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The MetaChurch

05 May 2022

The MetaChurch

In Swanage, as in Wareham and Poole, we are in a privileged position.  We are ‘go to’ places for a seasonal population that want to be here!  The thousands of people who visit will never become regular attendees, but they can stay connected with us as part of the extended family throughout the year.  They can also contribute to church life throughout the year, and from year to year.

 

This is where the ‘MetaChurch’ comes in.  This new word is meant to encompass everything that ‘church’ means to us as a focus for growing our faith.

 

What does 'Church' mean to you?

What does ‘church’ mean to you?  Is it those who attend our services and other Christ-centred events (for example: prayer meetings, bible study, home groups, fellowship over coffee)?  Yes, it is, but not exclusively.

 

Is it the building?  Yes, it is, but not exclusively.

 

The MetaChurch is all of this and more.  And it offers us bright hope for the future of our congregations.

 

Let me ask you a question. 

Would you think it strange that someone would use reading Christian books to increase their faith? 

No, of course not. 

Why then would it be strange for Christians to grow their faith via YouTube or Social Media like Instagram or Facebook?

 

Some may say, “Church is Church!”  They are right, as long as we agree on what ‘church’ means.  It is important that we meet together, learn together, serve together, worship together, and grow together.  That’s a given.  However, we now live in a post-Pandemic World where the majority of us have experienced online ‘church’.

 

I want to share a possible vision for our MetaChurches in Swanage, Wareham, and Poole.  38% of Christians (according to some research I came across) use online resources to grow their faith.  Whilst this is a much higher percentage than may be representative of our own current congregations, it is a growing trend.  And it’s a growing trend that could build part of our future.

 

Here’s a thought: church membership in the UK is not decreasing, it is decentralising.

 

Imagine a hybrid church of the (near) future.  We’re already partly there.  In this near future, we will grow our on-location activity.  Alongside our services, our fellowship over coffee, our prayer in the sanctuary and prayer room, our bible study, our home groups, and the community use of the facilities, we could expand and transform what we offer online.

 

We’ve already done this with our regular online Zoom prayer meeting.  We are doing it more and more with our activities on YouTube, and on Facebook and Instagram.

 

Here’s the catch, though.  Most churches use online as a megaphone to broadcast what they’re doing, have done, or are about to do.  Online is an advertising medium.

 

This is good.  People need to know.  More than this, online is the first place most new people and seasonal visitors will look before deciding to attending an event on location.  Most folks will carry out due diligence on us online first.  Their holiday time is precious so they want to make an informed decision before visiting us onsite.

 

This is why our website, our Instagram, our Facebook page, and our YouTube channel are every much as important as how the front of the building looks to those who drive or walk past.  From hanging-baskets, to pictures of the flowers on Sunday on Facebook – all are points of contact that tell our story and share our values.

 

But what if we seized the online opportunity to expand our congregations?  What if ‘church’ means all those who connect with us to grow their faith regardless of their physical location?  And what if ‘church’ means those who join us online even though they are geographically close to us?  What if, instead of just using online as a megaphone to amplify our message, we use it as a telephone to begin, maintain, and expand conversations?

 

If we accept this wider definition of church (the MetaChurch), online becomes a partner in growing our faith, growing our reach, growing our congregation, and growing our future.

 

This will require some additional commitment and an adjustment of the content we share.

 

For example, the online prayer activity needs to stay private so that we can share more personal matters to pray for.  The Bible Study and Home Groups would not work in the same way if we broadcast them ‘live’.  They are intimate spaces where we share deeply.

 

This does not mean, however, that we cannot provide additional online Bible Study resources and other ways to be connected with us and grow our faith.  For example, all our daily readings can go online for us to share.  We can do teaching online that expands on the messages already shared in the Sermons.  We can provide Bible Teaching online.  We can have interviews with members sharing why a hymn means so much to them.  We can share our stories.

 

We can even take prayer to the public.  My favourite account to date is of the pastor of a small church in Texas.  Their services that they live-streamed typically had 80 people tuning in.  That's good but it's not great.  The pastor took his dog for a walk in his local community.  He went 'live' on Facebook and said, "Hey, I'm out walking with my dog, and I'm praying.  Does anyone need prayer right now?  I'll pray for you."  The community responded.  The day after, that video had had 18,000 views.  We've got people wanting to be prayed for in our community.  We only need to reach them - give them a channel to start that conversation.

 

When we do these things, relative strangers checking us out online won’t feel like they are a stranger to us.  When they visit, they’ll say things like, “Oh, I saw you interviewed online – I love that hymn too.”  Or, “You don’t know me, but I feel like I know you already after watching a part of your story on the Church’s YouTube channel.”

 

The virtual church can be every much a virtuous church as the warmth of welcome people receive when they visit.  Let’s let them get to know us online as well, so that they can feel connected.

 

Context is King and Queen

From Arts Weeks to the many festivals we host in Swanage and the Purbeck, we live in a ‘happening’ place.  This is where the physical church building can become a part of a broader strategy as a host venue.  From Coffee@112 to Murder Mysteries, from Concerts to Exhibitions – almost anything is possible.  Our uniformed groups know this!  Those who use the building for rehearsals know this.  This is part of the word we need to spread.

 

The Next Two years

“I have a dream…”  Folks, we’ll never be a ‘MegaChurch’ – we haven’t got the parking!  I don’t think we’d want to be.  But we do want to be the hub at the centre of a vibrant community – on site and online.

 

A local, active congregation of 70 people would have this church thriving at a level we’ve experienced with our joint services.  We now know what that looks like.  We’ve got the vision.  We can believe it.

 

Step up a bit and a local, active congregation of 140 people would give us the ‘numbers’ to restore all the great activities we used to do and more so.  This is possible.

 

Having more locals and community groups hiring the venue, will be a blessing to them and to our cashflow.  This is possible.

 

But let’s also get excited about the low-cost, high-impact effectiveness of expanding what we provide online.  We could have a ‘congregation’ in the thousands – hundreds of whom will never visit our venues.  If we build loyalty and commitment by adding massive value, those onliners can also help us build the Kingdom of God here in the pastorate.

 

All you, the members, need to do is say, “Yes!  Let’s expand what we offer online!”

 

 

 

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