Before we attempt to tackle the question of how technology has the potential to revolutionize the way we do church, we first must return to the question of what the church is. Typically when we think of church we think of the building we visit on Sunday mornings. But what does that mean for the persecuted church that doesn’t get the luxury of ornate buildings? Does an abandoned edifice standing as a relic of what used to be a vibrant community still constitute as church?
Though it’s become a given, it bears repeating the church has never been a building. The original Greek word we translated as “church”, “ecclesia,” actually means “assembly.” The church is a people. Instead of a two-hour event you attend, it’s a body you are a part of. Even when the people of God are homeless, when they assemble the church is in full effect. And because the church is a people it’s much more dynamic than we give it credit for (third place ministries are great examples of this), which is where we get into the gift of technology.
When I lived in Tampa there was a period of time when particular groups went missing from service on Sunday mornings. Because our church was a network of micro churches, all of them doing mission throughout the week, Sunday acted as a conference of missionaries I eagerly looked forward to. And because some of these people missing were students I led, I felt responsible to get to the bottom of it. As it turned out certain micro churches were streaming the service as a community. We called them microsites; and as dismayed as I was I wouldn’t see certain friends of mine on Sunday, there was a sense something greater was in progress. Our church was in the process of planting a similar movement in St. Petersburg, Florida and live streaming was a way of empowering them to do mission in their context while still being connected to, and loved by, the greater community.
House churches have been around since the beginning of the early church but when streaming gets involved it opens the door for microsites. These microsites, like any house church really, have the potential to take on a life all their own. In cases like the Village Church or LifeChurch.tv, they can evolve into whole campuses with their own pastor while remaining connected to the nucleus via live feed. Other times the site becomes its own entity with its own structure. If you grant the premise (which some won’t) the church is worship, community, and mission then these microsites can be churches in and of themselves with the unique advantage they don’t look like churches.
As we enter into an increasingly post-Christian, post-modern era asking someone to come to our church is becoming a bigger threshold to cross. Some don’t feel “ready” to attend a church service and, while I do agree after a certain point they must get past this, house churches can serve as an entry point into Christian community. It’s a way to bring church to people who feel outside of God’s grace. House churches have been powerful instruments in the past (and undoubtedly still are), but technology provides a way for the church’s influence to carry to places and people groups we didn’t previously think possible.