Online churches don't hurt local church growth: study

"According to 'State of the Online Church,' led by Saddleback Church’s Online Campus Pastor Jay Kranda, 59 percent of churches have seen physical growth since launching an online ministry." - Christian Post

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Bert Perry's picture

It's really just using the tools God's granted us to get the Word out, no?  And with regards to the question of whether it hurts other churches, that really depends on whether the marketing is primarily done to people who are already believers/churchgoers, or whether it's also marketed to those outside the flock.  No?

Really, there were similar issues raised when radio came into play, some saying that radio was the evil kingdom of the air.  Without clear evidence that a particular technology is wrong, Biblically speaking, we ought to use it in good faith.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry's picture

Moderator

It's really just using the tools God's granted us to get the Word out, no?   ... Without clear evidence that a particular technology is wrong, Biblically speaking, we ought to use it in good faith.

Even granting the simplistic nature of the last statement, the answer is "No." There are many ways to "get the Word out," whatever that means. But the church is an assembly. You can't assemble online.

Bert Perry's picture

Note what the article actually says, Larry.  It says that the typical pattern is that people will log in online, and if they stick around online, they'll be in a pew or chair pretty soon.  As such, online church really fills the same need as HCJB, TWR, ELWA, and other radio ministries have served since the 1930s, and what local AM and FM radio stations have been doing nearly as long.

Is it preferable to have people in the pews?  Absolutely--and along those lines, countless believers trace their heritage to efforts like this.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Bert wrote:

As such, online church really fills the same need as HCJB, TWR, ELWA, and other radio ministries have served since the 1930s, and what local AM and FM radio stations have been doing nearly as long.

Ouch. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry's picture

Moderator

As such, online church really fills the same need as HCJB, TWR, ELWA, and other radio ministries have served since the 1930s, and what local AM and FM radio stations have been doing nearly as long.

Perhaps, but that's not the point. The point is that you can't assemble without actually assembling. That people have done something before doesn't change that. Listening to preaching on the radio or watching it online are not "church." Such things may be a helpful outreach tool. Or a tool that builds people up spiritually. And those are fine. But they are not church.

Did you read the very next article under this one at the site? It is about this topic.

Is it preferable to have people in the pews?

"Preferable" is an odd way to put it. I would say it is actually necessary. "People in the pews" is actually what church is. It's basic ecclesiology.

If "online church" means streaming services, then fine. But that's not church. I don't have a problem with sermons being uploaded or played on the radio. I listen to them frequently. The problem is calling it church. 

So again, my point is basic ecclesiology. 

Kevin Miller's picture

Larry wrote:

 The point is that you can't assemble without actually assembling. That people have done something before doesn't change that. Listening to preaching on the radio or watching it online are not "church." Such things may be a helpful outreach tool. Or a tool that builds people up spiritually. And those are fine. But they are not church.

How far do you take this? I know this is an extreme example, but I want to find out how specific you get with the terminology. If a person is homebound and is no longer able to attend services, then they are no longer "assembling", so do they stop being part of the church? 

Larry's picture

Moderator

If a person is homebound and is no longer able to attend services, then they are no longer "assembling", so do they stop being part of the church?

They are not forsaking the assembling of themselves together and substituting something else for it.

Kevin Miller's picture

Larry wrote:

If a person is homebound and is no longer able to attend services, then they are no longer "assembling", so do they stop being part of the church?

They are not forsaking the assembling of themselves together and substituting something else for it.

True, they aren't substituting something else, but they also are not assembling, so are they part of the church? After all, you were pretty adamant that "the church is an assembly" and "you can't assemble without actually assembling." From my perspective, the church is a specific body of believers. One of the functions of that body is to meet together, but the body/church still exists even if all the members can't physically meet.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Kevin, 

I appreciate your questions but I am a bit confused. Are you suggesting that someone can purposely not assemble and still be part of an assembly? Of course, an assembly isn't the only mark of a church, but it it an indispensable one, is it not?

I don't know of any reason to suggest that a sick person who cannot attend is the same as a person who willfully absents himself or herself from the body on a habitual basis. So I guess that is why I don't understand your questioning. You seem to be equating the two. 

Kevin Miller's picture

Larry wrote:

Kevin, 

I appreciate your questions but I am a bit confused. Are you suggesting that someone can purposely not assemble and still be part of an assembly? Of course, an assembly isn't the only mark of a church, but it it an indispensable one, is it not?

I don't know of any reason to suggest that a sick person who cannot attend is the same as a person who willfully absents himself or herself from the body on a habitual basis. So I guess that is why I don't understand your questioning. You seem to be equating the two. 

