A Case for Internet Ministry
Before I get into this post, this is not a case for live casting an existing brick and mortar worship service. If that is what you are doing to reach your homebound congregants, that's great for its purpose. If you are here thinking recording a worship is "internet ministry," just leave now.
The world cries out and we are...
No. I need to nail this point down.
I've been in enough churches to know the mindset. You started live casting your worship last May (because let's be honest, it took y'all a couple of months to realize your church was going to be closed for more than a month). At first it was fun. "Look at what I'm doing!" you gleefully shared. "I can wear my PJs to worship!" That maybe lasted 1-2 months, before the shiny newness of it all wore off. Then you began to notice certain people weren't coming to the Zoom worship, and offering was worse. But... Well there were some guests that had logged in and watched the Zoom worship on the Facebook page.
Guess what? Fig Tree had them too. They were Christians who wanted something while their church remained shuttered. This Easter many of those shuttered churches finally began opening their doors. You licked your lips as you saw guest numbers go up in ways it hadn't gone up in years.
It wasn't real.
Now you're sitting in front of your brand-spanking new technology equipment upgrades, wondering where it all went. You put it all on black, and black was believing your specific church would be the next internet phenom! Forget red! You've been forced to play red for years. All on black! You and every brick and mortar church that thought internet ministry was the way to save a brick and mortar church. Once again- if you are here to learn the secrets of copy-paste church, leave now. I'm wasting your time.
The world cries out.
We are really good and mocking the actions of pain and sorrow. We have mastered how to ignore and leave places that are deemed "not socially appropriate."
Once uploaded, every word, picture, and video exists, in some form, forever. It has increased the power and danger of Cancel-Culture, as those cancelling others can use words said almost 20 years in the past. (Our collective memory, before the internet, was a revisionist history. Our mental picture begins to yellow and fade. How an event happened, or what happened naturally changes as we age. The internet keeps all in 3-D technicolor.)
The term "internet ethics" is often used to talk about the legal ramifications of using content online, and not the moral ethics of how we interact with others. It's not enough to just slap IRL (in real life) ethics online and expect it to transfer.
I have mentioned the internet being the "Me Show." It's more than that. We are selling our "brand" to the world, but most of us are also doing it with a sense of mystery. We can wear a mask online. Everything from our words to our profile picture, can be almost anything we want it to be. You want to be a unicorn that farts rainbows? Shoot for the stars, because that's only a small upload away. The internet keeps one hidden, and gives this freedom that doesn't exist IRL. Some use this superficial power for good, sharing joy love, and positive change . Way more take out their hate and frustrations, easily forgetting that the internet is full of humans, who just want to connect as much as you do.
Everyone's online crying out in their pain and suffering, but no one hears it because everyone is so focused on their personal "Me Show."
So I mention a third time, how's your uploaded/live cast worship going to engage that? It's not.
The world cries.
The older you are the less you see the reality of the virtual world. The younger you get, the more your points of connection are directly tied to online interaction. A middle schoolers relationship is not only their interactions at school, but their Discord chats, game play on their Xbox or PlayStation, sharing their personal TicTocs... It's a culture, different from our IRL culture. WAY different than our "Christian" culture.
A modern definition of "Evangelism" is this: Discover how God is already present among the people, and show them that.
Now, obviously evangelism is more nuanced than that, but this definition is a great starting point. I'm not going to go over seas and teach others how to be American so I can then teach them American Christianity. I'm going to take the space of the foreigner, the outsider, and learn their culture first. Then, when I talk to them about faith it will be with their language, their images, and their symbols.
When the mission field is outside the doors of a church, one seems to forget that even the space right outside is a different culture than most churches where people travel 40 minutes to get to it. Imagine the internet. It's not only a different culture; it's a different world.
Then, it's a world of lament and pain; some of it from brick and mortar churches. Most denominations are looking at these people all wrong. They see these shiny new money givers, future leaders of all the volunteer programs that are now defunct, a savior of a church well past it's prime. It's not even salvation being sold at a funeral. I've seen that. Funerals are for the living. Funerals are a time to lament and remember. Selling salvation at a funeral is dirty. Yet, this is worse.
If we don't change our method and focus- the Christian institution will do more damage to an already damaged world.
This is about being at the forefront of internet ethics. Educating people on how to act and react in online situations. Completely throwing out the bathwater (physical church) to consider how to save the baby. It's using imagination and creativity in a world that a bankrupted both. Just imagine the potential that is destroyed every day because we are afraid to try. It kills me.