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The Newest Church Growth Paradigm: Digital Church

The epidemic has forced churches to resort to online services.  But now some church growth experts are hailing that problem as a new paradigm for “doing church.”

A The COVID-19 pandemic has “propelled the Church into the contemporary world,” according to a report from an evangelical Anglican organization in the UK.  “Last month we were the Odeon, today we are Netflix.”  An “Odeon” is a building designed to feature musical performances; that is, a concert hall.

In the 1950s, the Odeon was okay, but then along came consumer choice, individualism and crowded complex lifestyles. Then came TV film channels, and now Netflix, Prime and others, where you can watch whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you are on whatever you’ve got. . . .The Government has shut our ‘Odeons’ down, so in response we have stumbled into ‘Homespun Netflix’ and it’s looking promising.

Indeed, churches that want to be contemporary have adopted the concert hall model.  Sanctuaries are dominated by a stage, complete with overhead spot lights, microphones, a drum set, and guitar amps.  The service is modeled after a concert performance, with the band and the preacher putting on a carefully-orchestrated show.  Today, most people turn to the internet and streaming TV, rather than concerts, so why shouldn’t churches adapt accordingly?

Notice that both the concert hall and Netflix models assume that worship should be analogous to entertainment.  Both approaches are very different from the historical approach to church, in which members of a Christian community gather together to receive God’s gifts in the Word and Sacraments in front of a pulpit and an altar.

The study, from the Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS), does find some good results from online church services.  According to the authors  Bob Jackson and George Fisher, “Most churches going online have discovered that far more people are accessing their services than ever came to the building. What seemed initially to be a devastating blow to churches may actually generate growth.”

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