Internet Church Engages in '21st Century Circuit Riding'

December 04, 2009

By Joey Butler*
Nov. 25, 2009 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

"I don't think we're in Kansas any more."
Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz" may have said that about herself, but she could also have been talking about The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.
While the church maintains its physical presence in three locations in Kansas, it has also gone worldwide with the launch of Resurrection Live!, an Internet-based worship experience.
The Rev. Andrew Conard is the pastor of the online campus, which began streaming services in November 2008.
"When we first launched, we didn't figure there would be a lot who would worship with us, but we found that there was significant interest among our current congregation," Conard said, adding that the online services average about 1,000 visitors.
"The Internet is a place where people feel comfortable coming to interact and find faith," he says. "One of the questions is how do we worship, give, grow in faith and serve together online?"
Increased interaction
Two of Resurrection's five Sunday services are streamed on Visitors are able to register their attendance, and Conard contacts them afterward and stays in touch.
The goal is increased methods of interaction. Conard says he hopes the site will allow him to interact live with online worshippers. There are likely to be more social media outlets on the site, allowing people to take notes online and maybe share those notes. The church also may offer online classes. Ultimately, Conard hopes to find ways for people to serve.
Conard is the right man for the job, says the Rev. Adam Hamilton, Resurrection's senior pastor.
"Andrew has a passion for blogging, Twitter. … It was something that he already loved. We felt we had IT staff who could do the technical part, but among our pastors he was really the one who was most energized about it," Hamilton says.
Hamilton says the Internet services have been especially popular of late due to H1N1 virus concerns. "School attendance has been down by 10 percent in our area because of the swine flu. Our Internet attendance has gone through the roof because people are home with sick kids. Instead of dismissing church, they’re worshipping with us."
Planting churches online?
Streaming the services online has also revealed a possible new method for starting churches. Conard says an independent living facility in the area began regularly showing the services to a group of residents. This sparked the idea of the "microchurch."
"People might be able to gather and worship together in one place through an online service, be it people's homes or college dorms - wherever people might gather can be a place for worship," Conard says. "So we ask ourselves what ways we can equip the leaders of those groups and try to be the church in that way as well."
Hamilton cites the story of one member's unchurched relative in another state who is now a regular visitor to Resurrection Live!
"What would happen if he invited 12 of his friends to sit in his living room and to join us for worship that way? Maybe this guy who just six months ago was unchurched might start a congregation," he says.
Conard says he sees microchurches as a church-planting strategy. He envisions a network of microchurches with an elder appointed to a number of them to oversee and work with the local leaders. Hamilton calls it "21st century circuit-riding."
"In the long term, that could be a way of planting new faith communities in a little bit different way," Conard says.
Hamilton agrees.
"We're trying to figure out what does church look like in the next 20 or 30 years. And we feel like we're on the verge of this sort of revolution when it comes to how church looks for people in the future."
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* Butler is editor of content for 18- to 34-year-olds at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.