The following is an excerpt from a chapter called "Internet Campuses - Virtual or Real Reality?" in the bookA Multi-Site Church Road Trip: Exploring the New Normal, by Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird (Zondervan, 2009). This picks up mid-chapter; so to bring you up to speed, we're talking about the strengths and weaknesses of internet campuses as they relate to spiritual growth and formation.
Even if a church does a good job of creating an engaging and life-transforming online worship experience, it may not be enough. What about the rest of what it means to be the church? When I pressed Troy [Gramling, senior pastor of Flamingo Road Church in Florida] with this question, he said that both physical and internet campuses are trying to do the same thing: help people take the next step from where they are to where God is calling them. "The first step is accepting Christ," Troy explained. "That can happen anywhere. The next step is baptism, and we have discovered that can happen anywhere as well." Indeed, in 2007 Brian Vasil baptized a new believer online for the first time. They didn't use virtual water or a cheesy clip art graphic. It was the real thing.
A young woman from Georgia who had never attended any of Flamingo Road Church's physical campuses gave her life to Christ during a service on the internet campus. She wanted to be baptized, so she contacted her campus pastor, Brian, via email. He spoke with her on the phone about her decision to accept Christ and about her desire to be baptized. Then he helped coordinate the event. She was baptized by her mother-in-law in the family Jacuzzi tub with the Flamingo Road internet family watching via webcam and rejoicing in the significant moment for one of their peers. That's taking the next step. For those involved with the church, it was the real thing.
Troy indicated that the church's internet team gets emails and calls all the time about similar decisions in people's lives. He emphasized, "It's cool when you see people take those steps. Even though it is online, it provides the experience of being part of the community."
The next steps people are encouraged to take are bringing their lost friends to church and serving. The value of the internet campus in evangelism is immeasurable. And there are plenty of opportunities for people to serve, both virtually and in the physical neighborhoods of internet campus attenders. Online at Flamingo, people serve as greeters in the chat rooms. They pray with people following the services, and they do visitor follow-up during the week. These are just a few of the many opportunities to serve.
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