Progressive Christian Channel
A Church Online: An Interview with Bruce Reyes-Chow
So practically, where do you "go" for this church, and what will weekly worship look like?
We'll have one online hub. So we'll both be somewhere where people can come to, but also have a presence where people are, such as on Facebook and Twitter.
Regarding weekly worship, there is a whole worship team that will be thinking about all of these things. One idea is for everyone to get in front of the computer screen on Sunday at the same time and participate all together—a physical place where something is happening and we're webcasting. I'm not sure we're going to go with that model. We're probably going to go with something along the lines of something gets posted on Sunday, like a video sermon, and that flavors the week's interactions and reflection. We will have those set times of gatherings online, but worship probably not.
Is there a model for this, or do you feel like you are breaking new ground?
I'm under no delusions that I'm breaking new ground. A lot of people have been doing this a long time and thinking about this for a long time. I think there is some benefit of just jumping in, though, and not trying to replicate what else is out there. We will be talking with other groups that have been doing this eventually, but I wanted to get a sense of who we wanted to be before we began talking with other groups who have a clear understanding of who they are.
What's really new about this manifestation is that we're taking seriously a denominational presence that is taking seriously online community. I think that's new for Presbyterians. Most of the other online expressions are fairly independent, and we're saying, no, a denomination can actually do this.
What are your biggest hopes and fears?
I hope that we're right? (Laughter) I do hope that we don't get to the end of the day and see that significant or real online community is a bankrupt concept or a hollow way of being community.
My greatest hopes would be that more churches figure out a way to do this, that we discover this is real, and just as there are many manifestations of geographically bounded churches, there are many manifestations of churches that meet online.
And if we could help church plant in a few years, that would be great. I could certainly see, for instance, a meet-up that is in some medium-sized town in the Midwest that found all these progressive Presbyterians that they didn't know existed, get together and hang out and say, you know what? We think we want to actually form a congregation here! How awesome would it be for an online church to birth a geographic congregation?
What's been the reaction so far? Has anything surprised you?
Hardly anything surprises me anymore. I wasn't prepared for so many folks to feel left out—some folks felt left out of the leadership team. Some folks are real excited about it and others are like, "What? This is crazy!" Overall, I've been thrilled with the energy behind it and seeing new names joining the Facebook page. There are lots of new people, and those are the folks we are hoping to connect with. Not just the folks I have 300 friends in common with...
So let's fast-forward a year from your launch this Fall. If all goes well and your church is successful, what would it look like and feel like?
You would see comments with the pronoun switching from "this" church and "your" church to "our" church and "my" church. Just like any church wants its community to own it, you will see that's true. You'll see a church where a leadership is guiding but not dictating. You'll see us on the top ten multiple social media platforms out there and be able to plug in with the community from your favorite hub. And if you're part of this congregation, when you go through trauma or stress, it's one of the primary places you'll go for support and comfort. And in the same way, when there are celebrations that happen, we'll be a community that walks with you. Again, not unlike any other congregation. Any measure of success for a church will be the same as ours.
For more information about this new online church, the leadership team, and how to join this community, visit their Facebook group, a church online. Or, go to Bruce's blog.
Deborah Arca joined the Patheos team in 2009, after more than ten years of managing programs for the Program in Christian Spirituality at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. Deborah has also been a youth minister, a director of music/theatre programs for children, and a music minister.