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Web-based Ministry (as a part of) AICF

June 19, 2009

aicflogoclouds_02I’ve been pondering for the past few weeks what (and how) I could do for Antioch International Christian Fellowship in terms of a web-based ministry. Much of this came from a chat I had with our former pastor, Bill Vorhees, about web missions. He said:

So what is the “new frontier” of the 21st Century? I believe it to be the web. For me, missions is all about seeing the glory of God among all peoples…

The trouble is that for the large part, most Christians have thought of the web as merely a self-driven info-pool. We were concerned mainly about our own personal gain from the web and from the communities we subscribe to…

All of the social networks out there teach us one basic lesson: there is an innate need within all of us that longs for a more real and vibrant community… What if we could find ways to match those online communities with specific needs of unreached groups?

The new face of missions will need to look not inwardly, but outwardly. Jesus never told us to “make them come to us, then make disciples.” He told us that we need to go to where they are and then make disciples.

Web Church 2.0?

Therefore, as I’ve been pondering these statements, I’ve also been doing a good deal of research into that area, and I’ve been amazed by the resources that are currently available and being implemented in the US. Many (some) large churches are going “Web 2.0” with their websites and adding additional content that often changes, and many of the churches and pastors are becoming more and more involved in online communities: most notably Twitter and Facebook. Podcasts are updated weekly, some large churches even have “Live Online” Worship sessions that are broadcast live during the Sunday services. However, these churches are the exception, and not the rule.

I was struck by something Tony Morgan wrote in his blog discussing this topic:

I’m amazed at the number of churches that still view the web as primarily an advertising mechanism to let people know who they are and what they’re doing. The church is standing on a streetcorner of the web yelling at the people passing by:
“Come to our services on Sunday!”
“Let me tell you about our men’s ministry!”, etc…

Essentially we’ve taken the Sunday service bulletin and we’ve put it on our website. That’s the web strategy for the Church today. “Here’s who we are and what we’re doing. Join us!”

The rest of the world views the Web very differently…

Rather than looking at the Web through the eyes of a Facebook and YouTube and Twitter user, though, we’re still looking at the Web through the eyes of a Sunday bulletin reader. That approach works for the people who are already attending our churches. It completely ignores the people who we are trying to reach.

I recently conducted a survey within our church, and I was impressed with the results:

Visit frequency
1.  Once in a while
2.  Once a month

Who should the site connect?
1.  Current church members
2.  New area Christians

Site’s communication task
1.  We are a community, offering an unconditional welcome
2.  We are real people

Social Networking
1.  Facebook
2.  YouTube
3.  Cyworld

Website Activities
1.  Listen to podcast sermons
2.  Learn AICF’s beliefs

Website Destinations
1.  Service information
2.  Pastors and leadership information
3.  Beliefs and About AICF

Website Features
1.  Daily Devotional
2.  One-year Bible reading plan
3.  (Tie) – Memory verse and Christian News

These are just some of the results I collected, but as I’ve been talking to people about church websites – things they’d like to see on church websites, features they want (or don’t) – I’ve noticed that most people have very set beliefs about what the church should or should not do online. Definitely the majority of people agree that sermon podcasts are the #1 most desired thing to do on a church website. During my time of managing AICF’s homepage, I’ve had more than one person ask me to “not forget” to put up the sermon podcasts. This shows me that people want to receive an inspiring word or something to help them with their life  – but it must be continually updated. When presented with other optional features that I could implement on the site, most people opted for a Daily Devotional and a One-Year Bible reading plan, with Memory Verses and Christian News following closely. Notice how most of those features are daily updating features.

A Successful Working Model

I’ve recently been working on a local site in Jeonju for foreigners (www.thejeonjuhub.com), and I’ve noticed that people really love the daily changing content. On the site currently we have World/National News, YouTube, and a Daily picture that all change about every day. Local News and Events also change a few times per week. The site currently enjoys over 300 visitors per day – most of them are returning visitors, eager to know about the latest news or events in our city and country, but some of them are new. The new ones often get referred to the site as the “definitive English guide to Jeonju” and after visiting, and seeing what the site can offer, most of the new visitors become returning visitors. The site is open to the community as a whole too. Koreans and foreigners submit job openings, resumes, for sale items, news stories, events, and interesting updates. Additionally most of the contributors are connected through other online networks as well, like Facebook.

