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April 12, 2010

Comments

Pastor R

The biggest fear I see from our conference is legal liability. Since our culture (inside and outside the church) is so often ruled by the lawyers and accountants, the desire for control, to shield us from possible lawsuits or complaints, is huge. When the church starts going viral, a couple of things will happen.

First, we'll attract more sinners. While we profess to WANT to do that, we don't really have a culture to accommodate sinners (unless less they're pretty much the same type of sinners we already have). We've been more in the life affirmation business than the life transformation business for the past generation.

Second, getting a bit more into the viral metaphor, viruses mutate. Are we open to mutation on all levels of our DNA? This will produce not only huge changes in HOW we do things, but in what we consider the basics of Christianity. Our DNA will mix with the DNA from Da Vinci Coders, New Agers, Buddhists, Capitalists, etc. Of course, form what I see this is already happening, but in at least some instances it hasn't reached the center of the church yet. If doctrine matters - and I think it does - we'll need to figure out how to sustain Christian doctrine through a viral church.

Jenna

Capitalists?? Capitalism is an economic system, not a religion. I am a Christian (foremost) and a life-long Methodist; one who is strongly in favor of capitalism, which is the system that allows me to own the things I earn when I work and the freedom to decide what I do with them and how and when and with whom in a free market. Without capitalism, I'd have nothing to give to my church because I wouldn't have anything to give.

For my part, I would say whether the church is enriched or devastated by the multi-site ministry depends very much on the policies that come to light when people in the congregation begin to see more than just their local church and sermon every Sunday. As a life-long Methodist, I am deeply disappointed in some of the social policies of our church that I discovered only recently. I believe that *most* church-going Methodists are completely unaware of how out-of-sync the UMC social policies are with their own personal beliefs and convictions. I was able to discover, through social media outlets, that I am not alone in feeling the way I do. It has allowed me to connect with others and share resources and knowledge as well as ideas about how we can go forward without leaving the church.

Warren

Maybe Craig Groeschel could give some insight on this! He started out in the older UMC system, ordained as Deacon on his way to becoming an Elder when he envisioned a media mulit-site church concept. The UMC couldn't see it working under their umbrella so he left and started LifeChurch.TV. I've been a UMC pastor for about 15 years and do think the multi-site media church would undermine the current UMC "way." It would force the UMC to make structural changes regarding apportionments, itinerancy, sacraments, and polity. However, the UMC wouldn't be asking these types of questions if there wasn't a concern regarding the current status of the UMC. We are struggling with, as Simon Cowell often says on American Idol, being "culturally relevant." Within the next 15-20 years, the UMC will probably undergo a major shift. We are already feeling the rifts within Methodism revolving around same-sex marriage. I think the UMC is not what it use to be, nor can it become what it use to be and is heading into an unknown shift that may devastate the current system regardless of what happens with multi-site churches. Maybe that's why the UMC is asking these questions today. Maybe we should have been asking these types of questions 10 years ago when radical thinkers like Craig Groeschel (who was UMC) caught a vision of the future. The Spirit blows to and fro and cannot be caught no matter what type of Statistical reports we create. Maybe the system needs to be devastated for it to be re-birthed! I think that follows similar patterns in which God works to bring people back to himself, i.e. Prodigal Son. The Church is made up of people so maybe through death there is the resurrection! I'm excited about the work you are doing and can't wait to read it!

Kurt Boemler

According to our Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith:

The church is the gathering of true believers under Lordship of Christ;
that it is a fellowship of the faithful, where worship is maintained, where believers are edified, and is the means by which God redeems the world;
where the pure Word of God preached by the divinely called;
and where the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper are administered;
all of which is done under the discipline of the Holy Spirit.

The AR/CF does not dictate that the sacraments must be administered by a pastor, however, our Discipline acknowledges that sacramental authority is granted through the bishop. So, for remote congregations to be part of the church, someone within each site would have to be authorized to administer the sacraments in each community.

