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The Networked Church (Portland, Oregon USA)

Last updated: 11 January 2013 (but the below comments were written around 2004-05).

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Welcome! My name is David Gillaspey. I live in the Portland, Oregon, area. I have a vision to establish a Christian, evangelistic, Bible-centered church in this metropolitan area called The Networked Church. What is The Networked Church? Frankly, it won’t look like any church you’ve ever seen. I explain below some key features of The Networked Church; more will be added later as my thinking on this evolves.

Ultimately, this proposal seeks to answer the question: What would a church look like that embraces the internet and, more importantly, could not exist without the internet?

In proposing The Networked Church model described below — an admittedly radical concept — I am not rejecting other forms of “doing church.” I support any way of “doing church” that is effective at saving souls, discipling people, correctly teaching people the Word of God, helping people to worship God, and drawing people into a community of believers. I know that some proponents of cell-based ministry or home churches, for example, reject what they call “program-based” churches or have critical attitudes about this or that issue in the universal church. To reiterate, I’m not against other forms of church. I propose below only a particular model of doing church that I feel God has given to me to explore and work out and eventually establish as a church.

I've written a lot below, which will take you some time to study. For your sake, I'll summarize key principles of The Networked Church here.

The Networked Church will be a cross between an internet church and a house church. Some models for internet churches already have been developed by others, e.g., Church of Fools and infinitechurch.com. (Just do a search on Google for "internet church" to find others.) Models of house churches have existed for decades if not centuries.

Internet churches. The problem I have with internet churches is that, in my mind, they violate the clear commandment of Hebrews 10:25 that Christians should not cease meeting together. Obviously, proponents of internet churches would have a different opinion about the matter. They would argue that Christians meeting virtually on the internet are meeting together. Let me ask you this question: Suppose that, on the way to work tomorrow, you were to be involved in a car accident and spend the next three months in the hospital recovering. How many people from your virtual, online community are going to be able to come by and comfort you during your recovery? How many will come by to lay hands on you and pray for you? This speaks to the whole point of Christian community.

Moreover, how will your virtual community of believers accomplish the missional purposes of the Church? How will you get together to help the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick?

The interesting thing about online communities, e.g., forums, is that people hide behind screen names and avatars. (By the way, the word "avatar," I recently learned from watching Jeopardy on TV, is the name of a Hindu god.) You call that community? Community is about people being open and honest with each other. Hiding behind screen names and avatars, it seems to me, is a bad start toward achieving Christian "community."

Great Church Websites hosts a new forum, The Church Webmasters' Forum, which has about 130 members. I know almost nothing about most of the members, except what they've chosen to reveal in their posts. That's because members, when they registered, usually provided almost no personal information about themselves (particularly their real name). That's a shame, but it shows how online communities really aren't.

A lot of focus has been given lately to using the internet to evangelize the lost. In general, I'm wary of ways of evangelizing, e.g., online, that result in people not being connected to a local church. Perhaps you think a person who came to Christ online will naturally gravitate toward a local church. The fact that the writer of Hebrews had to admonish the early Christians to not cease meeting together shows how human nature really works.

House churches. The problem I have with house churches is that the quality of teaching could potentially be less than that typically enjoyed by Christians who attend "program-based" churches. (Proponents of house church models typically are critical of program-based churches. I am not; I love 'em, especially large, program-based churches with high-quality teaching and worship. More about that below.) There is an advantage to having highly trained and skilled pastors and Christian workers leading the teaching and discipling ministries of a church. In The Networked Church, I intend, through the use of streaming media, complemented by DVD-based content, to weekly replicate centrally planned and coordinated, high-quality teaching (and elements of worship) to all the house churches. Everyone will be on the same "page."

Worship can also be problematic in the house church model — you might have a skilled musician and worship leader available in your house church to lead your group in worship, or you might not. (In general, I think, the Church has struggled with the issue of worship in small groups. Some small group models leave worship out altogether. Others, like that of Vineyard churches, make worship in small groups a priority.)

The Networked Church will feature what I call "metaphor-based, multimedia-intensive, culturally inclusive worship."

As an evangelical Christian (and baby boomer), I personally love the style of worship characterized by baby boomer churches: 20 to 30 minutes of high-quality praise and worship followed by a period of teaching, usually topical but sometimes (when the pastor runs out of topics about which to preach) exegetical — verse-by-verse. However, there are five reasons that worship services in The Networked Church will be different.