Facebook  adds a whole new dimension to the community in Jeonju. People comment, update, chat, communicate, joke, encourage, and make plans with each other through that medium (and that’s entirely online). When they come together later, relationships feel closer, bonds feel stronger, and meeting someone for the first time is easier. For example, if someone I’ve never personally met happens to bump into me and introduce themselves, I can already have a connection with them if I’m familiar with them through the online community. I’ll say, “Ah, James! Don’t you really love photography? I think I saw some of your photos online!” This kind of instant recognition and connection makes it much easier to befriend the other person and want to spend time with them; to get to know them more and hear what they think about the certain issues they are interested in.

Disconnectedness

Returning to the AICF survery I took, a few people did express (slight) interest in social networking – Facebook, YouTube, and Cyworld (the Korean Facebook) – but others expressed disinterest or distrust. They said things like, “I don’t see how that will build up the church” or “the church is for God, not the Internet” or “people can’t have communities online” or “we need real community in church, not virtual community.” However, I don’t see social networking groups as detrimental to church, or as the only place that people would find community. Rather, I think social networking, interconnectedness online through Facebook, Cyworld, or even blogs and comments would greatly enhance our community within the church. (Remember my story about “James” earlier?)

Currently, I feel that we are experiencing a bit of disconnect within our church. Only a handful of people do the majority of the work. Most people don’t feel any real sense of connection or ownership of AICF. They simply think that AICF is a thing that they do on Sunday because God wants Sunday worship. But there is nothing beyond Sunday for most people. AICF has outreach activities on two Saturdays of the month, and men’s and women’s Bible studies throughout the week.

Many people also express an interest in scheduling more fellowship activities (like our Everland trip, and hiking activities) but no one makes any move to plan those things. If any events ever get planned, the planning almost always falls on the shoulders of the few people who do everything (and are therefore tired to plan things). I think that’s because the majority of people feel no “real” connection to AICF and therefore no real responsibility for it. After all, if you only meet with a certain group of people once per week, how responsible would you really feel to help out? Most people expect churches to do things for them, to plan activities for them and therefore to build community for them. But really, how deeply can we connect and how strong of a community can be built among people who are (in some sense of the word) strangers to each other because we only meet once per week?

Wouldn’t it be great to meet and talk to and connect with people from our church community more often? Wouldn’t it be great to get to know some of them personally? To know their thoughts on certain issues, to know how they meet God every day, to know their vision for the future or God’s vision for them for the future? Wouldn’t it be great to encourage each other, to pray for each other, to talk together, and laugh together on a daily basis? Wouldn’t it be great to foster the kind of safety and security within a church that a community like that would need to thrive? Wouldn’t it be great to see new foreigners returning to church regularly and getting involved in our church and activities? Wouldn’t it be great to invite new people, new foreigners in to that kind of loving, supporting, vibrant community?

Wouldn’t it be great to reach out to our community around us? To provide Koreans and foreigners help and support when they need it, love and encouragement when they need it? But most people I know from church I only see on Sundays. I don’t feel a part of their lives, or a part of any greater community with them, because the for the time that I do see them we are all just singing praises and listening to sermons, after which we all go home. Even if I do want to become more personal with someone, what chance have I to do so? We’re all busy after all, the best time to meet is Sunday. But on Sundays, we are busy too.

Assume People are Online

Tony Morgan says:

The [church] website isn’t something the “web monkey” maintains. It’s a place where the youth pastor, worship leader, children’s director, small group leader, senior pastor and every other person of influence help people to connect and grow. It’s an environment where the entire church engages the community and encourages each other to take their next steps. It’s as much their story as it is our story…

…Churches that have influence within our online culture look at ministry differently. They assume the people they’re trying to reach are online. They assume the people who are connected to their ministry are online. Rather than looking at the Web as an add-on, they consider their web strategy as a fully-integrated part of how they help people take steps toward Christ. They are a church online as much as they are a church in a building located on the corner of First and Main…

Assume people are online. Wow. Especially in Korea, everybody is online. Korea is one of the most wired nations in the world (think it ranked 3rd in the world recently or something). The whole country is crazy about technology, new handphones, MP3 players, and the Internet. How can someone not be online in Korea? And yet, many of us still think the church’s online mission should be to direct people solely to the church building. Now I’m not saying that a church’s website shouldn’t do that, but it shouldn’t only do that.