For this form of community within the UMC to be healthy and connectional, the episcopacy and the Board of Ordained Ministry is going to have to have to be able to respond quickly to the needs of growing "multiple decentralized congregations" for them to included in full life of the church as the UMC understands it.

However, it will take more than the Bishops and the BOM responding, it require restructuring at the Annual Conference level to encourage and support this type of church growth and disciple making. In a missional setting like this, an unpaid member of the congregation may need to licensed just for the administration of the sacraments.

I would suggest looking into the work Elaine Heath is doing at Perkins with the NewDay neo-monastic communities that are partnering with churches in the North Texas Conference.

dale

I think the UMC should actively embrace the changing church climate, including the multi-site and on-line experience. I was not raised in a UMC congregation. I don’t know much about the bylaws of the UMC. In fact, my only exposure to UMC is through my active attendance at GCC. I am the last person to lay claim to any form of denomination, especially when denomination is competitive or an arm of enforcement. The UMC just happens to govern the road (church) that I have chosen to travel to get to Christ. Again, I don’t know much about the conference, but I do know a bit about social interaction and my generation.

I’m in my late 20’s. We were raised in an “instant gratification” society. We are accustomed to having the world delivered to us via our laptops while sipping our beverage of choice. I tend to be a little old-fashioned – I like to drive over to the brick-and-mortar structure to attend a service and worship with many other people and build community. I consider myself fortunate to live close to a church that fits me and the way I envision serving Christ. I consider myself fortunate to be under pastoral leadership that is second-to-none (I have enough experience in seeing how pastoral leadership should not be conducted that affords me to make this statement). So what about the people who don’t have this resource?

I think the UMC must develop a strategy to embrace the multi-site and distant/online service experience – or get surpassed by it. I have attended our online campus when traveling or not able to attend, and I am most grateful for it. I understand there are some natural concerns about sacraments and baptism and even financial support. I know there may not be a perfect scenario, and there will be natural push-back, will require much prayer and divine discernment - but at least the conversation has begun.

Thanks, Mark, for all that you do to further the Kindgom. It’s awesome to serve alongside guys like you!

Ben McGehee

As a young pastor with little experience with online church, but a lot of experience with Facebook and other online communities, I can't help but believe that "doing church" utilizing online communities can be great, if done well.

My home church had a TV and radio ministry (and I think still does). They would often boast of the numbers of people who were watching and listening to the services at home. But from what I could tell, aside from a member who was homebound or sick that Sunday, these watchers and listeners weren't being involved in the church in any other way. I met one couple who diligently watched the TV services, and loved them, but were too afraid to step into the building (they were poor and black, and our church was affluent and white).

The online communities have the potential to change that. Instead of just watching a TV show or listening to the radio, there is opportunity for real-time conversation. The church can continue when the worship service is over.

I do see some of the problems associated with control and rules, but maybe this is exactly the kind of shake-up we need. As to the pastoral sacrament issues, early Methodism faced this all the time, as churches were started in far-off locations. The congregations either waited for the sacraments or grew up thier own pastors. They could also partner with other churches in thier geographical community for sacraments.

Steveheyduck

Thanks again Mark for putting this together.

Now; first off, if a Bishop stops by to meet lay people but then merely pronounces that he will be watching their church and then leaves without a hint of dialogue, I wonder if we are really ready to discuss the question we get to at the end of the scenario.

The issues of multi-site strategies runs square in the face of the main challenge to UM renewal and re-visioning. It doesn't fit within the tried-and-true established structures.

But lets be clear about this: the established structures aren't from Wesley. They are from the 1950s and 1960s. Our structure is based upon the post-World-War-II era of bureaucratization, hierarchy, and control.

I am excited about the possibilities ahead of us in the next decade or two, including those which are hinted at by current social media and networking.

But networking isn't new; and neither is the human desire for relationship and interaction. I don't think the fad of social media welcomes some new humanity as much as it opens new ways for people to connect.