1) For postmoderns, the arts in a variety of forms — not just music — are important elements of worship. Most of these involve a visual aspect.

2) Indeed, we live in a visual world: People have grown up watching television and movies and MTV and 30-second TV spots (ads). People learn through their eyes. From a religious point of view, movies, in fact, have become for many people their source of theological truths (or usually untruths) — Ghost and City of Angels are two movies that come to mind. (Not to mention the Matrix series, which some people have pointed out has a Gnostic point of view.)

In fact, movie clips will be regularly used in The Networked Church. I'm not the first to come up with that idea, I know. But I wish I had called the church The Movie Church instead of The Networked Church because it reflects the importance I place on using movie clips in our services.

3) The message of a metaphor-based worship service sticks with you longer than the sermon outline points you learn from a typical topical sermon like "Five Keys to a Successful Marriage." Or so say the guys at Midnight Oil Productions. Len Wilson and Jason Moore were instrumental in helping Ginghamsburg Church of Tipp City, Ohio, start its multimedia services, then moved on to Lumicon Digital Productions before starting Midnight Oil Productions. Be sure and attend one of their Digital Storytellers conferences.

4) Worship needs to become culturally inclusive. While I love good praise and worship as much as the next baby boomer Christian, in my vision for The Networked Church that will be de-emphasized. The problem is that singing in church is usually done in ONE LANGUAGE — the language of the dominant culture. Here in the States, that's usually English.

At Pentecost, one of two things could have happened. God could have supernaturally enabled the visitors to Jerusalem from around the world to understand the disciples' language (Hebrew or more likely, Aramaic). But God did something else instead: He enabled the disciples to speak in the native tongues of the visitors. Thus, Pentecost was CULTURALLY INCLUSIVE.

So in my vision for The Networked Church, worship will be culturally inclusive. That doesn't mean lots of speaking in tongues, as was the case in the early church. (It also doesn't mean acceptance of homosexuality — let me make that clear. Some people may get the idea that that's what I mean by "culturally inclusive.")

Rather, it means the use of lots of visual imagery, since visual language is by nature more culturally inclusive than verbal language. That's assuming you take care to include photos of African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, etc., along with white people, in any photos of people. For photos of nature scenes, by contrast, that's not an issue. For example, dramatic cloud photos speak of God's grandeur to all people. It doesn't matter what language they speak or what ethnic group they belong to.

Since today's generation is a visual generation — we grew up on TV and movies — that works out rather well.

There'll be subtitles — or captioning — of any verbal content in our worship services, in the major language groups. For songs, that obviously presents copyright problems that will have to be dealt with.

5) In The Networked Church, we'll be using the Revised Common Lectionary. Use of a lectionary is common in mainline Protestant denominations, less common or unheard of in evangelical, Bible-centered churches. (Of course, Catholics rely on their own Lectionary.) While I am a lifelong Protestant, I had the privilege (I call it that) of having worked for 14 months for a large Catholic publisher in Portland, Oregon. I became familiar with the Catholic Lectionary and now believe there to be considerable advantage to using a lectionary in worship. Obviously I'm not going to use the Catholic Lectionary, but rather the Revised Common Lectionary. This is one of the main lectionaries used by Protestant denominations.

What is a lectionary? A lectionary divides the Bible up into weekly (Sunday) readings that enable one to get through most (not all, but most) of the Bible in three years. A lectionary has an A cycle, a B cycle and a C cycle — readings for each Sunday of a given year in a three-year cycle. For each Sunday, there is an Old Testament passage, a Pauline passage and a Gospel passage (this is a slight oversimplification of the matter, to be sure).

A congregation following a lectionary, then, hears (or reads together, one would hope) most of the Bible over the course of three years. In my mind, that's far better than the situation you have with topical sermons. With topical sermons, the preacher picks a Scripture here and a Scripture there to support the topic about which he or she is preaching. The congregation is lucky to hear or read together even 1% of the Bible over a period of time.

Preaching from the Lectionary is more about revealing the story of God's dealings with mankind, then about trying to provide answers to life's problems, as is the case with topical sermons.

