Digital Church

I’m not religious, but I’m certainly curious. One of my best friends in life is a preacher. My right hand guy in my new company is religious. Heck, one of my top 5 blogs is 300 Words a Day, and Don Miller’s book is one of my top books for 2010.

Today, I went to visit LifeChurch.tv for their live Sunday services. Here’s the screenshot (with the chat room clipped off):

lifechurch.tv

It started with two rocking songs (you have to realize, being raised as a Catholic, I felt that religious music was mostly people repeating very brief verses in horrible singsong with an organ). From there, Pastor Craig Groeschel went into a message where he starts by asking about a lot of modern movies. He tells us that being desensitized by modern movies and TV is like baking “a little bit of poop” into brownies, and then just saying, “What? It’s only a little bit of poop.”

He had me at poop.

The rest of the sermon was interesting, but I’m mostly here to talk about how they got it done.

What Is it?

LifeChurch.tv is online ministry. They have a great technical setup. This is full blown church-without-getting-out-to-church. People in the chat room had lots of reasons: broken down van, new kid at home, 3rd shift, etc. All of the reasons made perfect sense to me. Me? I’m home with the kids and they’re occupied, so I didn’t feel bad flipping one earbud in and paying attention to the message.

There are “live prayer” buttons on the site. There are videos. There are links to all kinds of resources. There are links to the Facebook community, and ways to tweet out messages to Twitter. In essence, it’s totally wired up.

There are some call-to-action requests for money. I imagine it’s not cheap to put on a production like this. I think that the kinds of people who’d tithe to a local community church could see paying for this church, too. It helps shut-ins, and spreads the message in a digital way.

Is This What’s Next?

There are lots and lots of online tools for religion. One of the biggest app categories for smartphones (both iPhone and Android) are Bibles and religious texts. In a way, this is the best possible method for distributing religion. It’s fast, replicable, and doesn’t require as much human toil to distribute.

Some of you might be thinking that an online church might feel cold. On the contrary, I felt totally warm and invited. Lots and lots of people were chatting in the live chat window. There were people standing by for live prayer online. There were tons of people on Twitter watching the chatter, too. It was VERY alive.

To me, it’s an alternative, should you have reasons not to be able to engage with your local church, and it’s a model for what others might do for their message, religious or otherwise.

Check out LifeChurch.tv for yourself, should such things be of interest to you. And thanks to Tony Steward for the very gentle nudge to check out the day’s events.

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  • Micah

    A couple years ago the company I worked at was in the same building as a lifechurch.tv location. We would actually have all our company-wide meetings in their location because we didn’t have a conference room large enough. I was a little weirded out to see the very modern style and band equipment. One night a week they would have teenagers out playing music and hangning out. I got the feeling they were trying to make religion “cool”.

    I think it is interesting how they are using technology to get their message out. All religions should embrace newer technologies. Some of the larger religions are kind of out of the loop. I did some research not to long ago to see whitch religions were using the internet the best and, by far, the mormons are out doing everyone.

    Google almost any christian terms and the LDS church is in the top 10. I just tried googling “church” and they’re #1 above wikipedia. For christ they are just behind wikipedia and christ.com

    Probably the reason why is that they have the bible, book of mormon, practicly every sermon given or article written all posted online. All the lesson manuals are on the site. It is the most transparent repository of church material out there. I just googled site:lds.org and there are over 230,000 results. Even modern churches like lifechurch.tv have under 5,000 pages of indexed content.

  • http://www.brosix.com/ Brosix

    A church that I've been wanting to go to has online live-streaming services. Since it's kind of a drive, just getting online makes me more likely to make it rather than putting it off.

    I also agree with brandon cox and I'm glad you treated faith/online churches so politely.

  • http://www.acekard2.org Acekard 2

    Great article Chris ! i really enjoyed this. Thanks

  • Sophiachen37

    Just take a look, I like this site

  • mattfagioli

    I think it's amazing how this concept really takes the religion crap out of it. I'm guessing that, like me, most of the digital world can live without the insense & the chanting. Lifechurch.tv and others create opportunity for God's word to penetrate hearts that might otherwise never hear the one true Gospel.

    I agree with others here that human interaction is vital in the Church – in fact, it's quite fundamental to what Christ commanded. But all of that can come AFTER the Gospel is heard. These guys are reaching so many thousands who just wouldn't be connected otherwise.

    Chris, I love your curiosity around faith. I can see why you'd relate so well with Don Miller too. I think you both represent “the real faith” made of real humans just seeking God. No religion. None.

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  • Deborah

    First, thank you for your fairness to represent Christianity, and all religions, with respect. You are an example to us all.

    As a member of a small (300) member rural church, we have found our website to be one of our greatest outreach tools. Our proximity to a military base provides an influx of new members on a regular basis, and we have found that most of them locate us through the website. They have told us they search the websites of local churches and make their decision based on the content of the website.

    Also, when our military members deploy, they listen to the pastor's sermons online. While our technology and skills aren't what LifeChurch.tv's are for sure, they are our benchmark. We are currently in the process of exploring podcasting and YouTube so our satellite members can have access and remain connected, no matter where they are.

