The move from gathering to connecting
Previously, everything churches did digitally was designed to serve the physical, meaning in-person, physical events and activities. The digital has been used to market, give information or offer a record for the physical.
But in the future, the church will have to reverse this and put the physical at the service of the digital. As my friend Carey Nieuwhof wrote, churches will have to become digital organizations with physical locations. In other words, churches will be digital organizations with physical expressions, not physical organizations with a digital presence.
Think of companies like Sears, JCPenney, or Toys “R” Us. These were the older, more traditional models that emphasized large physical footprints and in-person purchases. All three recently had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
These were brick-and-mortar retailers who slowly embraced an online presence, behaving as if most people still wanted an in-person experience. But people didn’t. They wanted to buy on Amazon. And Amazon read it perfectly. They started online and then only after their inception did they start developing physical stores but these are designed to enhance and serve the digital footprint.
The Church will need to see its online presence and online community as its primary means of growth, development, discipleship, worship, ministry, community…everything. Not to become solely an online entity (there is an extremely strategic and important role for a physical campus), but to go physical in the service of digital.
Right now, Meck’s growth is skyrocketing. We have never seen anything like this:
January – May 2021 was +45% to January – May 2020
June – August 2021 was +69% to June – August 2020
When you use an average size of 100 and increase to 150, you see those kind of percentages. But when you run by the thousands, you don’t. We were doing. But where was the growth? It wasn’t in person.
It was online.
The world has gone digital and the Church must follow. Better yet, he should lead the charge. When companies insist on a physical approach in a digital world, they fail. If churches insist on a physical approach in a digital world, they too will face a difficult climb.
So here’s the change (and hat tip to Tony Morgan for the language): we need to move away from the focus on collecting and focus on connecting. We made the bet of the farm to bring people together in a building. It is a bet that will not be played in the days to come. Instead, bet the farm on connecting people any way they connect with you. And for now, and for the foreseeable future, that will be done digitally.
And stretch your thinking – that doesn’t mean you don’t come together; it’s more about rethinking How? ‘Or’ What you gather. It may not be in a building.
Thousands of people gathered last weekend in Meck. We spoke to each other, we engaged, we experienced shared worship and teaching with each other. We gave of our resources and prayed with each other. Pastors were pastors, counselors counselled. People gave their life to Christ. It’s just that most things happened outside of a gathering in a building.
But it still happened.
And it was very, very real.
James Emery White
About the Author
James Emery White is the founder and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the assistant professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I believe” is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. To take advantage of a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.