With the recent rise of Covid 19, many churches have resorted to the virtual experiences to maintain some sense of fellowship and worship connection with their parishioners. The virtual experience has been a valuable tool for most churches during this time crisis, but there are also several cautionary considerations for the church at large concerning online experiences. First, it is very easy for churches to become engulfed in the digital culture and began making the gospel into another form of entertainment and turning worship experiences into concerts. The church must always remember that the primary objective is to lift the name of Jesus and to make disciples in every nation. Secondly, the body of Christ as a whole should not seek to replace the “gathering” or “assembling” together in person with online experiences but should be something provided as a supplement to the in-person meeting. The bible is still clear that we should not “forsake the assembly” (Hebrews 10:25). And the pleasantry of gathering together in person is still a good thing (Psalm 133:1). However, there are many people that live across state lines but have a passion for the vision of a particular ministry and should have the opportunity to partner without the limitation of location. Many home-bound people or people who have difficult work schedules could really benefit from having a virtual option. Finally, gospel message should always take priority over worship sets, games, activities, and any other visual component of the virtual experience. What should be the motivation for each church is to create moments of conviction that lead to repentance and salvation. The church shouldn’t settle for just having great shows or online presentations but should seek to foster plans of growing each individual person in a process of discipleship. Along with the virtual experience, each ministry should build a model for discipleship using the same virtual experience for members that can are limited to the virtual experience.
Obviously, the virtual church experience is not a new concept, however,with the spread of the Covid 19 virus, churches of all sizes have had to resort to this kind of technology as an only option. In light of this, several questions arise out of this reformation of church culture. One of the main questions that is the central inquiry of this discussion is, “What happens to focus in services that rely upon extensive technology? What do members see, hear, feel?” (Schultze, 2020). This is the concern of virtual experiences that loses sight of the proper purpose of the church. To be succinct, churches should use technology as a supplement and not a substitute for true and authentic worship, the unfiltered Word of God, and a undeniable witness born from personal experience. Using Technology in The Church The expression “we reject what we don’t understand” holds true in the case of technology and its use within the community of Christ. Technology is often approached in hesitation or trepidation by ministry leaders when it comes to public worship because of all of the temptations to worship the technology rather than the one in whom it is used for. Misconceptions about technology has caused many to reject it as a means to communicate, experience, and promote the gospel message. To be clear, the word “technology” is "a discourse or treatise on an art or the arts," from Greek tekhnologia "systematic treatment of an art, craft, or technique," originally referring to grammar, from tekhno-, combining form of tekhnē "art, skill, craft in work; method, system, an art, a system or method of making or doing,” (Etymology Dictionary, 2020). John Dyer, in his book From the Garden to the City, defines it as the “human activity of using tools to transform God’s creation for practical purposes” (Dyer, 2011, p. 65). Aside from the fact that there plenty of biblical examples of craftsmanship, artistry, and skill development, Jesus was a techie. The Greek word describing
Jesus’s trade in the Gospel texts is tekton. It is defined as a worker in wood, carpenter, joiner, or builder (Detweller, 2013, p. 23). Insert Colossians 1:16, “For by him, through him, and to him were all things made”. John 1:3 says, “all things were made through him; and withouthim was not anything made that hath been made” (ASV). Simply put, Technology is painted on the pages of the bible. However, there is the constant danger of missing God by focusing on the technology. Jesus should always be at the center of the focus. Using the Tool Technology is just a tool. It is used as means or method to communicate, transport, present, or experience the world. So, it is with the public worship of God, we can usetechnology to communicate about God; not be God. We can use it to experience God; not the technology itself. And so, this opens the door for creativityand innovation. From Acts through the Epistles we see nothing that tells us the order of service or when and if the choir should sing. The point is that every pastor has the liberty to create a culture that breeds and invites creativity both in your worship and in ministry as a whole (Vernon, 2011). Further, to engage in the community of Christ in today’s world has evolved. The tendency in sociology has been to define community by reference to bonded physical spaces. However, relationships today are pursued without restrictions of space (Zirschky, 2015, p. 54). Churches must find creative and technologically advanced ways to communicate, gather, and worship. Using the tool of technology allows churches to have 24/7 prayer lines, reach masses of people at one time online, distributeinformation with mobile apps and websites, and experience the Word of God using multi-sensory presentations.