The Church, including The United Methodist Church, is all about connecting: connecting people with each other and connecting people with God ( i.e. 2 Cor. 5:18-21 and 1 John 4:20).

I think Dr. Elaine Heath's work, see "The Mystic Way of Evangelism" opens additional possibilities for us. Like concerns over sacraments in multi-site contexts, Dr. Heath encourages us to consider recognition of bi-vocational ministry.

This brings up the possibility of dis-connecting clergy from the benefits of full-time denominational employment. But, then, Stanley Hauerwas said at least 20 years ago that the beginning of the end of fruitful disciple-making for a church is the establishment of a pension system.

Cant wait for question 3!

Ethan Gregory

Isn't the phrase "one church in many locations" the definition of our denomination? The UMC is a connectiona church, and to me we are just one church who meet in many different places. There is no consequence for living this out. There is, however, consequence for not living out the connection in ways that are relevant to the times in which we live.

Michael

I would urge those who are in favor of stepping back from the traditional physical worship in favor of online opportunities to spend some time reading this speech from Neil Postman, originally delivered in 1998:

http://www.mat.upm.es/~jcm/neil-postman--five-things.html

I believe it will inform the discussion in ways that are immeasurably beneficial.

As for my own idiosyncratic view, I truly enjoy being part of a congregation that intentionally meets in person each week; it's a very different experience from most of the interactions I have in any given week, and I come away from it reminded that there are places of sanctuary, that there are people who choose to set aside time and not be harried or hurried in their appreciation of the divine gifts. I don't think that this same kind of communal feeling is possible on-line.

Tom

I think the way social networking impacts the UMC depends on how the UMC chooses to respond to it. Social networking, and the internet in general, are changing the way we communicate and relate with one another. Multi-site and virtual congregations are going to be created. The issues you raise about how those realities intersect with the current structure are very real. The UMC can either choose to adapt to the changing reality around us or choose to hold on to the current way of doing things and accept an increasingly limited role.
Having said that, my experience is that there is increasing diversity among the ways in which people are discipled. While some embrace virtual church, others require personal contact. I don't see the whole of spiritual seeking moving in a certain direction but, rather, dividing into many syles. I think that will require a much higher degree of flexibility than we currently have. How to achieve that flexibility while maintaining integrity with our Wesleyan flavor will be a challenge - but a challenge I hope we are willing to face.
Wesley never intended to start a denomination. He was trying to reach people who weren't being reached and provide a means for them to accept and grow in Christ. He was willing to do things differently, which got him in hot water. If we stop worrying so much about maintaining the existing UMC structure and recover that original focus, perhaps the answers will be more easily discerned?

Jim Savage

I believe we should do all the good we can, in all the places we can, by every method we can, as often as we can, and using every social network system we can, and every new way that comes around that we can. John Wesley said something similar to that one day. Jim Savage, Riverchase UMC, B'ham, AL.

Ron Yoder

Drawing from my limited experiences primarily in the world of manufacturing, I have witnessed the life cycle of products and markets. As the life of a product nears its end, we are required to make adjustments, re-tool and develop new products that meet current needs. Technology is changing rapidly, trends can change quickly too. There is no time to get sentimental about a product, market or method of manufacturing. My focus must be on something bigger.

The procedures and methods churches use to worship, communicate and interact are based on products that technology has produced. As new products develop, new methods become available that changes our ability to communicate and relate with each other. This does not change the principles of our faith, only the manner in which we live it out.

If we still rode donkeys… Jane and I would not be able to come to GCC. But we have a motor vehicle that can travel at a high rate of speed… compared to a donkey! Therefore we can enjoy the fellowship of GCC.

As leaders our focus must be on something bigger. In my business, I have come to the point where what we are producing or distributing is not what matters most. My focus is on building an organization of people with shared values and vision for serving real and current needs. I don’t view controlling people as a part of my responsibility. I view my job as the opportunity to work with team members to develop and manage a set of systems. What we produce through the system may change over time. But what we can accomplish as a team is something much bigger.

