I’m up in the Chicago area this week for the Acts 2 Conference put on by Willow Creek Community Church. The conference is an interactive learning experience in which 5 innovative ways of doing church ministry are presented and then discussed by a panel of forward-thinking pastors. Ideas being presented include the come-as-you-are culture, multi-cultural outreach, and community impact ministry.
Craig Groeschel, senior pastor of LifeChurch.tv, spoke about multi-site ministry. LifeChurch.tv has 8 physical campuses in 4 states plus an Internet campus. Each campus has its own live worship band and its own campus pastor, and through the use of satellite technology Pastor Groeschel can teach at all 9 campuses simultaneously, including the Internet campus. To see a physical church making a real effort to create an online church really sparked my interest.
A few months ago I wrote a blog article titled Can the Virtual Church Replace the Physical Church? which sparked a very, shall we say animated, discussion. In fact, I believe it’s the most commented article we’ve had so far this year. There are some very legitimate issues about whether a community of believers online can genuinely function as a Biblically-based church. Can a person be in true fellowship in an online community? Can a virtual community really engage in mutual service and bear each others burdens? Can spiritual growth, accountability, and evangelism be achieved to the same degree online as it can in a physical church? These are all important questions that need to be addressed.
Between sessions I had a chance to talk with, Bobby Gruenewald, who’s a part of the LifeChurch.tv senior leadership team and very involved in the technical aspects of their Internet campus. We talked about some of these issues.
When most people hear the term “Internet church” they think its more or less like watching a televangelist on TV, where “viewers” are completely disconnected with one another, but that is not the case with LifeChurch.tv’s Internet campus. While you can experience the service anonymously, LifeChurch.tv encourages people to register and login when they engage in a worship experience. After the service you can hang out in the virtual lobby and chat with other worshippers as well as the campus pastor. There is a real effort made to help people connect to the church and other people.
Just like their physical campuses, the Internet campus has small groups, called Life Groups, which people are encouraged to join. Bobby told me the Internet campus has about 30 Life Groups, which are listed online. I was totally surprised to hear that many of these groups actually physically meet together during the week in places like St. Louis, MO and Charlotte, NC.
But what about service? Using your God-given gifts to serve others is one of the most important parts of serving in a local church. You can’t serve others online, can you? Well, yes you can. LifeChurch.tv’s Internet campus provides numerous serving opportunities. People can start their own Life Group, help answer technical questions, or even go on a virtual missions trip to MySpace.
I thought Craig Groeschel was kidding about the MySpace missions trip when he mentioned it in his talk, but no, it really took place this past Wednesday. Check it out. A bunch of folks from the Internet campus gathered in the chat lobby to talk about how to share the gospel in MySpace and pray. Then everyone logged into their MySpace account and began having spiritual conversations with their MySpace friends and inviting them to one of the Internet campus life experiences. At the end of the MicroMission they met back in the chat lobby to discuss what God did during that time and to thank Him for his work. Pretty awesome!
I was rather skeptical that an online church could really function like a Biblical, Acts 2 church. But LifeChurch.tv may be on the path to doing just that. This is still very fresh and they haven’t figured the whole thing out, but they are committed to developing fully engaged, fully devoted followers of Christ through their Internet campus. What are your thoughts on the LifeChurch.tv Internet campus?