Models from The Early Church The early church movement was rooted in the meaningful message of its founder, Jesus Christ. It was that message that gave strategic intent that caused an explosion of growth for this new group and provides productive principles for design and structure of modern organizations. Strategic intent means that all the organization’s energies and resources are directed toward a focused, unifying, and compelling overall goal (Daft, 2016, p. 51). Early first century Jews needed something to unify them, compel them, and focus them toward a goal. In his book, Church History in Plain Language, Bruce Shelly adds, “During the days of Jesus, Palestine never lacked for loyalties. It was a crossroads of culture and peoples. Its 2,000,000 or more people—ruled by Rome—were divided by region, religion and politics” (2008, p. 19). Jesus had a unique message. He made no mistake about sharing what his mission was, “18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor: He hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised (Luke 4:18 ASV). It was his people, that were poor, captives, and in need of hope. Jesus made a persistent point about the special kind of life that separated “the kingdom of God” from rival authorities among men. Little by little his disciples came to see that following him meant saying “no” to the other voices calling for their loyalties. In one sense that was the birth of the Jesus movement. And in that sense, at least, Jesus “founded” the church. (Shelly, 2008, p. 19). This early movement, empowered behind his message, had no complex structure at all. In many ways, the early church was note-worthy not for its structure but for its lack thereof. Given the sometimes- exhausting superstructure associated with modern Christianity, it is important to remember the fledgling community-based nature of the early movement (Price, 2012, p.43). Jesus’ simple structure for this movement began with him calling his disciples. He built relationship with twelve men and taught them his message. So, for them Jesus drew the
distinction between his kingdom and the kingdoms of the world. His followers, he said, represented another type of society and another type of greatness (Shelly, 2008, p. 23). Because of his message, Jesus would ultimately be crucified and die and be raised from the dead. His disciples would now have to carry on the message he began to teach and take that message everywhere. This would be the starting point for the early formation of the church. The word church derives from the Greek word ekklesia and originally meant, “an assembly called out by the magistrate or by legitimate authority.” (Austin-Roberson, 2009, p.29). Those called-out ones begin to form into a community of believers that would carry on the teachings of Christ. Only after the Christian community had reached substantial size and survived heavy persecution did it begin to assemble much of the hierarchy with which we are now familiar. (Price 2008, p. 43). Several principles can be extracted from the early church’s simple yet impactful church structure that aided in its growth. In careful observation of Acts 2:42-47, these principles can be drawn:
42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44 And all that believed were together and had all things common; 45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted themto all men, as every man had need. 46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. (KJV)
First, the early church adhered to the instructions of the it’s leader. Then, the early believers were dedicated to continuing the work and building the sense of community, and finally they were open to sharing their stories and witnessing to others. Leadership Instructions Although the early church provided no formal strategy for modern organizational structure, there are principles that can be considered when structuring today. Virtual church experiences should be led by people and not software. There still should be a person making connections and sending emails. The first principal that can be considered is stressing the importance of following the leader’s instructions. Jesus didn’t leave the disciples wondering about what to do next. He gave them clear and concise instructions before ascending into heaven: 8But ye shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:8) Becoming witness for Jesus was the primary standard for the early church leaders. This would be possible by the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Then each disciple was expected to take the message from Jerusalem to the world. With this simple instruction, the disciples saw extreme growth. When the Holy Spirit came, the disciples had to put their ability to follow instructions to the test. Acts 2:42 says, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers” (ASV). Guzik adds, “Continued steadfastly uses a Greek verb communicating ‘a steadfast and single-minded fidelity to a certain course of action’ (Longenecker). There was to be no departure from the apostles’
doctrine, because it was the truth of God” (Enduring Word, 2019). The same instructions, lessons, and values that Jesus have given to them, they were committed to, and would not abandon them. Teaching and giving themselves up to the instructions which, in their raw state, would be indispensable to the consolidation of the immense multitude suddenly admitted to visible discipleship. (Jamieson-Fausset- Brown, 1871). It was important for the early church’s structural consideration that close adherence to the leader’s instruction be followed. While this seems obvious, a lack of patience can be disastrous to organizational design. The maxim “measure twice, cut once” definitely applies in the design process and part of that measurement is ensuring you do not get ahead of senior leadership in the process (Price, 2008, p. 43). The early group of believers that had taken Christ’s mandates were not concerned about their own agendas, not implementing their own desires, or chasing their own ideologies. However, this group was dedicated to following and fulfilling the requests and requisites of their crucified leader. Organizations that have implemented this concept well, will have created a culture that understands the impact and influence of its leaders. Training and tactics that improve on followership will help to rally the team around the leader’s instructions. Followership is a process whereby an individual or individuals accept the influence of others to accomplish a common goal (Northouse, 2019, p.294). When considering organizational design, modern organizations should draw from this principle of early church formation. Construction of Community Our virtual communities should reflect early church communities and not be an artificial representation. The book of Acts begins with Luke, the author, speaking about the
