This past Sunday, I had an opportunity to share what I’d learned at the iMinistry conference for online churches, held earlier this month in suburban Dallas. The conference organizers challenged us before we left to develop a plan for the next steps we might take in launching or growing church online where we’ve been planted.
As I put together some thoughts, I found most useful the advice I received during the conference from Alan George, online pastor at Lifechurch.tv in Oklahoma (they average 100,000 folks per week participating in worship services through their online campus) , who reinforced the importance of doing church online in a manner consistent with our organization’s personality and culture. In that context, here are some thoughts about what a Key Ministry-led online church initiative might look like.
- If we were to develop our own online church platform, it would be the first church built intentionally with a “backdoor”…our goal would be to connect families with “bricks and mortar” churches where they can worship in the physical presence of other Christ-followers. Connecting families to established churches would be our priority. Helping families to start house churches by connecting them with an established church with a strategy for developing and supporting house churches would be an alternate goal when there are no churches in their immediate area equipped to fully welcome and include them.
- We’d look to do that through connecting families up with churches we’ve served directly or churches we know are prepared to serve through their involvement with other like-minded ministry organizations. As our network of churches offering FREERESPITE (more on that during Inclusion Fusion) continues to grow, we’ll continue to expand the range of potential church options for families of kids with disabilities.
- One challenge for families of kids with disabilities is that their schedules and routines often collide with the times in which worship schedules are traditionally held, adult Christian education occurs, and small groups typically meet. An online worship experience at 9:30 PM might be very well-attended by parents of kids with special needs as might an 11 AM worship experience on Tuesday mornings during the school year when kids with disabilities are in school with a full range of educational supports and mothers can participate without distractions. Moderators for live chat during the worship experiences could be selected with experience in ministry to families impacted by disabilities.
- We’d seek to meet the need through inviting other churches and like-minded ministries to share our online church platform. Think about a Key Ministry platform like an “I ♥ Radio” where families of kids with disabilities would be able to choose online worship experiences and discipleship activities from among many churches at times of the day when they’re most available to worship.
- We’d want to make available original worship content on Sunday mornings…re-aired throughout the week with live chat. We might develop (or ask partner churches to develop) teaching content addressing Biblical teaching of special interest to families impacted by specific disabilities. For example…a sermon series of what the Bible teaches about anxiety, or healing or brokenness.
- We might consider online experiences tailored to folks with specific conditions…Consider an online church for teens and adults with ADHD! You’d have engaging music and videos, briefer, more concise teaching, an emphasis upon action in response to Biblical teaching and online group leaders interacting with participants through text or e-mail during the week to create an atmosphere of mutual accountability.
- We’d want to make available more basic and advanced Bible Study opportunities-via chat, live streaming, or other interactive solutions.
- We’d want to make available online small groups for teens and adults.
- We’d want to offer live streaming of youth ministry activities…with a goal of using interactive chat to help kids with anxiety or social disabilities within a defined geographic area to become comfortable enough to meet with one another in a “bricks and mortar” church.
- We’d want to offer online content in support of parents and caregivers, coming beside them as they fulfill their responsibility to model for their children what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
- We’d want to make available opportunities to those attending church online the opportunity to use their gifts through serving others. One missional activity that can easily be conducted by house churches is described here…Online churches offer many opportunities for persons with disabilities to use their gifts in serving others…as we saw with Dwight in our post from last weekend.
- We’d consider offering Christian-based support groups…the “Grace Groups” offered by churches in nine states by our friends at Mental Health Grace Alliance might be very effectively offered through an online platform.
- We’d consider making available (or directing families to) adapted Christian education resources. Many families committed to home-schooling because their children have challenges learning in a traditional school environment might encounter similar challenges when children are expected to function in more traditional church environments.
In summary, to reach families no one else is reaching, the church (and Key Ministry) will have to try stuff no one else is trying. I’d argue that the vast majority of kids (and parents) with disabilities that present barriers to active participation in church struggle because they ways in which they think, relate to other people and process information makes it difficult for them to function in typical environments in which we “do church.” Online church affords unique opportunities to help millions of people affected by disabilities come to discover the love of Christ unencumbered by the limitations of their physical and social environments while working toward the goal of introducing every child and adult to real time, “in the flesh” Christian community.
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.