I spent two days last week at the iMinistry conference hosted by Lakepointe Church in suburban Dallas. The conference was expertly facilitated by Nate Merrill of Lakepointe and Seth Farrior of Seacoast Church in South Carolina and attended by approximately sixty Internet pastors and ministry leaders from twenty five churches around the U.S.
I felt very welcomed by everyone I met, even though Inclusion Fusion is at this point Key Ministry’s primary online presence outside of our website and blogs. The people I met at the conference were universally VERY bright, humble and passionate about sharing both the Gospel and community through their online ministry presence. The two days at the iMinistry conference represented time very well-spent…I’d very much encourage any church considering an Internet campus to attend the meeting next year.
A couple of years ago, I experienced a very clear sense that God planned for our Key Ministry team to pioneer the use of technology to reach families of kids with disabilities who aren’t currently served by a local church. I’ve also had a strong sense of conviction that we’re to continue to pursue strategies for helping churches welcome and serve kids with “hidden disabilities” and their families…kids who in most cases wouldn’t be thought of as “disabled” or as having “special needs”, but have issues with anxiety, attention, self-control or sensory processing that make it difficult for themselves or their family members to fully engage in and participate in traditional church activities and environments. I’ve been thinking about how online ministry options might help churches more effectively serve families of kids with disabilities that don’t involve significant physical or intellectual impairment. I’ll cover that topic in a follow-up post next week.
With that said, here’s what I learned about Internet ministry that would be relevant to serving kids with disabilities and their families…
- Internet ministry is a tool that can be used for promoting community by complementing instead of competing with other ministry offerings of a local church. Examples include the use of iMinistry to plant “microcampuses” in distant locations, helping people connect who find themselves far away from their home church or in a part of the world where attending church may be difficult or dangerous, reaching people with jobs that require them to work on Sunday morning, or people with some other impediment to physically attending a local church.
- There’s a very long way to go before Internet campuses will provide the full range of services found in “bricks and mortar” campuses…While online small groups and Bible studies are not at all uncommon, adult Christian education, children’s ministry, youth ministry and other specialty ministry (including any type of formal disability ministry) is relatively uncommon among churches with online campuses.
- Participants in online churches may have higher levels of connectedness and engagement than visitors or attenders in more traditional churches! Church staff and volunteers may know more about the level of attendance/involvement of online attendees than they do people attending flesh and blood churches.
- Lots of church staff make use of online worship services…they’re typically working during the times that weekend services are available through their local church.
- Far more pastoral care is offered through online church platforms than I had imagined.
- The demographics of online church attendees aren’t what I would have thought…a typical participant in online worship is a 35-50 year old female.
- iMinistry appears to afford unlimited opportunity for Christ followers to share the Gospel and use their gifts and talents to serve others while building the Kingdom.
There were only a couple of churches at the meeting intentionally considering online ministry as a strategy for ministering to persons with disabilities and their families…One church with multiple campuses and an Internet presence has plans to launch on online small group specifically for families served by their special needs ministry.
I had the pleasure of meeting David Helbig, Church Online pastor of Christ Fellowship in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. David described Christ Fellowship’s philosophy as follows… “We’ll do anything to remove the barriers of time and distance to anyone who wants to know Christ and become connected to Christ Fellowship.”
During David’s time on stage, he described one of the people who came to Christ through the church’s online ministry. Allow me to introduce you to Dwight…
Dwight came to faith in Jesus through Christ Fellowship’s online ministry…Dwight’s parents came online eight months later. After being baptized and maturing in faith, Dwight now serves by leading two online Life Groups for the church.
Next…What might online church look like for kids with disabilities and their families?
Join over 30 leaders from children’s, family, youth and disability ministry serving as faculty for Inclusion Fusion, Key Ministry’s second annual Special Needs Ministry Web Summit. Inclusion Fusion is made available FREE OF CHARGE to pastors, church staff, volunteers and families everywhere from November 12th-16th, 2012. For an up to date list of speakers, topics, links to speaker blogs and a link for free registration, click here.