There is a major shift taking place in the American evangelical church.
A shift that is quickly being promoted by the church growth experts and adopted by the majority of mega churches. This is a shift away from in-person church gatherings to virtual and digital gatherings.
Of course, this trend has been growing for years and was catapulted into mainstream religion with the unfortunate rise of the Coronavirus Epidemic of 2020. Houses of worship across the country temporarily closed their doors and encouraged the faithful to watch the Sunday services through YouTube, Facebook, and other streaming services.
Like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney – the church had swiftly become a content distribution company.
Religion at the tip of your fingers.
Just press play and you can watch people pray, watch people sing, and even watch people study the Bible. We called it “going to church”.
I’m thankful the nationwide “shut-downs” have ended.
And though there is a small segment of our society who oddly desires to return to the “bunker mentality” prevalent in April 2020, most seem to welcome a return to normalcy.
However, there are many Christians who are hesitant about returning to the assembly. Though completely comfortable browsing through Target, dining at Chili’s, and traveling to other states, these concerned disciples just don’t see the necessity of gathering with other disciples.
This segment of the American Christian market is HUGE!
And, where there is a market, you’ll always find someone willing to provide a product.
Therefore, I predict (along with all of the church growth experts) that online, livestream, virtual campuses will become a thriving religious industry in the next few years. Furthermore, any church that doesn’t have an online campus will be considered irrelevant.
We will be one of these irrelevant churches.
Our church will not have an online service for the following reasons:
Our Mission Doesn’t Allow It
Matthew 28:19-20 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
Our mission is simple. We exist to make disciples for Jesus Christ. I do not believe it is possible to make a fully-formed disciple without physically being present with that person. Incarnational ministry is necessary to the process.
Just a Sensei might want to occasionally see his students, and just as a football coach might want to occasionally interact with his players, so a spiritual leader will need to physically be present with his disciples.
A fully-formed disciple is one who is connecting to God in authentic worship, connecting to others in genuine fellowship, growing daily in their own personal journey, serving others in ministry, sharing the gospel with unbelievers, and eventually making new disciples themselves. Only a few of these can take place in solitude. The rest must be accomplished through life-on-life, face-to-face, real-world ministry. This is how disciples are made.
Our mission is not to provide spiritual entertainment to semi-religious inquisitors.
Our mission is not to advance “our brand” through the global network of a dozen social media platforms.
Our mission is not to retain the tithes of those who would rather sit on a sofa than in a sanctuary.
Our mission is to make disciples for Jesus Christ. We don’t see this as possible when giving people the idea that they are “part of the church” simply because they watch religious programming between binging seasons of The Office on Netflix.
Our Theology Doesn’t Permit It
Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
The Church is an Assembly
The Church, by its’ very definition, is an assembly.
Even the Greek word “ecclesia” means a called-out assembly.
A church that no longer assembles is not, by definition, a church.
Though some of our practices can temporarily be accomplished in solitude and separated from the Christian community, they were never designed by Christ and His Apostles to be done so indefinitely.
A Christian worship service is a sum of its’ parts. Corporate prayer, the Lord’s communion, preaching of the Bible, baptism, fellowship, singing in community, sharing burdens, financial giving, and explaining the gospel are all necessary elements in our faith tradition. If you begin taking away certain parts, you may have elements of church, but you do not have church.
We say, and rightly so, that the people are the church.
Yet, we are only the church so long as we are practicing the ancient rituals established by Christ and the Apostles. This is foundational to our ecclesiology. This is where church discipline and excommunication have played into the church’s 2,000-year narrative history.
When any individual Christian ceases to participate in the assembly he remains a Christian but is no longer part of the church.
The Church Demands Incarnational Ministry
John 1:14 The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
In April of 2020, at the height of the Coronavirus scare, I wrote about this very concept in an article entitled: Some Assembly Required.
Here is a what I stated:
The Church is NOT a content distribution company!
Yes, I hope that the church learns more about social media throughout this COVID-19 epidemic. Yes, I hope our online presence is increased and the gospel can be shared via the world-wide-web as never before.
But true ecclesiastical work cannot be done solely online. This is what our governing leaders, media personalities, and tech billionaires simply don’t understand.
Incarnational ministry is essential.