Larry, when you said " The point is that you can't assemble without actually assembling," you didn't make the distinction between those who couldn't assemble and those who willfully refused. I assumed you would have the position that homebound people are still part of the assembly, but I hate to assume other people's thinking, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to ask. I love sematic discussion because sometimes people have nuances in their thinking that I haven't realized.

I admit I'm a bit torn regarding even those people who willfully absent themselves. People struggle with different sins at different points in their spiritual lives. One of those sins could be a lack of desire for fellowship with other believers. Such a sin does not remove one from being part of the body of Christ. Such a sin may be a cause for church discipline, but each case is judged on it's own merits, since some people have anxiety issues with crowds but aren't being purposely rebellious (in which case it wouldn't even really be a sin, would it?)

There is something about your interaction on this thread that has me confused. The thread is about a study which shows that an online church ministry does NOT keep people from attending a church that has one. Bert mentioned that online ministry is a tool that gets the Word out, and he asked if we shouldn't we use it if it isn't specifically forbidden. You said "No" since "There are many ways to 'get the Word out,' whatever that means. But the church is an assembly. You can't assemble online." Then later you said " Listening to preaching on the radio or watching it online are not "church." Such things may be a helpful outreach tool. Or a tool that builds people up spiritually. And those are fine. But they are not church." So I'm confused as to whether you think a church should have an online ministry. First you said "no"  to using it as a tool, but then you said it may be a helpful outreach tool. So do you think a church should refrain from online streaming so as not to confuse people about the meaning of "church"? Is on online ministry useful as long as it is not semantically called "church"?

If the article and the study had consistently used the words "online church ministry" instead of "online church," would that have been more acceptable?

Larry's picture

Moderator

I admit I'm a bit torn regarding even those people who willfully absent themselves.

To me, there is not much to be torn about. I suppose we can be torn about when is too long and what action to take. But we can love them and minister to them while challenging them about obedience and love for the body.These are not mutually exclusive. We should judge each case on its own merits, but we don't exclude someone quickly and we don't exclude them without talking to them or attempting to talk to them. Yes people have sin issues and that sin doesn't remove them from the body until the final step of discipline, but their absence does, at least in some sense, remove them from the body. 

But what does "being part of the church" mean if it doesn't include showing up? Is there any reason to be part of a church that you don't attend?

It should be obvious we are not talking about being sick or being on vacation or working. We aren't even talking about missing a week here or there. But how long would someone need to be absent before contacting them? I would say probably two weeks, three at most. When we don't know where someone is and why, shouldn't we try to find out? 

I suppose the question would be, Why wouldn't you be in contact with someone who is absent? Why wouldn't you want to know why?

There is something about your interaction on this thread that has me confused. ... So I'm confused as to whether you think a church should have an online ministry. First you said "no"  to using it as a tool, but then you said it may be a helpful outreach tool. So do you think a church should refrain from online streaming so as not to confuse people about the meaning of "church"? Is on online ministry useful as long as it is not semantically called "church"?

My comments are not about outreach or making sermons available online. They are about substitution, those who believe that church on TV or online is a substitute for church. And there are a good number of them. How many? I am not sure.

I think Tyler's "Ouch" to Bert's comments was particularly apropos because that was a rather awkward and simplistic comment. Radio and internet are not substitutes for gathering with the body and the fact that people have done in the past doesn't change that. I know there are people who "go to church on TV," who have Joel Osteen as their pastor or Joyce Meyer. I have talked to them and that's the reason they give for not attending church. Yes, it works ... for some things but is that the work that we should be doing? My answer is no.

I am not generally in favor of online streaming. We could do it but we intentionally do not because it is not a substitute. Perhaps one day I will be convinced to change on that but I have not so far been convinced. We do upload sermons (both video and audio). So I am not opposed to that. It can be a good introduction to the church to let people know what goes on. It can be good for those who are shut in and can't make it. But even the preaching on video or audio is not the same as in person. We do online giving but I am not a big fan of that either.

If the article and the study had consistently used the words "online church ministry" instead of "online church," would that have been more acceptable?

Not for my point.

I admit I am a bit curmudgeonly on these things and if people disagree, that's fine. 

Bert Perry's picture

To add to previous comments, you've got tract societies, the Salvation Army, and a bunch of others that do a lot/most of their ministry outside church walls.  Is it church?  No, and that's not the point.  The point is that you fill the church with believers by reaching out to unbelievers and believers who are "not up to speed" with passages like Hebrews 10:24-5.  You keep them there, along the same lines, by asking yourself "are we communicating the Word of God to the people of God effectively?" often, and acting on what you're told and what you figure out.

The place where I'd come on board with Larry 100% is if you had something like the radio talk show host a few years back who openly preached the end of the physical church.  Hard to break bread together and the like when you're not together.  But if you keep "online church" more in the pattern of "ministry to those who cannot come, and outreach to those who have not yet come", it follows patterns of ministry that are centuries old.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.