I mentioned the success of the Jeonju Hub earlier. A foreigner site in Jeonju that seeks to be the “definitive English source of all things Jeonju” in this city. With this vision, the webmaster has been steadily building an online community of foreigners within Jeonju that look to that site for virtually everything. He helps people learn about the city, Korean culture, landmarks, shopping, he helps people make connections, he fosters community online and by doing so, it fosters community offline as well. Why doesn’t the church do that?

Facebook for Church?

But wait, our church does do that, they just don’t recognize it in that way. I’ve noticed on Facebook that a number of my church friends regularly send greetings, games, quizzes, and small notes (“Have a good day!”) to each other. Is it any wonder then, that these same people who communicate online in this way find it much easier to communicate together in community offline? Even though they can’t see each other often, they simple fact that they can connect with each other often and form a community and friendship online makes it much easier to continue that same feeling of closeness and friendship offline.

Some have said that online communities, blogs, vlogs, and other things online are quite unique tools in getting to know someone. The online stage is at once possibly the most public stage in the world (almost anyone in the world can read what I write, or watch what I say) and at the same time it can feel very private and personal (because it is, after all, really only me, in my room, with my computer). This presents some incredibly unique situations and opportunities (of which I’ve not studied much yet). But the thing is, rather than discarding something like Facebook as “just a hobby” or “something I do when I’m bored,” the church should embrace Facebook and other social networking tools as a genuine way in which they can connect with people and build communities. (And I hope to do just that).

The Future is Upon Us

In my time as webmaster for our church, I’ve noticed a few very interesting things and received a few very interesting emails. I’ve received emails from churches and pastors and missions organizations around the world (most are small). Granted, some of the emails I’ve received are spam or hoaxes, but just as many seem to come from legitimate sources. But just think of the possibilities.

Here I am talking about the ways that online connectedness could increase community within our own church, and at the same time, I have emails from churches around the world also desiring to connect with us. Jeonju Antioch Church is famous world-wide for sending missionaries into many countries. Imagine if, through the Internet, we could stay better connected with those missionaries and churches, or connect with new opportunities abroad, or simply build a large missions community online -> where all of our missionaries could connect with each other and their home church on a more regular basis. Wow.

One final thing I read was about Japan. Japan is also one of the most wired countries in the world, and as this site classifies it, a “missed missions opportunity.” They say:

One of the ‘major modern mission misses’ (shall we call these ‘4Ms’?) of our time is the huge disparity between the highly-wired, tech-loving 127-million Japanese population, and the searing lack of online evangelism in the Japanese language. Many aspects of the Web are hugely popular in Japan, because in a highly-regimented and formal society, it provides a creative outlet for expression…

There are, we believe, three keys to online evangelism: building incarnational relationships, addressing felt needs, and using Japanese culture. All three approaches are beautifully illustrated in this account from a missionary in Japan.

The three keys they mention for online evangelism here are also three keys I see to building a vibrant English-speaking church community within Korea.

  • We need incarnational relationships that don’t just end on Sundays, but continue throughout the week as people become involved in other people’s lives for the better.
  • We need to address felt needs within our church and community, such as those issues felt by foreign English teachers, immigrants, and international students (loneliness, living in a strange land, temptations, etc). We also need to be able to address felt needs by our English-speaking Korean members (over-work, over-study, suicide is a national problem in Korea, divorce, marriage, family relationships, temptations, etc).
  • And we need to do all of it while respecting, reflecting, and meeting Korean culture.

What do you think?

So, I’m working on finding a vision for our AICF website. Obviously, since it is for the church and a part of it, I want to stay within the vision of our church and get the (full) support of our leaders. However, I also think that the web has a unique opportunity to be available to more people, more often and more readily than the church building and leaders themselves. I hope to collect a variety of resources on our site that can point people to the right places for help and support if they need it, while also providing services and connection and community for our current full-time members.

As the Jeonju Hub I mentioned earlier seeks to be the “definitive English source for all things Jeonju,” I’d also like to see the AICF site become something more than the simple church bulletin online. Something more along the lines of “the definitive English resource for spiritual help and hope in Jeonju. Building community, enabling people to find and follow God’s vision for their lives, and equipping people to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations.”

Or perhaps something a bit simpler. What do you think?

Articles Referenced

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