Pam Smith offers a fresh expression approach to online ministry.
When I was on a training course recently, several people asked me about creating an online presence for their churches. There are many static websites out there, but churches are now looking at ways of using the internet more interactively as part of their outreach strategy.
Interactive church websites offer a fantastic opportunity to extend fellowship and discipleship opportunities into digital space. It seems odd, though, to focus our online outreach on bringing people to the virtual equivalent of a church building. Anyone who is considering an online evangelism strategy should consider following the fresh expressions methodology of taking church to where people are.
How Christians behave online is even less talked about than what we do at work, but in fact Christians are as active as their non-Christian peers in social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, special interest forums, gaming sites and blogs. The potential for missional activity is huge as we are already in contact with non-Christians online.
The internet has been likened to a fast flowing river. It changes so rapidly that it's hard to grasp what's going on by looking at it from a distance, but jumping in can look risky. Rather than treating 'the internet' as a place and the people who work 'on the internet' as experts to be copied, we need to identify the principles involved in online ministry and encourage people to apply them to their own particular online environment. In fact, we need to apply a fresh expressions methodology.
It is arguable that online ministries offer a perfect environment to see what happens when a fresh expression develops into a contextual maturity away from the pressure to become more recognisably 'church' that many maturing fresh expressions may feel.
Online ministry offers a huge potential for outreach and mission. There is vibrant growth and potential but there is little understanding of the field outside those who are already involved. We need to pay attention to the significance of online relationships in people's lives and how we might connect with them as part of the bigger missional picture, rather than writing online ministry off as 'not proper church'.