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Regarding postmodernism: The Networked Church will not be intentionally postmodern in focus, but I think it will be attractive nonetheless to postmoderns. Some comments:

People have burned candles in homes for millennia. Burning candles in darkened rooms (typical of postmodern worship services) is perfectly natural for a home setting. There won't be the culture shock (i.e., worldview shock) a baby boomer, for example, might experience coming from his or her normally brightly lit seeker-sensitive style of worship to a postmodern worship service for the first time.

Community (postmoderns are big on that) is a natural part of house church meetings.

On the other hand, there doesn't seem to be much point to having prayer stations in home churches because the requisite anonymity won't be possible. (Prayer stations are common in postmodern worship — it makes worship experiential and interactive.) However, there will be many ways to keep worship experiential and interactive in the home church services. In fact, it's probably easier in a home church service to do this than in a worship service with 100s of attenders.

Postmoderns learn through experience and do not believe truth is absolute. I think that the metaphor-based, multimedia-intensive, culturally inclusive worship described above would be more suited to their worldview.

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One reason to start The Networked Church now is in preparation for a crisis the Church will face in a few decades. My son is 6 months old. By the time he is 30, the world will have run out of oil. So, my son is a member of the last generation on earth to enjoy the benefits of freely available oil. (Yes, there is a limit to the world oil supply. With the economy of China beginning to boom, you can expect world oil supplies to diminish rapidly.)

The world's running out of oil will have many implications, as you can imagine. One will be transportation. Certainly we'll have electric cars and biofuel cars and nuclear-powered cars and buses and light rail to get us to work and to the grocery store and back home. But think about it: The Church as we know it today is largely dependent upon people hopping in their cars and driving to a worship service and/or various ministry programs.

That will all change when the world runs out of oil. I love megachurches — the bigger the church the better, as far as I'm concerned — but the multimillion dollar facilities that megachurches have built to house their programs will be empty hulks when the world runs out of oil.

To survive (and it will) the Church must move "church" into homes.

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As much as possible, all ministry workers in The Networked Church will be paid workers. The more responsibility you have and the more house churches you oversee (think "captains of 10s, 100s and 1000s"), the greater your salary will be.

Interesting thing about churches: They want as many people to work for free as possible, and they underpay their paid works (staff members) — compared to secular jobs. Then they build multimillion dollar facilities that sit empty 90% of the time.

The Networked Church will not own buildings. Income will go toward paying the workers, not constructing buildings.

(I wrote the material in the table above on March 29, 2005. The material below was written before April 2004.)

Introduction

The Networked Church will be comprised of hundreds of small groups of people (six to 12 people) meeting weekly in homes, apartments, condos, clubhouses, etc., throughout the Portland (and Vancouver, Washington) metropolitan area. “Cell group” ministry like this is not a new concept — Ralph Neighbors has promoted the concept for years in his book Where Do We Go From Here (see also the many resources available from www.cellgrouppeople.com) and many large churches around the world were built upon the concept. This includes the ministry of David Yonggi Cho. (One American example is Bethany World Prayer Center located in and around Baton Rouge, Louisiana — they have two campuses —, though this church had to convert from “program-based” to cell-based at one point in its history.) What is new about The Networked Church is that it takes advantage of the fact that soon it will be possible, because of high-speed internet connections, to re-create (so to speak) the most familiar and important elements of “church” as we know it today — fellowship, worship, prayer and now the sermon (prepared and delivered by a skilled expositor; what has been missing til now) — in a home setting among a small group of people.

What I describe below will also sound a lot like fellowship groups or affinity groups or home Bible studies. For many years, these have played an important role in the ministry of many churches. I’m not against these per se — The Networked Church likely will have them, too — it’s just that what I describe below is to be understood as CHURCH. Let me illustrate the difference: In The Networked Church, after you’ve met with others in a home for a service on, say, a Thursday evening, you’re done with church for the week. If what you just had was a Bible study or home fellowship, then you’d be going to church the following weekend. You’d be gathering, along with a whole lot of other people, in a church building somewhere. This weekend gathering would be “church” for you, not what you experienced on Thursday night. In The Networked Church, what you experience on a Thursday night (or Tuesday night or Wednesday night) is church for you for that week. See the difference? Again, this is not really new, for it is the essence of cell-group ministry. I’m just applying technologies such as streaming video, multimedia, DVDs, etc. to cell-group ministry, to turn the home meetings into real church services.