In our attempts to be good citizens and take a positive approach to this current dilemma, we may have inadvertently hurt the cause of Christ. Five to six weeks ago I, along with many pastors, began touting the benefits of online services without honestly discussing its’ obvious drawbacks. We excitedly spoke of “Church in your pajamas” and “Virtual Sermons” without reminding ourselves and or congregations that these things MUST be temporary.
I wonder, how difficult will it be to retrain new Christians and recent disciples of Jesus after hearing that virtual, online church is everything that they’ll ever need? We know this isn’t true, but unconsciously we may have delivered that message.
We will have to come out of this crisis ready to teach the essential nature of incarnational ministry.
Just as a human being can temporarily survive without food. So can the church temporarily survive without assembling together, IN PHYSICAL FORM.
Just as the incarnation of the Son of God allowed us to physically be with Jesus Christ, talk with Jesus Christ, and look into the eyes of Jesus Christ; so ought the church practice incarnational ministry. We must, eventually, be physically ministering to our congregations.
Online church is a temporary bandage. It’ll work in the short term. But we will need to return to incarnation ministry – sooner rather than later.
So then, we will not have an online campus because our mission doesn’t allow it and our theology doesn’t permit it. However, there is a third reason why we won’t have an online campus.
We have a Better Idea
We call it The Sunday Show.
Starting November 1, 2020.
This weekly 45-minute show will be a high-quality demonstration of what Southern Hills is really all about. This weekly broadcast will be widely distributed multiple times every weekend on Facebook, Vimeo, and YouTube.
Our talented Sunday Hosts will welcome our guests, have a time or prayer, announce major church events, introduce a worship song, and this will all lead into a devotional thought from me – Pastor Josh Teis.
The Sunday Show will not attempt to replace a weekly church service but will instead give a sampling of what to expect when someone is ready to visit one of our live locations.
Think of it like a commercial or infomercial.
Think of it as front door into our home.
Think of it as an onramp to a destination, not a destination.
It’ll be perfect for those who are looking for a local church.
It’ll be a wonderful tool for evangelism and spreading the gospel.
It won’t be a great experience for weekly viewing due to its’ repetitive nature and surface level content.
I’m sure there are many questions…
What about the Vulnerable Population?
Church members who are truly among the vulnerable population will be able to request a special link to a private livestream viewing of our 10:00am worship service. If you, or someone you live with, are truly among the vulnerable, we know that you deeply desire to be with your church family in person. I applaud your faithfulness and patience. Please follow the direction of your physician and stay safe. And please reach out to Fred Murray for your private invitation to our weekly livestream.
What about those who have moved away from Vegas?
We are thankful that you enjoyed your time as a member of Southern Hills. However, it is important that you move on and join a local congregation in your new community. Start attending there. Start serving there. Start tithing there.
For your own spiritual wellbeing – you must move on.
Don’t worry, I can help you find a new church. I am part of an incredible network of pastors and churches called The Idea Network. We will make it a priority to help you connect with a local congregation in your community.
What about those who just like to watch your teaching?
My weekly sermons will always be available on YouTube every Monday.
What about those who are experiencing PTSD and are afraid to go to church?
My heart hurts for you. We love you. We want to see you get better.
COVID Anxiety is real and we are currently helping several overcome this debilitating fear. I write about this here: Steps to Overcoming Covid Anxiety.
My dear friend, we want to offer counseling to you. Please reach out to our church offices and request COVID Anxiety Counseling with our pastoral counseling department.
What about those who are on vacation and don’t want to miss church?
When my family travels on vacation we like to visit the congregations and churches within the cities and towns we are touring. This has led to a broader understanding of the family of God and a deeper appreciation for global kingdom of Christ.
What about those who simply prefer watching church from home?
There are many options for you. Southern Hills will not be one of your options.
Thank you for taking time to read this article, whether you are a member of our local church in Las Vegas or simply an out-of-state friend, I hope these thoughts were helpful in some way.
If you have been connected to Southern Hills in the past and would like to discuss this article further, please feel free to contact me personally.
If you are a ministry leader and want more information on how to establish an online ministry that isn’t counterproductive to your mission and theology, please feel free to contact me personally.
If you disagree with the thoughts of this article, I would love to interact with you in the comment section below.
For the rest of you, I look forward to our next assembly. See you this Sunday!