The church that can re-tool and adjust procedures and methods will accomplish something much bigger. This may mean developing and managing a whole new set of systems of which the outcome can be awesome!

John Meunier

Of course it could be either good or bad depending on how it is handled and implemented.

I guess the theological questions have to do with the nature of worship and preaching. Is physical presence theologically important or just an artifact of the times the Bible was written?

God seemed to act in ways that suggest embodied communication and physical proximity were important to worship and experience of the Holy Spirit. Maybe such speculations are not profitable. Perhaps it is by fruit that we discern.

The only thing I do know for certain is that United Methodist elders are under the discipline of the annual conference and the bishop. Unless they want to reject their ordination vows - which seems like a bad example for their flock - then whatever we do needs to be done as part of a connection and in consultation with the bishop.

Bishop John L. Hopkins

Is there really a bishop who orders a Skinny Caramel Macchiato? If someone stops at your Starbucks table and says he or she is your bishop, ask for some credentials!

Most bishops I know are encouraged by the creative and culturally relevant attempts to share the good news of Jesus Christ with people outside the church community. The time is over when you can just open the doors and people will come into the church. Even those churches that have powerful worship, life-changing ministries, and vital missions need to engage people beyond the congregation.

The UMC is already one "multi-site" church with many mission outposts and a covenental team of pastoral and lay leaders. Our future vitality is directly related to the quality of our relationships with God and one another. Confessionally, we need to repent, prune, and fertilize these relationships.

Multi-site ministry can be physical and/or virtual. Not only is it possible--I've seen it done!

Chad Barden

I have four words to summarize my comments, "New Economy, New Rules". That doesn't mean 'New Economy, NO Rules'. It means we need to redefine the word 'districts'. We have entered a new era where geographic proximity doesn't define one's social network - no pun intended. Perhaps the UMC needs to consider the concept of 'cultural districts' and learn how to matrix those with the geographic districts that have become so entrenched in the Church.

The reality is that NO church, except the Church, can be all things to all people. So no one church should pretend to try. We need to define 'districts' where a church has enough of a constituency to not just survive, but to thrive. Any business needs to define its niche and unique competitive advantage. Any UMC 'franchise' needs to define its niche, audience and market size and justify how their 'franchise' is uniquely suited to serve that niche. The size and breadth of that niche is a direct reflection on the senior pastor's vision and capacity to lead. If a UMC franchise cannot define its 'customer', then perhaps we should allow for more 'natural selection' to occur among those that are struggling to define themselves. Mere geography is not enough of a justification to preserve the independence of a UMC franchise.

A building represents a tangible place where people can go to get away from their lives and focus on building their relationship with Jesus. It is also a place where they can go to establish connections with people who will help them walk the narrow path of Life. For some, the building is essential, but I think there is a new generation that feels that same closeness and connection from an online community. Each geography needs to have a physical meeting place as personal relationship can only truly flourish with the emotional connection from being face to face. BUT, that need not be a fully functioning church, complete with a full-time pastor.

Whether or not a new building is needed for a given Church is dependent on that Church's congregation....what do THEY need? If they need a building to make connections with others and with Christ, then build the building. If that particular congregation needs more online tools to make those REAL connections, then build the online tools.

Alexstroud

I think we've got a fine line to walk if we are going to be Christ's witnesses to the ends of the earth and still maintain our connectional system.

I serve an older church in North Georgia. By that, I mean that it was founded in 1821 with Creek Indians still living in the area. When it was founded, it was a Methodist class without a pastor or a building. In fact, it was called a "meeting house" and met under a brush arbor. It was after that when a circuit rider was appointed to the church and regular church life began to develop.

I think we could readopt this method of church planting and be successful. We do this in some regards, but now, at least in my conference, it seems to require beginning with a pastor, instead of the people. What if we gave people permission to begin their own gatherings and then sent pastors to them?