things that Jesus “began both to do and teach” (Acts 1:1 KVJ).The idea is that since Jesus began a work, his followers would continue the work. Three thousand people had already joined the group, which originally started with the twelve (Acts 2:41). In Acts 2:41, “they had all things in common” (KJV). There was a sense of community that this growing organization had adopted. Sharing commonality, embracing unity, and sharing resources was central to this community’s design (Acts 2:44). They Were Together It is important to note that the idea of community is founded on the concept of unity. In Acts 2:44, “they were together” (KJV). And thus, joining together, because it was apart from those that believed not, and because it was in the same profession and practice of the duties of religion, they are said to be together, epi to auto. They associated together, and so both expressed and increased their mutual love. (Henry, 1706). This is a great organizational lesson; leaders and members should stay together. Albert Barnes adds, “Were united; were joined in the same thing. It does not mean that they lived in the same house, but they were united in the same community, or engaged in the same thing. They were doubtless often together in the same place for prayer and praise. One of the best means for strengthening the faith of young converts is for them often to meet together for prayer, conversation, and praise” (Barnes, 1962). This unity was the adhesive that kept the community together through the impending persecutions that was yet to hit the early church. They Had All Things in Common
The early believers exemplified the earliest signs of developing organizational culture. It was their commonality that planted seeds identity that shaped their culture. In any organization there may be different and competing value systems that create a mosaic of organizational realities rather than a uniform corporate culture. Besides gender, race, language, and ethnicity, religious, socioeconomic, friendship, and professional groups can have a decisive impact on the cultural mosaic (Morgan 2006, p. 141). This group of individuals had a variety of lifestyles, family histories, and ethnic backgrounds, but they also had “all things in common” (Acts 2:44). F.B. Meyer adds, “This pointed not merely to an exuberant and spontaneous liberality (De Wette, Neander, Bengel), but to an actual community of goods—which, however, was not legally instituted, but voluntarily practiced” (Bible Commentary, 1979). It is noted that as the church begin to grow, not every congregation or group applied this method. It was particular to this early instance in the life of the church. Adam Clark gives adds more emphasis, “We may therefore safely infer, it was something that was done at this time, on this occasion, through some local necessity, which the circumstances of the infant Church at Jerusalem might render expedient for that place and on that occasion only” (Bible Commentary, 1997). An organization’s culture can be established when individuals who make up the culture find their common ground. When members of the organization can bring in ideas, resources, and possessions and share them for a common cause, the organization can experience high levels of success. There have been several creative ways to maintain the sense of community for churches. The connection is tri-part. Churches have to maintain the community feel for those who are already connected as laity, then there has to be moments of training and development for its leaders, and also there has to be an appeal for potential members of the body. Options to stream services online has been one of the main responses to this pandemic. Platforms such
as Facebook live, You Tube, and churchonlineplatform.org have been great sources because they are all free. Many churches just have not been ready for this mass cancellation of services. In a recent article by Horizon’s Stewardship, Joe Park said, “Churches that have been live streaming their worship services soon discover they have an entire virtual congregation. If you haven’t yet gone to livestream, you can still engage your congregation by posting the audio of the sermon or your entire service online. This will help people continue to feel connected despite not physically being together” (Park, 2020). In addition to streaming for the entire congregation, churches can use services such as Zoom, Groupme, Workplace by Facebook, Google Hangouts, and other chat or group conferencing services to conduct leadership trainings or small group development opportunities. The next concern for churches would be to continue to grow and reach new people through this crisis. Using social media platforms, emails, subscriptions, videos, and google ads are all necessary ways to invite and attract new traffic. Sharing our faith and inviting others to experience Christ has always been at the core of the Christian faith. In Mark 16: 15-16, “He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned”. In addition, Philemon 1:6, “and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ”. Pastors and Ministry Leaders The body of this work is designed to assist pastors and ministry leaders into the future of Christianity. The church will change whether we agree or not. Pastors will need solutions and strategies. Such strategy-oriented presentation and information should be in settings that pastors and ministry leaders learn best. The purpose of this work is to provide strategy and special biblical considerations for creating virtual and online experiences. This research and information will be packaged into an online course with the curricula designed to equip each ministry leader with strategy to set up their ministry using technology as a tool to advancing kingdom principles and purposes. Each ministry leader will also be aware of the implications of ministry that substitutes technology for worship, The Word, and authentic witness. An example would be courses found on websites such as www.teachable.com, which include free-lance educators that create content to be purchased and learned by consumers with similar interest.
Conclusion In conclusion, the aftermath of the Coronavirus will leave some (if not most) perplexed as to how to proceed forward in ministry and church behavior. The Gallup Poll shows that only 42% of millennials attend church. This is the lowest generational percentage. Traditionalists come in at 68%, which is down from 77% in 2000. Even more generation X individuals attend church, though their rate has declined to 54% from 62% (Costello, 2020). Fortunately, most millennials are using social media, and this is our greatest opportunity to reach this group because they are watching. Despite the popularity of the Internet, many churches still refuse to get online. However, church members are online. Potential members are online. People who can’t attend church, but want to, are online. You can see the pattern here. Currently, 57% of the world uses the Internet and 45% of the population uses social media. There are 3.4 billion people using social media regularly. That’s too large of a number to ignore. In just a single year, social media users increased by over 288 million. In fact, 83% of North America causes social media (Costello, 2020). The church should pay attention, establishing an online presence online is the future of Christianity. However, it should only work as a supplement and not a substitute to pure and authentic Christian principles.
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