(It’s important for me to point out here that true cell group ministry is foundationally highly relational, more than the home churches of The Networked Church will be. For better or for worse, home church services in The Networked Church will be no more nor no less relational than a typical Sunday morning church service. Anyone from a true cell group ministry will spot the difference right away. I dont have anything against true cell group ministries. I believe in them strongly! My vision for ministry just happens to be different.)

Below are my (continually evolving) thoughts on The Networked Church. If you dont agree with something (or anything) that I have written (which is likely!), send me a note anyway. Perhaps what you have to say will serve to clarify my vision for The Network Church.

Ministry target

The Networked Church will be highly focused on reaching non-Christians in culturally relevant ways, because this reflects my ministry priority. Therefore, it will not be a “believer” church where longtime Christians can go for in-depth Bible study and deep worship. Im sure one could start a church very similar to The Networked Church that would attract longtime, devout Christians — if you feel so inclined, go for it! — but its simply not my ministry priority. My mission in life is to save souls by whatever means necessary. Note that when I say non-Christians, I truly have in mind primarily people who have never gone to church or been Christian.

Worship

Worship services in the home churches will follow a pattern similar to that of many Protestant churches, with some very important differences noted below. Thus, therell typically be fellowship, worship (singing of songs), teaching, prayer and fellowship again, generally but not always in that order. Home church services may take place at any time, any day of the week — even, I suppose, in the middle of the night. (Perfect for night owls.)

(Think about it — is there anything more seeker-UNsensitive than requiring non-Christians to be at a certain building at a certain time each weekend? This is particularly true in the Pacific Northwest, where people spend their weekends camping, hiking, going to the beach, etc. In fact, I envision home churches being held on weeknights as much as possible, rather than on weekends. Why? Because members of The Networked Church will be encouraged to further their relationships with non-Christian friends, neighbors and co-workers by being deliberate about spending time with them on weekends — rather than spend weekends in church and thus be separated from non-Christians.)

Worship through singing will be an essential element of The Network Church. Home church services will ALWAYS include singing, because the home churches ARE the church. (To put this into context, many models of small-group ministry completely ignore worship, which I think is sad. The Vineyard churches, I must say, have always gotten it right, because they emphasize the place of worship in small groups.) If a guitarist or keyboardist happens to be a member of a home church and can provide music for singing, great; otherwise, music will be provided by MIDI data files, or through split-trax accompaniment CDs.

Before you turn up your nose at this concept — that of split-trax CDs — check out the accompaniment CDs produced by Wholehearted Worship that are specifically designed for use in small groups. This company is getting it right! The vocal and instrumental arrangements on their CDs are simple but effective, and the music is set in singable keys. I just wished the CDs included more of the beautiful worship songs made available to the Church by worshiptogether.com.

Using MIDI data files for worship was my original plan, but quality (and legally licensed) MIDI data files of the best new worship songs are hard to find because of the overwhelming popularity of MP3s. (Music Mansion remains the primary source for Christian MIDI data files, regardless.) Why would I still want to use MIDI data files, which lost favor to MP3s starting in the late ’90s? Here are the things you can do with MIDI data files that you can’t do with MP3s or — without using specialized equipment — with audio CDs: 1) change tempos of songs; 2) change keys of songs (transpose the music); 3) change instrumentation of songs; 4) solo one instrument out of all the instruments of a song; 4) play all instruments of a song “minus one” (that part then is played by an available musician); 5) embed lyrics into the music and play the lyrics karaoke style on a TV or through video projection. (See the following for another karaoke option.) These are the reasons I believe that MIDI data files remain a viable medium for providing music in home church services where there is no live musician(s).

Another option for music for worship is karaoke-style DVDs. The Networked Church will be a very visual church, and so will employ the latest in multimedia technology. Maranatha! Music and Integrity Music both produce worship music set to video backgrounds on DVDs (selectable between no accompanying lyrics or with accompanying lyrics, karaoke style; of course, we’ll display the lyrics). The problem with their products is the songs are set in musical keys that are too high for the average person (especially male) to sing. I intend to emulate these video worship experiences by combining in some legal (!) manner (i.e., “on the fly”) video backgrounds of nature scenes, people, landscapes, etc., with pre-recorded music or quality MIDI data files. There is a variety of software for worship available with which to do this; check out this chart compiled by Tim Eason of www.churchmedia.net that compares the features of a number of software for worship titles.