The flip side of this conversation reminds me of the televangelists that have had so much popularity over the last few decades. People that want you to place your hand on the tv screen and be blessed or give you an address to send $50 to be prayed for. Social media and networking have developed so fast that I feel like this type of paper-thin, disconnected ministry is what we need to guard against. So the question becomes, "How do you allow the church to expand at the bidding of the Holy Spirit without hindering that growth for the sake of tradition or regulation?" I'm not sure I have that answer.

I see another conflict between these new ministry concepts and the itenerant system. My experience has been that when a pastor is moved to a new appointment, he or she isn't usually moved right down the road. Why? Because if he or she was beloved at the church they came from, people will choose to leave that church to follow the pastor without giving the new pastor a chance. Internet ministry will affect the itenerant system in ways that we can't fathom. You can move a pastor halfway around the world, but her web address will stay the same. The church with a physical address where she served may drop from 1000 active participants to 100 when she moves to a new physical location. God help the Bishops and their Cabinets in figuring out that appointment process!

We can't force people to stay where they are and give a new pastor a try. In the 30-40 years of ministry I have left, I see the potential to gather a following of several hundred people online over that time. The blog I write now has around 50 subscribers from the three churches I've served and I have nearly 500 friends on Facebook. What if it was more than a blog? What if it was a congregation that I was forming that would essentially consist of members of the "Church of Alex"?

I believe that we have to find a way to integrate all the technologies that we have at our disposal. I think we have that obligation and I'm excited at the potential difference the church can make if it does embrace these new ways of doing ministry. I'm also fearful, but for personal reasons. I grew up United Methodist. Two years ago, I was ordained as an Elder in the UMC. I have decades before I have to retire and absolutely no idea what my life will look like at that point? There are those that want us to believe that ordained clergy will be obsolete. I hope not.

Matt Kuzma

If the mission of the UMC is to make disciples for the transformation of the world, then any strategy is successful if it:
1) Brings in more people and/or
2) Gets those people to change the world

Online church communities may cause us to rework our forms and bylaws, but adding new people and changing the world is the point of this whole thing, right?

Randy Willis

Again, great thought-provoking post and discussion!

For me, the guiding principle (for renewing/sustaining vitality) is to get in and remain in tune with God (a continual process!). When we do that, we'll be ready to move in the (new) directions God leads us to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!

With that guiding principle in mind, I believe the use of social media can serve as an entry point to, or an extension of, the physically-gathered community — but not as a replacement.

Personally, I'm not crazy about the phrase "virtual church." The church is incarnational, something you can see and touch. Jesus "became human and made his home among us" (John 1.14, NLT); he "became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood" (John 1.14, The Message).

There are benefits of social media and the church must consider ways to use it effectively. But there are also limitations.

Paul, in his letters (an early version of social media), often talks about visiting his followers/fans in person. The simple phrase "when I come" appears 6 times in 4 different letters (in the NLT, not an exhaustive word/phrase study, by any means). Paul talks about his desire/intention to visit the faith communities face to face. There was only so much he could accomplish through the social medium of written letters.

Today, the medium has greatly improved, of course, and we must consider ways we can use it to extend or maximize — but not replace — the physically-gathered-together, face-to-face community.

Jennifer Johnson

Social Networking (if done right) is nothing more than a conversation on a global level. Here is a wonderful opportunity to "talk" to people who might otherwise not have the ability. Why they don't have the ability doesn't really matter, does it? Should it make a difference if someone is watching a podcast of a service online because they are a shut-in, or because they have social anxiety? Should it matter if they're down the street in a suburb, or in prison using their quota time? No. The point is they are WATCHING. They want to be part of the conversation. By all means, let's talk.

But in order for this kind of ministry to take off, we have to prayerfully consider what we are going to say, and how we are going to say it. There is more to being an online church than just posting a couple of sermons online and opening a Facebook page. McLuhan said, "the medium is the message." To take a analog stance in a digital world is a mistake. We must think meaningfully of the audience we are reaching to in addition to what we are saying.

