It may be typical for a traditional communal attendance at brick-and-mortar churches, as many families see Sunday mass as an opportunity to connect with other Christians and celebrate their faith. But the church landscape is evolving among generations, especially with millennials, as the digital revolution of churches is a growing platform of virtual mass and is shifting the paradigm of online spirituality. The bigger question may be how pastoral leaders should be embracing online technology and social media to bring church mass to everyone? Where are the limitations?
People today can find just as much value in the “virtual” mass experience, as those who physically attend church. A major pioneer to virtual services has been the Catholic Church, which continues to be a major proponent of spreading its message through online technology. What is interesting is that we are seeing more of an opening to the proverbial gates to modern-day virtual mass. More investment in a virtual presence has given people another go-to resource for their faith. It seems to be progressing into the next iteration of a common printed liturgy.
Findings from Facts & Trends, a resource providing Christian leaders with relevant information pertaining to faith, culture and church ministry, showed that 70 percent of millennials (that are practicing Christians) say they use a smartphone or the Internet to read scripture. As generations continue to develop, e-scripture or e-church mass seems to be an undeniable undertaking that will be juxtaposed with the traditional church experience.
There may be critics that call into question online delivery of mass and how relying on online resources – be it podcasts – can make the case that “’listeners can just download’ church and partake on their own time,” as indicated from a recently published article on Slate.com. The story went on to question the validity of religious podcasts replacing church. Of course church leaders want to see a healthy attendance in the pews, but it may not be a “one-size-fits-all” equation across generations, as this seems to be the case with iPhone- and iPad-obsessed millennials.
In addition, the Capterra Church Management Blog points out, 52 percent of churches broadcast sermons online or have podcasts. Following this pairing of church and technology, research by Capterra states that 44 percent say that video media is occasionally used in sermons; 29 percent say it never is; and 27 percent say it is used almost every week.
The mentality of worshiping in the privacy of our homes is a preference and may have its distinct differences, but it can be just as effective in bonding with those online who share in the same faith. Turning away from the digitalization of mass or virtual sermons would be to disengage from a society that has become reliant and fueled by content over the Internet. It may be riddled with differences of opinion, especially in describing how viewers can’t partake in the Eucharist (the Catholic Church only asks congregants to participate once per year), but the principle is still the same, especially this and every Christmas season – to celebrate your faith and beliefs as a reminder of who you are.
The case can be made with the rise in televangelism. Large adopters of this methodology have been the megachurches, as was the case with Billy Graham, the infamous mega pastor that propelled the broadcast revolution of international television and radio ministry. Virtual church is only the next iteration, but only as an alternative option for those who can’t physically be in attendance, whether those who prefer to celebrate their faith in private or who have limited capacity (e.g. the sick, homebound, those in the military, missionaries abroad.)
The digital revolution of churches has been advancing by those encouraging the movement of online church participation in mass from their homes via virtual channels. In fact, Oklahoma City-based Lifechurch.tv, which has 20 different campuses spread across six state, is a huge proponent of its “online campus.” These digital capabilities proved to be worthwhile a few years back when a blizzard struck the area preventing many from being able to physically be at church for Christmas Eve mass. Hosting virtual church online allowed congregants to join together as a community of faith and tune into the regular scheduled mass, creating a church service worthy of a true Christmas story.
As a trailblazer to living faith online, Community Bible Church, the first to incorporate online church and operate live prayer via OnlineChurch.com, has dedicated an ongoing effort and belief to bring the digital mass experience – whether streaming or via download – to the homes and smartphones of people seeking reflection and spiritual fulfillment from what they would otherwise get from the traditional sense of physically attending church during the holidays.
While there are skeptics to the process of gaining a real reflection and understanding from broadcast masses, just listen to The Pope through the streaming channel of video as he delivers his message, be it a sermon or other blessing. The Catholic Church has made great strides to truly innovate and “franchise” virtual services due to their development of a common liturgy, Missal, and Prayer service, which guaranteed the same service across Spanish colonies as to what is happening in Rome. Without being at the Vatican, anyone can “tune in” to share in the experience.
In today’s growing popularity of online options, downloading, streaming and social media are only tools to help magnify the reach to people. The idea of broadcasting Christianity is not new given the many advances in media and social channels; however, the various digital outlets are only becoming more widespread to preach the gospel, doctrine and sermons aimed at the very same congregations that attend church and connecting the next generation – millennials.
Will you be streaming church mass from your computer or smartphone?
William Vanderbloemen is the author of Next: Pastoral Succession That Works and President/CEO of Vanderbloemen Search Group, the leading executive search firm for churches, ministries, and faith-based organizations.