Because The Networked Church is focused on reaching non-Christians, worship will frankly be a bit shallow for devoted Christians who love “deep worship.” But I’m designing the worship services for non-Christians, not believers. Worship therefore will be comprised of a mix of seeker-TARGETED songs, seeker-SENSITIVE songs and “deep worship” songs. At this point, I have not found any truly seeker-TARGETED songs, so I’m preparing to compose a few myself. These will be songs that permit people who don’t yet know the Lord to express their doubts and fears about him as simple prayers set to music. The songs I write will eventually be available at www.seeker-songs.com.

Initially, twice a month, members of the various home churches located throughout the city will gather for a time of extended deep worship (two to three hours long) in a rented facility — perhaps in another church building (on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon), concert hall, or similar venue. Why only twice a month? If the times of extended, deep worship — these “celebration services” or, as I have come to call them, Big Blowout Worship Services — were held weekly, people soon would come to view the celebration services as the church instead of the weekly in-home meetings. This must be strictly avoided.

However, I believe The Networked Church eventually will become a very large church, with tens of thousands of members. As I pondered this, I realized the above statement needed modifying. Reading about Bethany World Prayer Center, located in and around Baton Rouge, Louisiana — a church with two campuses, I realized a church with tens of thousands of members would require at least four worship facilities, if not five. These would be located on the north, east, south and west sides (and possibly the center) of the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area, with services rotated among the campuses from week to week. To maintain the paradigm of twice-monthly worship services, however, possibly worship services could be held simultaneously on the north and south campuses every other weekend, and simultaneously on the east and west campuses the alternate weekends.

Let’s say on the first Sunday of the month, the worship team is physically located on the west campus. The east campus, then, would receive a video feed of the service. (See below for a discussion about video feeds.) On the third Sunday of the month, the worship team would be physically located on the east campus, and the west campus then would receive the video feed. On the second and fourth Sundays of the month, the north and south campuses would alternate hosting the live worship service (or services), and receiving a video feed of the service from the other campus.

One could argue that on every Sunday of the month, one of the four campuses would host the live service and the three (or four) other campuses would receive the video feeds. The location of the live service, then, would rotate from week to week among the campuses. This may very well be necessary to accommodate the worship needs of a church of tens of thousands of members, but never lose sight of the fact that CHURCH in The Networked Church happens in the home church services.

Despite my referring to these worship services as times of extended worship, don’t expect individual songs to go on and on. I’ve experienced this in too many churches — particularly Pentecostal churches — and it really annoys me. Songs on the radio average three minutes in length because that’s the average attention span of listeners. In the Big Blowout Worship Services, we’ll sing 30 to 40 three- to four-minute-long songs. I don’t necessarily mean one song after another in one unbroken string. Instead, expect sets of songs with Scripture readings, responsive readings, testimonies, multimedia presentations, prayer, etc., between sets.

I anticipate that only the most highly skilled musicians can play 30 to 40 songs well in one service. (Perhaps there could be rotating teams of musicians within each service to alleviate the burden.) That requires lots of rehearsal time. Better the musicians spend their time each week preparing for twice-monthly services, than preparing for weekly services.

Sermons

Regarding sermons, they will eventually be delivered as videos taped in a studio and streamed to the home churches for viewing over high-speed internet connections. Importantly, sermons produced in this manner can be archived and made available on-demand, “24-7.” Because of this, home churches can meet any hour of the day, any day of the week. This is how The Networked Church can offer “church” at times and places convenient to the non-Christian — unlike “church” as we know it today.

I plan for the preaching in The Networked Church to be based on the weekly readings of the Revised Common (Protestant) Lectionary. The lectionary divides the Bible into readings spread out over three years. This ensures the whole of the Bible will be heard and read by the church over the course of three years. After three years, the yearly cycles of weekly readings start all over. Fortunately, there are a large amount of published resources available for preaching from the lectionary. Here is a site I’ve come across that’s devoted to preaching from the RCL, as well as to preaching in general. And here is a FAQ site about the RCL.