"For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them." You don't need sacraments to receive God's grace, it is there. True, sacraments exist to bring us closer to his presence, but it is not necessary to spread the message. Social networking should be viewed as an outreach, a method to converse with those we might not otherwise have contact with. But it is important that we follow up this outreach with human interaction on some level. There are people I have deep and meaningful relationships with, that I have never met in person, but have conversed with by email and chat. With the technology that is available today, we can use skype and web-cams to see and hear each other in ways I used to dream about as a child. Something as simple as having a pastor (ordained, if you please) available for "chat" time during office hours could go a long way towards bridging the gap between the traditional and avant guard. But it must be embraced with an open heart and open mind.

And after all, isn't that what Methodists are all about? (Well, that and potluck)

John Beavers

Here's some things I thought about. As was mentioned earlier, our culture is one of immediate gratification. However, the call of Christ is one of transformation. One possibility I see is a pandering to the culture (in the name of "cultural relevance"), which may lead to a lack of transformation. We lower our standards so we can get people in the door (or online), and the people we get do not see a need, nor have a desire for transformation. (I'm generalizing, of course.) If we continue to lower our standards, so that all we have to do is visit a website once in a while, are we really preparing people for heaven? Are we actually calling people to do the will of the Father, or are they merely saying "Lord, Lord"? We cannot transform the world if we are not transforming people.

Another concern I have is commitment, or lack, thereof. We already have problems keeping people in the building for an hour a week. Online, things become much more optional. Again, standards are being lowered and we are not calling people to commit to serving Jesus, we're just happy if they show up at all. The goal of growing committed Christians becomes even more untenable online. This also goes back to non-transformation. If church (online or not) is optional, then people fit it in when they want, and are not transformed into the people that God wants them to be. God calls us to give Him our all, not just the time we have left over.

Another thing that might be problematic with online churches, is that people will congregate with those that are like minded. The conservatives will meet together, the liberals will meet together, the charismatics will meet together, etc. It's hard for iron to sharpen iron if we all have the same viewpoints. This will lead to further dischord and splintering of the UMC.

Having said all that, I do like the idea of flexibility and freedom. I can see online communities as being suppliments to brick and mortar churches. Even Lifechurch has brick and mortar campuses. Perhaps online communities could be the porces to our churches, where people can experience the previnient Grace of God in their lives, and start to move toward going through the door of the House.

There's just something about meeting together with people in person. It's hard to see someone's love and concern for you/others over a computer screen. It's difficult to receive a hug via the internet. And, laying on of hands is not easy through social media sites.

John Beavers - 32
Life long UM--pastor's spouse in Oklahoma.

AllenGardner

There are a great many positives and negatives. While there are offsite persons worshipping online, how many come together for the worship service, for prayer, for Bible study to discuss these things as a group. There are many things to consider: from how to maintain funding of the UMC with multi-site groups...distributing the sacraments...how will this effect the bishops’ lofty goal of decreasing the average age...how far will the UMC continue to embrace the secular to “become everything to all” w/out sacrificing the cause of Christ...

The impact could be tremendous...or it could be devastating...

According to the Book of Discipline: “The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs” and this virtual arena could be phenomenal! Should the UMC limit itself to buildings? Absolutely not! One of the greatest things of the UMC is how connectional it is, and how, through those connections, the body can commit itself to mission, outreach, evangelism, and discipleship. To reach beyond the walls of the building. The church itself was founded as Wesley travelled from group to group. They were the multi-site groups of the early Methodist movement.

However, there is risk to the disciple-making that could take place. Without the right system in place, many individuals could end up creating their own belief systems from what comes from the online community (it’s not limited just to church) and not speaking w/ a pastor, mature Christian, lay-leader, or not going back to Scripture. A convoluted faith may evolve that is a personal Jesus at best and a self-serving Christ at worst.

