Internet Campus: The Vision

One of the most exciting technology solutions that we’ve been developing is our online church experience. I’m going to write several posts dealing with the “how” and “why” of our particular online ministry. Keep in mind, however, that when it comes to online church, there are many variations. We’re not saying our way is the right way, or the only way – it’s just the way we do it.  Also, we are still messing with it – and probably always will be. Just like us all, it’s a work in progress. I hope that through these posts, you’ll gain some confidence and insight as you consider developing your own online campus.

This may change, but at this point, here is what this series will look like:

  1. The Vision: Knowing why you are developing an online church (this post).
  2. The Challenge: Understanding what is necessary and what is available.
  3. The Stream: Choosing a video-stream provider.
  4. The Features: Connecting vision to the features.
  5. The Platform: Choosing the user interface.

Today, we’ll talk about vision.

First, the dream for an internet campus is as old as the vision for Thrive Church. While we did not get to actually implement our early days this way (for reasons outside our control), I’ve always had a vision for a “distributed church.” It was my intention that we start in home-cell groups as our primary church experience. At some point we’d begin a periodic central gathering, maybe once a month or quarter. Later, we would merge the groups to a central campus. I knew, however, that some of the home-cell groups might want to stay that way, but still feel connected, and that’s where the original idea for an online campus entered my mind. It would allow us to be a connected but dispersed church.

Again, we did not get to begin this way (for reasons outside our control), but it was the original plan. I still have this dream for a distributed church, which continues to evolve, but we’re going to have to get there a little differently. However, the dream of an internet campus has persisted all along, – we are finally figuring out how to go about it for our new context.

Another strong passion grew later. I began to notice the number of churches meeting without pastors at all, and many others who take turns with circuit preachers. I began to see how an internet campus could go a long way in helping these congregations. God gave me a vision for a “church in a box” that would be a kit containing everything needed for setting up a venue for a streamed church. I’m not talking about some of the “boxed” solutions some bigger churches have put together, that still require tech staff to setup. I want something really easy. We would send this kit to churches and other sites, with an instructional video, connecting them to a larger community of faith.

Additionally, we wanted to create a low-commitment gateway to our faith family. We know that the biggest challenge when looking for a new church is that awkward first visit. With an online “gateway,” a person can “visit” us on their own terms, without exposing themselves to risk. We have seen this bear fruit, with several folks coming to our physical location after one or more online visits.

Finally, we want the online experience to accurately reflect who we are. We’re not interested in everything being over-produced or “perfect.” We aren’t that way at all – we are come as you are type people. We did not want someone to be “surprised” by the disparity between the online “face” of our church and the actual experience. So, whatever we do is intentional, but casual – what you see is who we are, with all our imperfections (muddy lighting, goof ups, pops-and-hisses, and the occasional ear-splitting feedback) for all to see.

So, what’s your vision? Are you considering an online campus? If so, do you really know why? I’m not sure there are any wrong or right reasons, but if you are going to do it, be sure you know the “why” – it will help you later, as you develop the campus. Hang out with us for the rest of the series, and let us know what you’re thinking and wondering about in the comments.

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