Church Online | Using the internet

Where do most people spend time with their friends? If you are asking young people, young adults and even many seniors, it will probably be at Starbucks or the phone but a good chunk of their socializing will be online on MSN, MySpace, Facebook, or Skype. Online social networking is the 21st Century equivalent to meeting in people’s homes and the church needs to be there.

Networking online is a cultural phenomenon that provides an exciting opportunity for winning and discipling nations. The Internet connects folks across the globe with the touch of a key. I don’t know if we will be saying so long to the ‘brick and mortar’ church building for good; but for those that aren’t going to church now, the Internet is the newest way to influence them.

James Goll prophesied this year the following:

“It’s time for new forms of the “Church.” We are in the midst of a redefinition of the church. The terms local church and para-church are being replaced by broader and clearer understandings. Terms such as congregational and church in the city; local and trans-local; nuclear and extended; the church that is gathering and the church that is scattered more clearly define the “called out ones.” But watch for fresh movements emphasizing new forms of the ecclesia, such as the interactive web-based fellowships versus traditional church. It is time for the mini and maxi church movement to advance-house fellowships springing across the land and on the contrast, stadium Christianity taking shape.” 

The use of the Internet is exploding across the world. There are over 1 billion people online. The global number of broadband (high speed) connections rose 33% last year, reaching a total of 264 million households. In some countries such as South Korea, Hong Kong, Iceland and Monaco, more than 75% of households have broadband. In the US, that percentage is approaching 50 while 70% have dial-up or broadband.

As Internet usage rises, so does what is known as online social networking. YouTube serves more than 100 million videos a day. MySpace has 190 million users. Skype has over 100 million users. All these .com websites are making community and communication online not only reality, but commonplace. Have you listened to a podcast? Or do you have a space on MySpace or a face on Facebook? What about blogging or posting a review on the web such as Amazon. There is a good chance that you have, and if you haven’t, your children or grand children certainly have.

In early 2000, my wife Jo and I had a dream about an online community where people could meet and network kingdom resources online, and we immediately purchase the domain junctionj.com (junction Jesus). We were sparked by the prospect of a site that could serve and promote the body of Christ, regardless of denomination. It didn’t work out at the time, but God birthed in us a vision that would not leave us, regardless of what we were doing. We talked regularly about what Internet church would look like, and the Holy Spirit patiently shaped the vision (and us with it!)

We started a cell church in our home last year with an Internet focus, and a few people joined us via Skype as well. While “cell” is broadly synonymous with believers meeting in homes or other social gathering places, we started to hone the concept of Internet church. In December, we closed our cell in our home to go Internet only. In January I was listening to Lance Wallnau (www.lancelearning.com) and the Holy Spirit used his words to spark something in me. He said, “Favor comes when you do the assignment that God is calling you to. I immediately knew that God’s assignment for Jo and me was Internet church! Jo had been waiting for 2 years for me to catch the vision, but Wallnau’s comment provoked me to action. We sent out an e-mail to friends and contacts and our cell based Internet church began.

WHAT IS “INTERNET CHURCH”?

So what is Internet church? It is cell church conducted on the Internet. TACF has a vision of multiplication to win and disciple souls. Multiplication is based on the principle that everyone can be a leader with proper training. A cell church is one which organizes its members into small groups. If each person in a cell establishes their own cell, and they raise up their cell members to become leaders, it has the potential to grow exponentially with many leaders of leaders. One cell starts up, training leaders who in turn have their own cells. In our model, we run a number of different cells to make sure we can fit into different time zones. We envision leaders in as many continents as possible and in each of the time zones within the continent.

We use Skype and iChat to conduct real, two-way cell meetings in the same manner as a conference call using the Internet to have two-way interactions online. Jo and I are extremely relational, and junctionj.com reflects that. The Internet gives us almost unlimited reach. It reduces the barriers of the time and cost of travel, not to mention having the potential to widen our audience to the billion people online.

As we share this method of fellowship, and new people join, we point them to leaders who are in their time zone. If we don’t have any cells in that time zone, we start one!

Our desire is for everyone in a cell to become leaders of their own cell or expression of church. It is not necessary for someone affiliated to conduct an Internet cell. We can still network them with us and provide pastoral care and support. In fact, one of our cell members, Robyn, has already planted a cell church in Melbourne, Australia (http://web.mac.com/southernfire).

We are working on community applications on our site, www.junctionj.com. The training is being posted online, so that members can watch training videos for cell or church leadership, enabling them to start their own cell or expression of church. We have an online community where members can blog, put up pictures, have a profile so when someone wants to join a cell, they can check out the cells running in their time zone, and get a glimpse of what the cell leader is like from their profile. We have loads more ideas too, like rolling out distance learning modules, the opportunities are endless.

At the time of writing this, we have four cells meeting over the Internet, but check out church.junctionj.com for progress. The existing cells are in Toronto (GMT -5), Montana (GMT -7), Melbourne (GMT +10) and the UK (GMT). Jo and I are still part of TACF and we are in Gordon and Cathy Harris’s (School of Ministry Directors) cell. I am also a part of John Arnott’s cell.

I asked members of junction to send me a few reasons why they are part of internet church. Here are a few responses.