    The pastor's blog remains the most popular spot on the webpage.

    So, thanks again for sharing this with your readers.

    Debbie

  • http://twitter.com/drbexl Dr Bex Lewis

    I thought this was a really interesting post, really balance and positive – and is likely to be used as an example for a talk that I’m giving with http://maggidawn.com/ at http://www.christianblogawards.com/conference.html (16th October, London).

  • http://twitter.com/drbexl Dr Bex Lewis

    I thought this was a really interesting post, really balance and positive – and is likely to be used as an example for a talk that I’m giving with http://maggidawn.com/ at http://www.christianblogawards.com/conference.html (16th October, London).

  • richdixon

    I agree with you about the power of this approach. I don't think it can replace the face-to-face interactions of a local church, but it's a great way to spread the word and attract people to the circle.

    I just hope it's not “religion” that's being spread. Jesus, gospel, yes. Religion, no!

  • http://linkedin.com/in/robsuarez Rob Suarez

    I guess I’m a lucky Catholic in that my church going experience has always been lively – in New Orleans as a youth I attended a Catholic church that was more “Black Gospel Choir” than stodgy hymns… and as an adult in Miami, Catholic church is rock and salsa bands instead of “choirs” and young priest bringing modern relevance to ancient wisdom.

    On the “new media” front, have you seen what Fr. Roderick is doing with http://www.sqpn.com ? They just wrapped up a Catholic New Media Conference this past weekend in Boston. These folks “get it”.

  • AaronMcGallegos

    Thanks Chris. Really interesting post and comment thread. I’m going to have to take a look at LifeChurch.tv. It certainly looks like a sophisticated approach to faith on-line. In 2006 the United Church of Canada launched a site in the same vein called WonderCafe.ca (www.wondercafe.ca). It bills itself as “a place for open-minded discussion on religious topics, moral issues, and life’s big questions.” In the time I’ve been a part of it, our on-line community has experienced just about every life situation that a traditional brick-and-mortar congregation might expect — births and deaths, marriages and divorces, heart-wrenching scandal and inspiring authenticity. At times I wonder if the spiritual experience of our community on WonderCafe might not be called “church,” just without the potlucks.

  • BOBBYTHESHARP

    great blog Chris hope you come back to exeter soon. my thoughts quickly (and a little theologically) are that this is really a classical ontological issue amplified by a misinterpretation of the Greek work Ekklesia, as a physical church building.
    Ontology is the study of being or existence and ultimately asks ‘what am I.’ As Christians our ontology is as Essentialist’s (I am primarily an unseen ‘essence’ eg a spirit which effects my seen world) rather than a Materialist (I am only what is physical seen in the mirror) thus we believe in dualism (that ‘I’ is first spiritual then physical) and idea the contemporary philosophy rejects.
    The devoted Christian Descartes tried to prove that there was more to him than met the eye through his now famous statement “I think therefore I am” asserting that even when his physical body is gone through his written down thoughts he still, in a sense, existed. Interestingly the Greek word the Bible uses for itself is ‘logos’ which was understood by the Greeks to be the very mind of that person written down, so when John say the “The Word was God” he didn’t mean ‘physically’ rather that Gods mind, His ‘essence’, was in it. If I burn the Bible I don’t physically burn God yet I can communion with God in a very real way by reading His mind the Bible because his ‘being’ is there through His thoughts. For our materialistically programmed minds this seems ‘mystical’.
    The Greek word Ekklesia literally means ‘called out people’ or ‘beings’ but the paradigm of western philosophy, which has embraced materialism and rejected essentialism, means the word evolved to refer to a mere physical location. As a Christian it is a MASSIVE ontological mistake to believe church is primarily a physical building. When Jesus promised to be with us if we gathered together it is in His ‘essence’ not in a ‘physical body’. As Christians, and thus dualists, we believe we are primarily a non-seen ‘essence’ (spirit) and then a physical being (body) but the common interpretation of church has been physical first then spiritual, because we are so used to a materialist framework. I once preached a message ‘You don’t go to church’ arguing that you ‘ARE’ church everywhere you go. Being with someone with out being able to see or touch them used to be very alien to us, but now due to things like this it is becoming normal. Personally, I hope that ‘social media churches’ will help swing the centuries old misunderstanding of church being something you go too, back towards something you ‘be’.

  • http://www.resultsrevolution.com/ Marianna Chapman

    I love Andy Stanley!! And they do a great job with their digital media over there.

