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Home > 2013 > April Web Exclusives > Church 2.0

From the outside, it's easy to mistake Soulation.org as an apologetics blog. Some of this is self-inflicted; Dale & Jonalyn Fincher, the site's cofounders, often describe themselves as apologists. To be honest, I can't blame them. "Apologetics" is a label the broader faith community will accept. And (double bonus), it puts Dale in the same category as one of his heroes, C.S. Lewis.

But let's not judge this blog by its cover. It's way more than just a run-of-the-mill "convert the skeptics" site. If you ask me, Dale & Jonalyn have created a 21st-century church. They might take issue with that label, but they do agree with another label that struck me when I hung out with them in January: A spiritual Ellis Island. A place that welcomes spiritual immigrants.

Dale pointed out in our conversation that there's "so much confusion over what a 'church' is today." I think he's right. In the Winter 2013 issue of Leadership Journal I wrote about my friend Tim Schuster, pastor and co-founder of the innovative Midtown Church. Tim observed that when we say "church planting" what we often mean is "starting a worship service." Admittedly Soulation pushes—hard—on the boundaries of what we might think of as church, and, for good measure, pushes some serious buttons, too. (You thought GLBT issues were tough? Try counseling Christians with bondage fetishes.)

I imagine members of the earliest churches would have a hard time recognizing their 20th-century great, great grandchildren as "church." Sound systems? Movies? Chairs even! So I'm not surprised if 20th-century church folk might have a hard time recognizing the beta versions of 21st-century church. The Millennials among us might call this Church 2.0.

A church without walls—and without worship

The terms "ministry" and "parachurch" have become so broad as to be almost meaningless catch-all terms (sort of like, well, "church"). I love Tim Schuster's implicit challenge for ministers to look beyond worship services as we seek to understand what church really is. Indulge me for a moment as I geek out on a critical but underappreciated role of church that we've conveniently pushed into the catch-all ministry.

I think any basic, working definition of church must include the presence of a supportive, trustworthy ministry leader providing guidance and counsel through the rocky process of spiritual formation. While some non-negotiables of church such as baptism and the Lord's Supper aren't easily transferable to an online platform, if forging disciples through the fire of spiritual crisis isn't included in our definition of church, what is?

In traditional church paradigms, there is an asymmetry of power and information, even when we have best intentions in how we approach spiritual counseling and formation. I am not anonymous to the ministry leader (save perhaps in the case of contemporary Catholic confessionals). The ministry leader holds the imprimatur of power and authority. And there is a specific geographic place in which I will "be received" (whether I'm receiving comfort or castigation).

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Posted: April 29, 2013

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May 06, 2013  12:09pm

I have personally seen how websites, like Soulation, are able to help people the 'church' deems out of their 'paygrade' to help. I appreciate the work Dale and Jonalyn are doing to push the boundaries and help people see following Jesus means He wants to redeem ALL of us. In my experience 'church' doesn't answer the tough questions that Dale and Jonalyn aren't afraid of.

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May 02, 2013  12:46pm

I love the idea that Soulation gives folks a chance to ask questions they may never have the courage to ask in another environment, however, doesn't this "drawing folks out of the shadows" also allow them to slip back into the shadows without living in the Light? This is the trouble--and breakdown--of online community: anonymity. I can't imagine Jesus' disciples expecting to be "anonymous" faces in the crowd. In fact, when they were, they were betraying/denying Him. Geoff is on to something when he says we're the "called out ones" called OUT of darkness and INTO Light. I'm not sure online forums, despite all the celebration, will every truly transform us with incarnational ministry.

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May 01, 2013  11:00am

Nice read. As a "millennial", I appreciated reading an article that didn't brush off my thoughts and experience as a "cultural relevance experiment". There's nothing experimental about it. Dialogue and conversation are a big part of my faith - who cares about semantics?

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May 01, 2013  1:44am

This idea of 21st century "church" being an internet portal is a joke... right? Biblically speaking, the whole concept of "church", whether one is referring to a "local church" club, a global denomination, or even an internet website, has become corrupted. Our English word "church" is a translation from the Greek word, "ekklesia", meaning a called-out community. Originally, it had no inherent religious meaning. It always refers to an association of people, never a place, a building, a meeting, or especially a virtual community of unrelated people who don't even know each others real names. Please, let's cut the "let's be culturally relevant" experiment and simply return to the clear teaching of the Bible. Jesus' message and the gathering of those who genuinely follow Him are relevant for all peoples in all cultures, for all time. We don't need an internet based church... what we do need is real relationships with real people living real life together under the leadership of Jesus.

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