Back in 1998, I never would have imagined how much God would use professional wrestling to inspire digital ministry at Life.Church.
Fresh out of college, my business partners and I acquired a company that hosted a website for professional wrestling fans. I saw the power of online community firsthand, as the passionate followers of this sport frequently logged on to their slow internet connections to discuss the latest wrestling news. Their common interest brought them together from around the world as strong friendships formed.
Years later, when our Life.Church team wanted to explore digital opportunities to expand our reach, I thought back to the online wrestling-fan community and wondered if a similar approach could serve the church. We began working toward that vision, and in April 2006, we launched Church Online.
We’ve been amazed at how the internet has grown as a tool for connecting people to each other. We see the Great Commission being lived out daily on this mission field, with thousands of people each year giving their lives to Christ.
With a full decade of online ministry under our belt, I asked our Church Online team to share what we’ve learned along the way.
Let’s start with the basics. What happens at a Church Online experience?
Life.Church Online is a community meeting together each week to chat about what we’re learning and to pray together. Each of our online services features worship, a teaching message and opportunities to connect and pray with other people.
Who attends Church Online?
Each week, 125,000 to 150,000 users join our online services. The people in our community represent every nationality, age and church background imaginable. Many of our attendees aren’t able to attend a physical church location because there aren’t any near them or because they live where Christians are persecuted for their faith. Some of our guests have been followers of Christ for years, while others have never heard the name of Jesus. The United States, Pakistan and India are typically the top countries represented.
Tell us about your team.
We started with a small team, and over the last 10 years we’ve grown to nine staff roles. Today our Life.Church Online team includes a Life.Church online pastor, LifeGroups/LifeMissions pastor, prayer team pastor, host team pastor, marketing leader, communications leader, filmmaker, strategist/pastor and project leader.
How much interaction do you have with people who attend Church Online?
Beyond our online services, one of our primary goals is connecting with our community. In a typical week, our team stays in touch with volunteers they lead via text, phone call, video call, email, Facebook or other channels. We also host regular video conference calls for our volunteer leaders to raise the leadership level on our team, encourage them and build team relationships.
We reach out to attendees via phone, email or Skype to ask for prayer requests, respond to questions or just to connect with them personally.
And of course, as an online ministry we actively use social media. For example, our Life.Church Online Facebook group functions as a sort of online “lobby” space for us.
What does evangelism look like at Church Online?
Throughout Life.Church, we present the gospel at the end of every message. In our online services, chat is active during the message so people can ask questions or share thoughts. Our volunteers spark discussion about how we can apply the message to our lives and minister to those who are hurting.
We also offer live prayer, where attendees can pray one-on-one with our volunteers. This is an incredible environment for personal evangelism as people share their struggles with vulnerability and transparency. Countless volunteers have led people to Christ through these conversations. Essentially, we’ve created a corporate environment for personal evangelism.
Are there unique advantages and disadvantages to online evangelism?
The greatest advantage is that we’re not limited by distance. Through technology, we can reach anyone with internet access, even in closed countries. We’re able to form volunteer teams with people around the world, too.
Online ministry also frees us from common time constraints. Right now we offer 73 services throughout the week, so as an around-the-clock ministry, we are able to serve people in their greatest moments of need.
Of course, distance can be a disadvantage when it comes to practical, hands-on ministry such as providing for physical needs. However, as God transforms the lives of the people we serve, they are empowered to meet needs in their own local communities. The more we grow, the more of this we see.
Give us a sense of what community looks like at Church Online. How do people feel needed and known?
At our online services, people can chat with other guests and be prayed for by our host team volunteers. It doesn’t take long for relationships to be built or for people to feel that God loves them. And the teams volunteering at these services are extremely close-knit. Many of our volunteers will tell you that they’ve met some of their closest friends—some of whom live on the other side of the world—while volunteering on one our teams.
Outside our services, small groups meet face-to-face or online to develop relationships with other people in the church and pursue discipleship together. We also receive prayer requests that our prayer team responds to promptly and personally. These interactions often develop into mentoring relationships that last months or even years as they continue the conversation.
Looking back and looking ahead, how do you see God moving at Life.Church Online?
In the last 10 years, more than 30 million people have joined us for an online service, and of those, nearly 100,000 have made the decision to surrender their lives to Christ! As technology advances, the “capital C” church no longer has to be separated by barriers of language and distance, but can partner both online and locally to lead people to become committed followers of Christ.
Bobby Gruenewald is pastor, innovation leader at Life.Church. Connect with him on Twitter: @BobbyGwald