Archive for February, 2020

By Steve Perky

Is the church in danger of becoming irrelevant or obsolete? Many churches report declining attendance and membership. Couple this with the number of churches permanently closing their doors for good, and we may have good reason to be concerned. However, when we think about how our daily lives are deeply affected by digital technology, perhaps now is the time for the church to evaluate the opportunities that are available by using such technology.

The idea of evaluating innovations in society for possible use in the way the church expresses the love of Christ to the world around it is not a new thought. Throughout the centuries, innovations have influenced how the church has expressed itself in its contemporary cultures. One of the most significant catalysts for change occurred when the Gutenberg Press was invented over 500 years ago. Until that time, the Bible was not available in languages people could understand, and producing copies was often cost prohibitive.

As a result, expensive Bibles were often chained to the pulpits in churches for safe keeping. However, as a result of the influence of the Gutenberg Press, Bibles could be mass produced in the languages people spoke. This unchained the Bible from the pulpits and literate citizens were given direct access to read and study the Bible. As more people learned to read and write and Bibles became less expensive, more people were empowered to study and learn on their own.

Online ChurchAn example of a more modern societal change that has influenced the church is one that Richmond’s First Baptist Church has implemented—broadcast technologies such as television and radio. The Ministry of Communication at FBC uses a variety of broadcast platforms to produce effective messaging in the church family throughout the Richmond, Virginia area and the entire world. The weekly television broadcast, live webcasts, social media sites, fbcrichmond.org website, email updates, and even this online news magazine, First Things First, are just a few of the platforms used to spread the message of the love we have for Jesus and the community around us.

Over the years, the church has changed how it conducts evangelism, discipleship, and even worship through the application of innovations and technology changes made in the current society. From electricity allowing evening services to become a normal occurrence to HVAC systems making it more comfortable on days of extreme temperatures to audio systems making it possible for people to hear better during worship services, the church has a history of adopting the technology of its day and changing how it does church. While the methods used by the church may change, the message of Christ’s love for all stays constant.

Online Church

Currently the church is facing the way it examines, and perhaps implements, today’s world of online, digital technology. We live in a new normal of a world that is both online and offline, digital and physical. This new normal has become so ubiquitous outside the church that we are hardly aware of its daily impact. At various levels, we are accustomed to speaking or typing into a digital device and receiving an almost instantaneous response. We have access to online books, podcasts and a host of other digital resources. We have video meetings with people whom we would otherwise not be able to interact. Digital resources offer the church an opportunity to reach not only the community of believers but also those who may not be inclined to attend traditional church in a building.

We often think about the church’s neighbors as those who live within the sight of the church’s building, but it is important to remember we are not members of a building. We are members of the living congregation, the Ekklesia, or community, growing together in Christ to bring the kingdom of God to RVA. Since the followers of Christ are the Ekklesia, the location where it congregates is not as important as the message it manifests in its culture.

Online church is indeed a door that can provide a new dimension of Ekklesia. First Baptist has already laid the groundwork with the creation of Church Anytime on the website, which includes our webcast, video clips, sermons, podcasts and social media links.

Some fear online church because they view it as a door through which those who currently attend can slip out, simply watch online and eventually fall away from the fellowship of the local church. While this is a possibility, an online ministry guided by an online pastor and team with intentionality swings that door the other direction. The goal of online church is not to provide a way for people to view a worship service in isolation. The goal is to bring heaven to earth by being appropriately and intentionally “present” with people in the spaces where their converged lives, both digital and physical, merge.

Online church provides new opportunities for pastoral care, Christian formation, worship, compassion, communication and leadership development. It opens the door for people to use their gifts and talents in creative ways.

We cannot physically assemble every day. Many cannot assemble each week. We can, however, leverage interactive technology to be present in each other’s converged lives. Use of online church is not meant to replace traditional worship within the walls of the church building. It provides an effective alternative, just as so many other cultural innovations over the years have been embraced by the church in ways that now strengthen the community of believers and embraces those who most need the love of Christ—all of us!

Steve Perky

Steve Perky and his wife, Rachel, enjoy working with churches as guides, helping them vision how ministry applied technologies can reach and disciple people in our converged digital, physical culture. Steve previously served as a volunteer on the FBC Ministry of Communication team. He currently serves as the Directional Leader for Technology Services at The Saint Paul‘s Baptist Church in RVA.

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