In a church I served a long time ago, after a year and half of attending services every weekend, I had learned more about the pastor’s upbringing and family than I had the Bible. (Fortunately, being a longtime Christian, I already knew the Bible well.) This is because the pastor illustrated his sermons with stories from his childhood and from his own experiences raising a family. I’m not saying this is wrong per se; indeed, it’s quite common among preachers. Like many pastors, he preached topical sermons. There are many advantages to preaching topical sermons, but there’s one big disadvantage: the pastor who preaches topical sermons covers only a very small percentage of the Bible this way. But my Bible says that

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (NIV)

James F. White wrote an article titled A Protestant Worship Manifesto that appeared in Christian Century magazine and is available for reading here in which he argued that

The centrality of the Bible in Protestant worship must be recovered. A curious link unites the worship of many liberal and fundamentalist congregations. Their use of Scripture in worship falls into the ‘when convenient’ category. Scripture functions in the worship of thousands of Protestant congregations only as a means of reinforcing what the preacher wants to say. This use makes the Bible an optional resource rather than the source of Christian worship. It is forgotten that Scripture is read in worship not as a sermon text but as God’s word to God’s people. The sermon follows as a faithful exposition of what the Scriptures mean for our time.

Although the article as a whole is dated, I believe this point of his is still valid.

(Note: the following paragraph, which obviously argues for topical sermons, was written before I begin to value preaching from the lectionary. I have chosen to keep it in this proposal for now, for I feel it still has some validity.)

Because videos of sermons are archived, the members of each home church can choose to view sermon videos that cover topics that meet their felt needs at the moment. For example, if a member of a home church is going through a divorce, the group can watch videos of sermons related to that topic. In evangelical churches as we know them today, the pastor decides what topic to cover each week in his or her sermon. (Admittedly, the pastor should be guided by the Holy Spirit in this matter, but how can one sermon meet the felt needs of ALL the people attending a church on a weekend? It can’t.) For example, a person may be going through a divorce now, but his or her pastor covered that subject two years ago. Or perhaps their pastor will get around to covering it two years in the future. In The Networked Church, videos of sermons covering a wide variety of topics will eventually be available on demand, “24/7,” to meet people’s felt needs NOW.

As stated above, streaming video of sermons to home churches through high-speed internet connections is the eventual goal. More immediately, I plan to make available to home churches DVDs of pre-recorded sermons that the members can view by using an ordinary DVD player connected to a television. If you think videos of sermons won’t work, or if you think church members have to be physically located in the same place and time as the preacher, check out this article from Leadership Journal. Or read about how Portland’s own City Bible Church has expanded its ministry to the west side of the city through video “simulcast” services. (You can also watch an entire worship service from the above-mentioned Bethany World Prayer Center and other churches online.) There's even an entire website, www.churchvideovenues.com, devoted to the concept. And anyone can make their own DVDs these days with readily available software for both the Macintosh and Windows platforms, using video shot with mini-DV cameras.

Instructional methodologies

The Networked Church will have an on-staff instructional designer. This is a person trained in learning theories who has experience and skill at designing course materials. The following discussion will give you some idea of why this is important, but I expect that an instructional designer would go far beyond what I describe below.

It happens the discussion below is based on the theories of one individual. You may or may not agree with his theories as summarized below, so please look beyond that to the larger issue of why it is important for The Networked Church (or any church) to have an on-staff instructional designer. I don’t know if any other church in the country (or world) has an on-staff instructional designer, so The Networked Church may be unique in this respect.

The typical sermon is an example of the lecture style of teaching. But not everyone learns best from this type of instruction. Some people learn best through hands-on activities, others through group discussion, others by reading instructional material on their own, etc. The teaching portion of each home church service, therefore, will be comprised of several types of learning activities. The “talking head” sermon (via streamed video or DVD) will be just ONE of these, albeit the primary one.

These learning activities will be guided initially by the principles of Dr. Anthony F. Gregorc’s “Mind Styles” — how people mediate, or interact, with the world around them — set forth in his An Adult’s Guide to Style. (This is not a book about etiquette or how to dress for success.) After years of research in education, Dr. Gregorc came to believe people tended to be “Abstract” or “Concrete,” or somewhere in between, in the way in which they gleaned and processed information about their world. He also came to believe that people tended to be either “Sequential” or “Random,” or somewhere in between, in the way their minds processed data, once gathered.

