beyond, here are the key issues being discussed.

  1. There is a lively debate regarding the status of the digital church attendees. What are the ecclesiological implications of the digital church attendees? Are they really a part of the church? Is physical presence necessary to be connected with a church? Should they be granted membership? Should they participate in communion/Lord’s supper?
  2. Many churches are using a “both/and” approach to the digital church. They have worship services and small groups where people gather and meet in person. But they also have an extension of their ministry that includes the digital church attendees. Some church leaders have shared with me the particular effectiveness for homebound persons and military persons deployed around the world. Only a small number of churches today are digital churches only.
  3. The digital church movement is growing. My information at this point is anecdotal, but I hope to have some good data from LifeWay Research in the future. Still, I have little doubt that the movement is growing and will continue to grow.
  4. Church leaders are struggling to find meaningful metrics for the digital church. Do such metrics as pageviews or unique visitors have any meaning for the effectiveness of the ministry? Do donations from digital attendees have any implications for the health of the ministry? What metrics are possible and also meaningful?
  5. Many digital church attendees are faithful financial givers to the church. I’ve been somewhat surprised to hear from church leaders about the financial support the church receives from the digital attendees. From my conversations, I’ve learned that the financial support is proportionate to the effort the church expends in connecting to digital attendees.
  6. The digital church is rapidly evolving. In a few months, much less a few years, we will know more about the digital church. For now, we know it is both growing and changing. This movement, for better or worse, may be one of the most significant in churches across the world for years to come.

I know that many church leaders will be looking to this particular article to get insights from others. Please take a few minutes to share with the readership any insights, experiences, or opinions you have about the digital church. You readers are incredibly bright. I look forward to hearing from you.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.  Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.  He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married to Erin, Sarah and Rachel respectively.  The Rainers have six grandchildren: Canon, Maggie, Nathaniel, Will (with the Lord), Harper, and Bren. He is the author of twenty-four books, including Breakout Churches, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, and Essential Church.  His latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, was released in 2014 by B&H Publishing Group.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Robby — 04/13/14 6:49 pm

This discussion will continue, for sure. I am tasked with the online worship ministry do our church at FBC Trussville and it is proving to be an important piece of the overall ministry. As in most things In life and technology, balance is in order. Many of our older adults prefer the "live" service online rather than a week or even day-later DVD or downloaded service. They tell me it is important for them to be a part while the service occurs. This is key because if a person simply wanted the message or music or to see the pastor because they "like" him, then it would not need to be live. There is a sense with our people that they need to experience the worship with their church family in real time. Theologically, folks will have issues. This is a disruptive technology for church. But I would hope that before we toss it all away we would approach it with wisdom and humility. Personally, I would like to see the Church grow through small, cost-effective ways like this and not just brick-and-mortar.

Gordon Marcy (@GordonMarcy) — 04/01/14 10:26 am

"I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some." 1 Cor 9:22 I have not a shred of doubt that in the Digital Age this means some will become Internet pastors, worship leaders, spiritual coaches and volunteers to reach the lost, the helpless, the hurting, and the seeking online. All the major religions of the world are creating Internet platforms, many exhibiting a pioneering spirit and evangelistic fervor to establish influence with digital natives. It would be wrong to leave people [young people especially] in a doctrinal vacuum because of a debate about where "Church" can take place. I'm not suggesting that the church online should replace the physical church, rather it should be a fully resourced extension of it.

Recent Comments
What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
 
— Debra
 
If someone wants entertainment they're going to the wrong place. Church is not a place for entertainment...or in my opinion a barrage of coffee and donuts. Why are churches today bringing the world INTO them? Then there's the thing with children...age appropriate??? These little guys can pick stuff up in service. Besides Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 19:14.
 
— Laurie
 
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 

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