  • Jonwalman

    Amen, Bobby! Your comments remind me of Max Lucado's awe-inspiring book, “3:16″

  • AJ King

    I have to take issue theologically with BobbyTheSharp's basic premise that to be Christian we have to be dualists, viewing humans as spiritual beings first and physical beings second, significantly reducing the value and importance of physical existence.I am not sure that this is a Biblical view. For example, in the creation story of Genesis 2, Adam is made a physical being first, following which God breathes into him, and Adam becomes “a living soul”. Without the physical, the spiritual has nowhere to dwell. God deliberately chose to make us physical beings — Adam is made from dirt (even the English word human has a deep root in “humus”, no pun intended), and you can't get much more physical than that.
    Perhaps more importantly than the Genesis story, when God wanted to demonstrate the fullness of grace, God chose to embody — literally — that grace in human flesh. The reason we are saved, Bobby, is because the Logos, the Word, became flesh and dwelt among us in bodily form. And the embodiment of God in Jesus was not just some sort of illusion, some sort of “pretend” embodiment — Jesus either really died, or the cross was a hoax and our sins are not forgiven.
    Furthermore, Jesus placed enormous significance upon our physical existence as the means through which God's mercy and grace are to be experienced — consider the healings he performed upon the sick, the food he gave to the (literally) hungry, even the wine he made at a wedding banquet so that the celebration could continue. . . And Christ'ians are reminded in many places in the New Testament that we too must literally feed the hungry, care for the poor, and clothe the naked if we are to prove ourselves genuine followers of Christ. Without caring for the physical nature, it is of little use to say we're “spiritual”. So as much as Bobby likes to denigrate the “materialist framework” of our thinking, it seems to me that our Creator and Redeemer has a “materialist” mindset a lot of the time as well.
    So this brings us to the argument of whether the physical building of a church is important, and whether actually bringing people together into physical community still has value. I think I will skip over the various New Testament injunctions to Christians to “continue to meet together”, and get right to the subject of the blog that started this discussion: the website of LifeChurch.tv itself: Right there on their site the source of all the digital excitement mentions that they have, in fact, 13 locations across the United States. That would be physical locations, where people are invited to see, and listen to, and maybe sometimes even embrace, one another in person. Furthermore, they are still interested in expanding their physical structures: we read these words on a webpage with the heading “Spaces and Places”:
    “Expanding existing facilities and experiences creates room for new visitors and additional space for people to build relationships.
    “Launching new locations allows us to connect with people who were beyond our geographic or relational reach.
    “Permanent facilities create new opportunities to connect people to one another, to our church, and ultimately to Jesus Christ.”
    As focused on webcasting as this church seems to be — and good for them, because it is an extremely important vehicle for ministry — they remain at the same time focused on “permanent church facilities” where people can “connect to one another, to our church, and ultimately to Jesus Christ”. Digital is good. The web is good. But for really connecting people to one another and to God, there is nothing that beats a real, material, place.

  • BOBBYTHESHARP

    Hi AJ thanks for your comments.
    I think either you are not a evangelical Christian like me (which then our beef would go down another avenue) or you i have not made what dualism is clear enough.
    from your response you seem to of mixed me up with Gnostics which I am very much not. Paul says “I keep my body under’ 1 cor 9:27 locating the truest sense of himself as his spirit. In the same way although i concede in terms of time line adam was a body first he only became human when God breather into him that word breath (pneuma) meaning spirit.

  • http://twitter.com/KerryBural Kerry Bural

    Chris,

    Thanks for your take on this important issue. Churches of all sizes throughout the country are discussing these topics and trying to wrap their minds around both their responsibilities and opportunities for engaging through these “totally wired up” mediums.

    In our business, http://resonategroup.com, we’re all about helping ministries and churches expand their footprint through strategic brand development (including digital mediums) so your insight is most helpful.

    With appreciation,

    Kerry

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  • http://twitter.com/kevinmcpeak Kevin McPeak

    First, kudos to all involved for a generally flame-free thread on a religious topic. This may actually be proof that miracles do occur.

    Second, I wanted to point out that the potential applications can definitely broaden based upon the context of the particular church involved. For instance, I am part of a church in the San Diego area in which a significant percentage of our attenders are connected to the US Navy in some regard. When individuals are deployed for 6-12 months or families relocated for 1-3 years but wish to remain connected either on a temporary or a transitional basis, this sort of a resource may indeed be very useful. It’s in this spirit that we’re launching a similar service within the next six weeks.

    All best,

    Kevin

  • Terry

    Although I don’t think you could ever replace the connectedness of being together with a group of people in church, I think this is a really good idea. Many people cannot get to church because of jobs, etc. Some people just won’t go for whatever reason. But if any of them can be reached online then I think that’s great.
    Terry Reed
    treed92@yahoo.com
    smallchurchtools.com

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  • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

    As the art director and production head for our church, we do so [stream live] mostly to cater to the deployed military service men and women in our church who still want “New Life” while over seas. Totally cool, and totally a way to keep them feeling connected while they’re, well, at war. It’s kinda’ the least we could do.

    Great post and thanks for being objective. ch:

  • http://twitter.com/jonathanbloom Jonathan Bloom

    This is the the church I attend when I can’t make it to my local church or when I’m on the road and can’t find a good one. I’ve taken my friend to this church twice and we both loved it.

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  • http://www.blackfridayplanet.com/ William Hushburn

    This is my first time to hear about a digital Church.

  • http://twitter.com/CesarAbueg Cesar Abueg

    Same here..I’m on LifeChurch.tv when I can’t make it to my local church…thanks for sharing Chris…a part of you that sometimes people have a hard time sharing. Appreciate your transparency.

  • Ewholley

    What if marketing helped us to see ourselves in a spiritual context?