This could allow acceptance of what we want from Scripture; what makes life easiest, what makes us look good, and not also the hard parts that Jesus wants us to commit to in living a life in His name. Without a central connection to the church we risk creating disciples that are not followers of the Jesus of the Bible. While we all slip, and thank God for that grace, mercy, and the sacrifice that allows us to come back. But will the new disciples realize this...or will they be the bad apples that continue to spoil the image of the church and continue the trend of lagging membership?

I prefer human interaction when at church. I don’t think that the buildings will become obsolete. God created us to be social and personal. We need THAT connection as well; to connect in flesh and blood. And God became flesh because we needed that personal touch. No longer could He stay in heaven abstract and distant. We weren’t listening to the prophets or the Law...he had to come and interact with us 1-on-1; touch us; pray with us, teach us in order for us to believe and understand. Some didn’t get it, and turned away. But how many would never have gotten it, if He would have stayed distant & abstract. That’s a thought I hate to think about.

That said, I believe that the UMC should pursue this course. That the UMC should be able to figure a way for this to work. To create disciples with minimum negative impact. Maybe visiting pastors or lay leaders in addition to the online stuff. This could also give a place for the interim pastors, elders, and deacons to do ministry, as well as show the effectiveness that the lay leaders can do. A lot needs to be worked out...and the UMC has a lot of things to work on as it is.

Ronald Murdock

Mark, you know the answer. Jesus wants us to spread the gospels and demonstrate our faith to everyone we can reach. Of course some individuals may feel that we are trying to push our beliefs on them. However, it is for them to choose what they want to hear. I believe that if the church wants to expand outside the "Brick and Mortar" and into the "cyberworld", there is a test of faith. But I believe GCC and any other church that is willing to put their faith and love for Jesus Christ, ahead of all, will benefit from any issues that will rise up.

Jesus never preached in a Brick and Mortar Building. He preached out in the wilderness. Mark, don't fear taking the step into the Internet. As long as GCC spreads the glorious news, people will listen.

I do agree with John though, it is hard to meet the pastor online and shake their hands. Some people need that physical interaction between their pastors. I grew up in a church, where every Sunday, I shook hands with the pastor. When I was at GCC, I never got to shake your hand Mark. And yet, I know you are an EXTREMELY busy person. I still hope someday I get to meet you.

Ron Murdock - 33

Harold Gardner

I guess I feel slightly confused, but I am not sure.

It does not seem to me that multi-site and social media are really all that different from the tools we have always used. Circuit Riders were the ultimate multi-site ministries. We have dealt with radio and TV ministries for a long time. Yes, they created anxieties as the technologies were new. Yes, we still sometimes fail to realize the full promise of broadcast media. Sure, we will have challenges and errors and opportunities with social media.

My greatest concern for the church is we so often seem afraid to make mistakes. As technology changes, we must adapt or be left behind. As the expectations and experiences of our parish changes, we must continue to reach out with a message of love, hope, and salvation.

At the end of the day, I am not really concerned about how. That is just a plumbing detail. God called us to love one another. I don't think He cares if we use Facebook, Twitter, blogs, websites, radios, TVs, Bach Chorales, pipe organs, books, hospital visits, pot luck suppers, or whatever.

David

Let it be known that my responses to your questions are always without having read anyone's post.

Embrace growth. Isn't that part of our calling. To spread the gospel?

The opportunities we face today are built on yesterdays technology with some for-site for the advent of tomorrow. Structural reform is continuously improving. There will always be new and better ideas.

Changes for the sake of change is simply ridicules. But changes made today for the hope of tomorrow is where need to keep our attention.

We cannot keep ourselves from doing what we believe in and not based on "what will people think?".

Structure, accountability, responsibility, having a pure heart for God is what matters.

Also, I would like think that with all of this technology that some of us will be prepared for catastrophe. Science is one of the leaders in technology. Lets not be ignorant for the possibility of a failure of the internet. If it happens we could find ourselves without it. Maybe.