“I once left a church because I felt I lived too far away and couldn’t get involved in a meaningful way. It was about 45 minutes’ drive from my house, but I couldn’t make it to prayer meetings, to youth activities or just to social catch ups. Now I attend a church that is almost half the world away and I feel very connected! I am encouraged to be involved where I live with the people around me, while I’m fed and encouraged and pastored over the Internet. This kind of church really works for me!”

Robyn, Australia

“The world today is hungry. With the rise of the internet age, there exists a hunger amongst people for relationships and to be connected. This has been made evident with the ever increasing popularity of online social networks like Myspace, Facebook and YouTube. Why not push the envelope and expand old mindsets? Internet church is church without walls. My dream is to advance the Kingdom and reach the lost, broken and disillusioned. Internet church has allowed for such. Let’s connect people to Jesus and spread the fire with Kingdom values in the age today. It’s all with the Holy Spirit and a couple clicks away.”

Sean, Canada

“Our Internet cell group is our lifeline to the benefits we received while at Leaders School in Toronto. Building lasting relationships with built in accountability structure in a safe environment with lots of support is something we all need. With the Web church taking its place as a “virtual church” environment, right from the comfort of our own home (wherever that will be, as we are now traveling all over the country) we can maintain those vital relationships and connections wherever an Internet connection is available.”

Randy and Sue, USA

“ With geographic borders becoming more and more blurred, the world getting smaller and smaller, web based communication has enabled many of us to stay connected to friends and family despite being half a world away. It no longer matters where in the world you are, as long as you are on line, it is easy to extend the use of technology and be plugged in to the Body of Christ over the internet! It is a natural step, which will allow one to be part of a steady Christ centered ministry at junctionj.com, regardless of where they are in the world. For us personally, with young kids and busy daily schedules, web based cell offers the additional advantages such as eating dinner, attending to kids needs and participating in the cell group’s discussion, and all without leaving our home!”

Tom and Laura, Canada

We are extremely excited about this venture.

Of all the media available, the Internet has the largest scope in terms of reach, one billion people online and growing. One out of every six adults (16%) in the US spends some time visiting faith oriented websites during a typical month.

What are we going to do, Church, about the

-Shift workers who can’t make a Sunday service

-A parent at home with a young family

-People disillusioned with church as we know it and who now don’t go

-People from smaller towns without much on the church scene

-People with some kind of Christian upbringing but don’t go to church

-Physically challenged people who are unable to attend church

...and that’s just the English-speaking nations!

EVANGELIZING ON THE WEB

What about the “not-yet Christian?” The web gives a certain amount of anonymity for those who want to explore before committing themselves. For instance, flower sales flourished with the Internet because men who were embarrassed at having to give the florist a verbal message like, “I love you, Honey” or “I’m sorry” were able to hurdle the social discomfort. In the same way, some people are apprehensive having developed negative notions about going to church.

These people who are too intimidated to go through a church building door are now able to test the water safely before jumping in. The Internet is an excellent vehicle to reach the “not yet” Christians and to minister powerfully to Christians where public expression of faith is illegal.

In fact, our passion and goal is to reach 1,000,000 people, a mega-niche. While that sounds large, if 0.1% of the market seems achievable, 0.1% of 1 billion is 1 million!

The web is a fantastic medium to reach people where they are and draw them into a relationship with Jesus. I believe that in the future, we will somehow meet together online in some kind of meeting, with monitors linking everyone across the globe at one time. We are excited to see how the Holy Spirit will shape it.

Is it possible to have ministry over the internet? Our experience says yes. When the Holy Spirit moves, God can use any medium as a vehicle to carry his glory. We’ve seen a lot of evidence of people touched by God ‘remotely.’ Ministry on TV has been happening for years. People I have met have testified to being healed over the Internet as they took part in a TACF meeting online. I remember being at a conference with Todd Bentley where he asked attendees to call sick people using their cell phones and pray for them. The Holy Spirit moved and healed many people.

“What if it had been possible to see Pentecost on the other side of the Roman Empire via a home computer?”

From our own experience with doing cell over the Internet, we have learned that it makes no difference to the Holy Spirit whether people are in the same room or not. He is beyond time and space!

Are you reading this skeptically, because it wounds your normal church paradigm? Then let me ask you, “What is church anyway?” Is it traveling somewhere Sunday morning and evening to worship, hear announcements, give an offering and listen to preaching? Now it is possible to do all these via the Internet.

Jesus reached people where they were, using the means he had available. He was out and about, “Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.” (Matthew 4:23 NASB) He told stories to illustrate his message, “Jesus spoke to them again in parables...” (Matthew 22:1 NASB) He went to the synagogue, “And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all.” Luke 4:15 NASB

If Jesus came today instead of 2,000 years ago, I believe He would have a MySpace and Facebook account! What if it had been possible to see Pentecost on the other side of the Roman Empire via a home computer? Perhaps 1 billion people would have been buzzing with Pentecost instead of a few thousand?

The Internet isn’t our enemy. It provides a tremendous opportunity for church. We believe that it is the next major vehicle to bring people into the kingdom and disciple the nations, and we’re going for it!

We want to reach the world for Jesus. And we want to connect people across the globe with the same passion so that together we can actually make disciples of all nations. Let’s log on and change the world together!