Friday, September 24, 2021

"Online Jesus" Book Review and Reflections

I continue to be amazed by the impact of the internet and its seemingly never-ending march towards taking over the world. It feels like Ready Player One is more prediction than science fiction, especially with the Facebook VR Workspace announcement.

The internet started simply with message boards and email. Then the internet impacted shopping, music, movies, and finance. Then we got social networks, dating apps, and video conferencing. And things I never imagined you could do 100% over the internet are happening: house purchasing and medical care to name two.

It's a self-reinforcing cycle: as more and more activities go 100% digital, people expect more services/groups/connections to go 100% digital.

So, let's talk about something that doesn't seem possible to go 100% digital: What does a 100% digital church look like?

It's often rightly said that a church isn't the building, but it's the people. Angela Craig, in her book "Online Jesus," takes that claim to heart.

"The Early Church didn't have the privilege or freedom to gather in buildings. Instead, people came together wherever they could. Today people are coming together on social media." (p. 16)

This is an intriguing notion! With so many people living life online, why not go where they are?

But what does this look like? For Angela, this comprises three parts: creating community, engaging in discipleship, and caring for people.

Oh hey! I also made a video. Check it out:

Building Community

"There is a huge difference between streaming your sermon online and building an online community. Streaming content is a one-way conversation. Building community online is a two-way dialogue. It's more than posting videos and sermons on Facebook or your website. That is "church TV." Instead, it requires a relationship. Building community online will take time and intention, just as it does in person." (p. 26)

The first goal is to build community. That starts with creating content and then engaging with people who consume that content. For example, if someone comments on a video, you follow up with them in a private message. You ask about who they are, how they're doing, and if there's anything you can pray for. And then you invite them to join a private group that's reading the Bible and sharing through posts.

The important part is that it's a two-way dialog, which leads to my favorite quote from the book:

"Trust is the bridge that can bear the weight of truth. Trust is built when others see and feel your genuine interest in their lives and opinions." (pp. 29-30)

So true and so important! I love the visual of a physical bridge and the idea that trust is weighty because of its importance. Build trust by taking a genuine interest in someone's life and opinions.

Engaging in Discipleship

""A disciple is a person who has decided that the most important thing in their life is to learn how to do what Jesus said to do." —Dallas Willard" (p. 42)

The point of church, both in-person and online, is not to entertain. The point is to worship Jesus and encourage fellow members (among other things). Part of that is engaging in personal and corporate spiritual disciplines.

In local churches, this looks like Sunday worship, large group social events, small groups, reading the Bible, and 1:1 discipleship.

On Facebook, this might look like Facebook Live videos, Private Groups, reading a Bible, and Messenger conversations/videos. The content and conversations can be the same, but it's all done online.

By the way, the YouVersion Bible App is pretty cool:

"The YouVersion Bible App is a great tool for helping your church attenders engage every day with God's Word. One feature of the Bible App is called Plans with Friends, which allows people to work through the same plan together and discuss it right inside the app. The Bible App also allows friends to pray for one another." (p. 45)

One big difference between in-person vs. online is the amount of time you get to teach. In general, you don't have very long. So instead of one 1-hour long video, do six 10-minute videos.

"Research has shown teaching in micro-moments to be an effective way for instructors to capture attention and for students to retain information. That is important when we think of online discipleship opportunities. Microlearning comes in bite-sized, easy to digest pieces of information that happen in text, images, videos, audio clips, or polls." (p. 47)

Caring For People

Typically churches ask you to:

  • attend large group events (such as Sunday worship)
  • join a small group (like a Bible Study),
  • and then serve on a team (like a music team).

One way to serve online is by caring for people. Maybe you have a team that helps people through emergencies. Or people who counsel others. Or, and this sounds fun to me, people who encourage others.

"Encouragers are people who naturally speak life into others: they celebrate, they pray, and they help in non-emergency situations." (p. 61)

Often, caring for people means connecting them with on-the-ground organizations in their local communities.

Final Tips For Online Church

Angela finishes with some helpful advice. Here's one I like:

"Time commitment. Building an online community takes time and investment. People need you not a fancy video of you. Choose people over production." (pp. 67-68)

Also, start with Facebook because that's where the majority of people already are and they have a bunch of tools built-in to help you connect in multiple ways.

Is Online Church A Good Thing?

"Church online will never replace in-person community, but it will strengthen the Church as we serve, disciple, and care for people online." (p. 78)

Many church leaders choose to stay off social websites and instead prioritize in-person interactions. I know I spend less time on social media these days. I still have accounts, but I removed all social apps on my phone, which dramatically reduces my usage.

But many people are on social networks. And as more things happen online, the expectation is to do even more things online. Even things that didn't seem likely a few years ago, like going to church.

I'm not sure what this means for church in the future, but it's an intriguing notion and probably worth thinking about and planning for. At the very least, it may be another way to put social networks to good use.

The book is pretty short if you're interested. There's also a 40-minute podcast on ChurchLeaders where you can hear Angela share how her church functions.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Mount Hood's Timberline Trail 40 Mile Hike

Last weekend I hiked the Timberline Trail around Mount Hood. We trekked 40 miles in 48 hours - starting and stopping at the Timberline Lodge.

Five of us set out Friday evening and hiked 10 miles before stopping near a river.

The next day we hiked 18 miles. It was a long day! Part of what made it so long was a 2-mile section of the trail which had fallen trees. It was like an obstacle course! It was hard but was also my favorite part because it was so tricky.

By the way, I was going for a mountain man vibe. I think I pulled it off well.

We also enjoyed some incredible views.

On the last day, we hiked 12 miles. And we felt every. Single. Step. In addition to amazing views, we crossed multiple rivers and saw many waterfalls.

Much of the trip was hiking to a peak, then back down to a river. For example, we crossed this river below and then hiked up the other side.

And sometimes simply getting to the river was tricky. That arrow is pointing to another hiker. She got wet to her knees crossing this river.

It was a great hike. We didn't bring tents and opted to sleep under the stars. The whole trip reminded me of Psalm 19:1-6:

The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;

night after night they reveal knowledge.

They have no speech, they use no words;

no sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,

their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.

It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,

like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

It rises at one end of the heavens

and makes its circuit to the other;

nothing is deprived of its warmth.

If you get a chance, I highly recommend hiking the Timberline Trail. Maybe not in 48 hours, but it would be a great 3-night hike.