My mind takes me back to an unexpected day. It was a Wednesday communion. The moment I sat down I dwelt on God presents and grace.

With my head bowed I thought of the great many people in my life that could experience the goodness of that moment. As I raised my head up, and looked around, I saw several bowels of water around the room. Along with the regular juice chalices and loaves of bread. I thought to myself; "that is cool".

Then Rob delivered a beautiful sermon on the "living water". I was very moved. Then it came time, and I was the first, to walk up to the bowel of water and hold my hands out, with head bowed.

As i felt the water on my hands, I felt the Holy Spirit pour over my soul.And I was overcome with an emotion that I didn't understand. I knew God was changing me. And tears came from my eyes and I didn't know why. Just as they are right now while I'm writing this. I can just pray, God make me a better person.

I don't know how I could have this kind of experience over the internet. Be there, in the moment, with God. Thank you Jesus.

Someone said "fluid structure is the future". If it involves the living water, I'm in.

Rev. Ralph Wesley Howe

In Wesley's day, the UK was a collection of parishes within dioceses, but Wesley went around igniting fires all over the UK, allowing small groups of flamers to come together in classes, bands and societies, where their energies were united to burn more brightly. Christ in the midst of the people became the engine of desire for more knowledge and experience and service of God and more sharing of God with others. Wesley took on folks to be travelling preachers, others to lead classes and bands, others to manage missions and others to handle stewardship matters. This was a rich multi-located, multi-dimensioned and diversely led enterprise of God, to which Wesley gave diligent attention and direction by visiting the various societies and meetings, preaching in various parts, sending out ordained folks to administer the sacraments to thousands of people from no parish and any parish. He would have been up on charges in the UMC!
Today, we have Methodist parishes so like the Anglican ones Wesley bi-passed that we should do the same as he did. The service of Christ is not like that of a county sheriff nominally limited by arbitrary geography (who at any rate is cross deputized in the adjacent counties, unlike UMC pastors!). The spiritual geography should control instead.
Now, the challenge that the hierarchs have is to adapt the structure to what Christ is already doing in the world. All pastors and lay leaders need to have actual communion with their brothers and sisters in Christ who show up in their sphere of ministry. (I am not talking about apportionments and boards here!!) This communion means sharing in prayer, worship, witness and service for the glory of God, not the glory of the XYZ UMC or its Reverend Doctor Pastor. Such sharing must have legs, arms, voices and hands in the world, hearts in heaven and minds on Christ. We have the technology to bring these disparate folks on different e-connections and ground connections into living relationship with one another---without the exercise of domination of one over the other (A Jesus thing, I suspect??!!) This is not difficult for God, nor need it be so for the Church, if it is truly attentive and obedient to Christ above all else.
For example, an internet grouping forms in a valley with three geographically located churchlets of various degrees of vitality, mostly less. That internet group can pray for and with the others, inspire new engagement with the communities outside the embattled churchlet walls, care for the hospice of dying churches and invite the alive folks in the local churchlets to join in projects, that might just change the local bodies into something God inspired and alive. The role of the DS and Bishop would be less domination and more prayer, leading group discernment, building bridges in faith and helping to move past seemingly immovable objects. If anyone in such a system seems to be going heretical, there should be a process of discussion long before there is force applied.
The one area that needs special attention is abuse and how to head it off and address it early. This can be done, perhaps better when folks are not in isolated lone ranger parishes, but in a large scale open community.
One of the keys, is that the Cabinets must STOP!!! making appointments based on the old geographical parish system, and at the very least appoint clergy to regions and groups of parish churches, so that the clergy and the parishioners see their roles in serving Christ and the mission of the Holy Spirit to the people at large, rather than the institutional imperatives of the guaranteed appointment system.
One final note: If what we have is NOT healthy, let us take the radical step of going without our extra cloaks, money bags and claptrap, relying on Christ alone for a bit. I seem to remember Jesus saying something about this....

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