An Update on the Presbyterian Church that Meets Online

Photo by stevewall on Flickr

As many of you know the past year has had me exploring many options for ministry. One of those things was to begin thinking about the formation of a Presbyterian church that meets online. It is hard to believe that we floated this idea about six months ago. My how times flies.  This project has spurred some good conversations about church, social media and community.

Like any group of folks with many projects on their plates, the leadership team has been going through the ebbs and flows life, ministry and planning. Over the past 18 months, I too have been riding the rhythms of life, engaged in my own sabbatical of wandering and discernment. So while this new community will contiue to move forward, yesterday I shared this update with our Facebook Group letting them know that I’m pulling back from driving the project.

Greetings all,

I hope folks are doing well and enjoying the Fall season.

First, let me say that I am feeling a little sheepish about not being as consistent and committed to this church online adventure that I had hoped to be. More than usual, life has been a little overwhelming and my own long-term discernment has been unexpectedly paralyzing.

That said, I am starting to see where I am headed and this has created a situation where I need lesson my involvement in some projects. It feels great to begin seeing some clarity of call, but I am also know that I have invited many folks into some things that I can no longer be part of in the same way: and for this I am sorry. So, yes, “a church online” will be one of the areas from which I will step back in leadership.

So what is next for this group? While I understand that I bring particular strengths and gifts to the endeavor, the ideas and questions from which this community has emerged goes way beyond any of us. I intensely believe that the idea of a church that meets online has huge possibilities. I will still be involved as I can, but Katie Mulligan and Derrick Weston have agreed to take the wheel and drive the proverbial leadership bus for the near future. I think they will help us to step back and take a more thoughtful approach to beginning this new community of faith. THIS PROJECT IS NOT OVER and I hope you will find a way to continue should you feel inspired to do so.

I also want to thank a few folks who walked this journey this far as part of the initial leadership team: Jennifer Owen Walsh, Jack Jenkins, Betsy Katz, Noelle Royer, Stephen Salyards, Bridgett Green, Mihee Kim-Kort, Katie and Derrick. I count them as dear friends and part of my church.

Lastly, while exact plans for future communication and social media platforms are still being worked out, for now, this Facebook Group is the place where people can stay updated, so please feel free to share this note and invite more folks into this next stage of the journey.

And my the peace of Christ be with you all!

Now this does not mean that I have decided what is next as I am still embracing the luxury that is discernment mode. The decision to pull back from this project only means that some possibilities are being narrowed down and my call is coming more into focus. Believe me, I look forward to the day what I can post some grand announcement about my future.

Thanks to everyone who has mused about this idea with me and I hope that you will continue to stay connected and support this new church.  If you want to keep up with next steps for this project, request to join the Facebook Group, a church online | beta

We’re Starting a New Presbyterian Church

See original posting.

There are times when some things in life just make sense. What might seem like a foolish and risky endeavor to one person might be a natural convergence of clarity and call to another. With that said, after nearly a year since I announced the end of my time at a church that I helped to plant over a decade ago, it’s with a deep sense of call that I am again entering the world of church planting.

But wait, there’s more.

For generations the idea of “church” has been bound by proximity, physical structures and time. Sure, many have been creative within these bounds, but most have nevertheless been limited by them. The past 10+ years has also seen the increased influence of social media on culture that has created profound opportunities for people to engage the breadth of the human experience and find genuine community. Many churches have found ways to integrate the use of social media into congregational life, but most are centered around the idea that the community begins at one central location and that particular experience is amplified by the use of social media. For a while now I have had an inkling that the “social media amplifies the local church” paradigm could be flipped upside-down resulting in a powerful way to be church. If this shift were to be taken seriously, some interesting questions are raised:

  • What if a church decided that the discipline of following Christ and building genuine Christian community could be lived out without everyone having to actually be in one place at one time?
  • What if a church unapologetically leveraged online tools to be a community no longer bound by architecture, time and physical proximity?
  • What if a church that met online believed that even a historic religious tradition like the Presbyterian Church (USA) can be expressed in new ways?
  • Essentially . . . can church be church when it is primarily lived and manifested online?

Well ask “What if?” no longer because the church that I am planting is going to be one that tries to answer these questions. Peering through the lens of social media, I am excited to push the bounds of traditional church formation, while maintaining all that is good about traditional church. To be clear, the online nature of this idea certainly creates great technological possibilities, but my intention is that we will build just a church like any church: one that worships, serves, studies and prays together . . . we will just happen to gather online. There will be no justifications seeking legitimacy, no quotes inferring that this is not a “real church” and no posture that we are competing for people, resources or notoriety . . . just a church.

As I dive into this, I have had some exploratory conversations with people who might be part of such a church, received some initial feedback from denominational folks and have prayed x 3 about it. but like any church plant, there is much to do in order get ready for any kind of official launch.  At this early stage it is tempting to come out launching a high-functioning and slick “product,” but we realize that if this is to truly be a church and not just a dispenser of religious services, the final mission, vision, form and function must be formed and owned by the community. At the same time, I know that some will need to know a little more before deciding whether or not to get involved. So to give a taste, here is a little bit of what I am thinking in terms of initial focus and tone . . .

  • Spiritual and Religious – This is not just about getting together and being Christians in isolation who randomly connect online, but about developing disciplines that help us to grow into who God intends.
  • Gracious and Progressive – While spirited theological and political disagreement will be welcomed, stridency and rigidity is not how we will approach difficult issues. We will be a church that will live under the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA): ones sexual orientation or gender are not barriers to leadership, reproductive options are important, capital punishment should be abolished, etc.
  • Reformed and Presbyterian – Reformed and always reforming according to the Word of God is central to our ongoing search for God’s intentions for each of us. As we seek to know the will of God and mind of Christ, we do so honoring all voices, no matter how small.
  • Open and Sourced – While all people who are part of this community are ministers in their own right, we also know that some roles will require particular gifts and skills. The life of the community will move along with a collaborative spirit, but leadership will also be tasked with guiding and shaping the process in a way that moves forward. The circle will definitely widen, but the initial leadership team is currently made up of: Katie Mulligan, Teaching Elder, NJ; Stephen Salyards, Ruling Elder, CA; Mihee Kim-Kort, Teaching Elder, IN; Derrick Weston, Teaching Elder, OH; Jack Jenkins, Seminary Student, MA; Jennifer Owen Walsh, NC and myself, Teaching Elder in CA.
  • Inward and Outward . . . but mostly outward – This is not about building up a crazy number of followers, friends or likes. This is about creating community that finds healing, discipline and love SO that we get the heck out into the world and do some good. From our tent-making pastoral leadership to our programs to our finances the outward nature of this community will be self-evident.

. . . and this is where we do it all through the lens of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Again I know that there are many of questions that we need to address before a full launch – “What about X?” and “How will we do X?” – but I also know that only way this new church will be able to respond well is to keep widening the circle of involvement. With this in mind our first step is to gauge the interest of folks and begin to gather people for some conversations and planning. Some of you are ready to dive right in, others will want nothing to do with this craziness and still others of you will need to lurk around the edges until the time is right. However you might see yourself connected to this church that has yet to be named, as we begin to build up a spiritual community, develop organizational strategies and start being church together, you are invited to JOIN OUR FACEBOOK PAGE and FILL OUT THIS SURVEY.

There is definitely more to come and I look forward to walking this journey with some of you. Please pass this along to any folks who you think might also be interested.