If you struggle in your church to find ways to connect people with others and with ministry opportunities, imagine the challenge of a congregation that meets in more than 100 countries over the internet.
That’s what leaders of the international online campus at LifeChurch.tv are facing. The church, which started in Edmond, Okla., has 14 locations around the United States, and an online campus that hosts 16 worship “experiences” each week.
Brandon Donaldson, the online pastor at LifeChurch.tv, said the online aspect of the congregation is one way the church seeks to fulfill its mission to lead people to become “fully devoted followers of Christ.”
LifeChurch.tv pastor Craig Groeschel and his wife, Amy, started LifeChurch in 1996. Ten years later, the church launched its online campus.
LifeChurch.tv is a member of the Evangelical Covenant Church. The LifeChurch web site says the denomination “strongly affirms the clear teaching of the word of God” but allows believers freedom to have “varying interpretations on theological issues that are not clearly presented in scripture.”
In a welcome message on the web site, Groeschel says the church is not about denominations, buildings or any religious organization.
“We’re about Jesus,” he said.
Donaldson said the online church uses the Internet as a way to reach people. He said LifeChurch.tv doesn’t want to “go overboard” with that tool, but also doesn’t want to sell it short.
Some people who participate in the online church are members of other churches, but some aren’t. The online church makes it easy for people to “step through the doors” by lowering barriers, he said.
“We’ve seen some incredible response,” Donaldson said.
About 4,000 computers in about 140 different countries log on to participate in one of the church’s worship experiences each week, according to Donaldson. During a service on May 14, 36 countries were represented, including Kenya, Jordan, Pakistan, India, Iran, Yugoslavia, Haiti and Vietnam, according to a map that can be seen during the service.
The experiences resemble typical contemporary worship services, but with added interaction available through the Internet.
While a praise band sings, the name of the song and the band that recorded it are displayed below, along with a button to buy it. A prayer button allows those taking part to send prayer request. A chat room lets people discuss the service with each other in real time.
Sermon notes are visible while the pastor preaches.
During the offering, participants can click on a button to donate with a credit card. On May 14, Groeschel preached about Elijah from 1 Kings. At the end of the experience, three people clicked a button indicating that they’d like to give their lives to Jesus.
After the service ended, links offered the opportunity for people to connect with the church through a blog or Facebook. Another button took people to a page where they could learn about the church’s small groups, which are called LifeGroups.
LifeChurch.tv is currently advertising for an “online connection pastor.” Donaldson said the person will seek to find ways that people can connect with each other and with mission opportunities.
The ad, which was running on a blog about technology issues, says the person should be an “insanely talented, passionate, Jesus following, relational guru who wants to use the web to impact and change the world.”
The online connection pastor will have to “oversee a growing team of remote leaders to effectively build a scalable structure for multiple small groups around the world,” according to the ad.
Donaldson said about half the church’s LifeGroups meet online. The church wants people to become part of a biblical community where they can get involved in ministry, he said.
“We don’t want people to just observe,” he said.