An Abstract person will also be Sequential or Random to one degree or another; and the same with a Concrete person. Similarly, a Random person will also be Concrete or Abstract to one degree or another; and the same with a Sequential person. What’s really important, then, is the combination of qualities from the two bi-polar continuums, of which there are four possibilities:

Abstract-Sequential (AS)
Abstract-Random (AR)
Concrete-Sequential (CS)
Concrete-Random (CR)

These are the “Mind Styles” mentioned above. However, I’ll also refer to them below in our discussion by the phrase learner types, which will help you to know where I am going with this. Learner types are Mind Styles applied to the fields of learning and instruction.

All four Mind Style combinations are equally good. None of the four is bad, each is just different from the others. Dr. Gregorc’s Mind Styles are never to be used to judge or condemn people, and they shouldn’t be used to stereotype or support racist beliefs.

Well, how do you know if you are an Abstract-Sequential, an Abstract-Random, a Concrete-Sequential or a Concrete-Random? Dr. Gregorc developed a simple test, the scores from which can be plotted on a graph to visually show which combination of Mind Styles you tend toward. (Actually, you likely will have higher scores, or tendencies, in more than one area, with one combination being the strongest. That is your dominant Mind Style.) Dr. Gregorc’s theories can help us get along with each other by helping us to understand WHY we act the way we do, and WHY other people act the way THEY do.

In and of themselves, Dr. Gregorc’s theories may be helpful to assisting members of The Network Church to get along with each other and live in peace with one other. We all know the commandment to “love one another” is sometimes hard to carry out in real life. Dr. Gregorc’s theories can be a tool to help us to fulfill that commandment.

However, that’s not why I’ve devoted space to his theories here. Mind Styles also give us insights into how best to design instructional materials (and environments) for teaching or training. That’s because the best approaches to teaching an Abstract-Sequential person are different than the best approaches to teaching an Abstract-Random person, which are different than the best approaches to teaching a Concrete-Sequential person, which are different than the best approaches to teaching a Concrete-Random person. (Whew!) That’s because each of the four Mind Styles is characterized by different “learner characteristics,” as summarized in Dr. Gregorc’s Learner Characteristics Extenda-Chart. The design of the teaching portion of each home church service, then, will initially be guided by these characteristics, as I’ll illustrate:

1. As stated above, the primary form of instruction in the home church services will continue to be sermons. These will be only 20 to 25 minutes long, however, to allow time for other instructional activities. It happens that lectures (and by extension, the typical “talking head” sermons) are preferred by dominant Abstract-Sequentials, according to Dr. Gregorc’s research. They also prefer books, tapes, computers, outlines and guided individual study.

2. For reasons beyond Dr. Gregorc’s theories (see below), home church services in The Networked Church will nearly always include the viewing of a relevant (to the teaching) clip from a popular movie. However, it happens that TV and movies are the preferred instructional media of dominant Abstract-Random learners. They also prefer — besides TV and movies — group discussions and self-reflection over lecture and other instructional strategies. You can see how instructional strategies for dominant Abstract-Random learners would be easy to implement in a home church service.

3. Dominant Concrete-Sequential learners, on the other hand, prefer worksheets, manuals, computer-assisted instruction, hands-on materials and field trips over other teaching media and strategies. Yes, it will be tough to come up with instructional strategies for dominant Concrete Sequentials that are suitable for home church services. However, I have taken courses in both Macromedia Authorware and Click2Learn’s (now Sum Total Corporation) ToolBook Instructor, two leading programs for creating computer-assisted instruction, so I am favorably inclined to use computer-assisted instruction in some way.)

4. Finally, dominant Concrete-Random learners prefer mini lectures/discussions, games, simulations and independent study over other instructional media.

I haven’t worked out instructional strategies for home church services that are suitable for all four learner types. But, the choice of instructional media and strategies (such as I’ve touched upon above) is only a part of designing instruction for the four Mind Styles. Gregorc’s Learner Characteristics Extenda-Chart also summarizes what each of the four learner types is best at in regard to learning and thinking, and also, in regard to learning environments, what each of the four learner types expects, dislikes, fears and desires. All of these factors need to be considered and applied in appropriate ways to ensure that the teaching portion of the home church services meets the needs and expectations of all four learner types.

Media intensive services

Well, OK, so maybe you don’t buy Dr. Gregorc’s theories — and you may not. I have other reasons to use video clips (at least) in each home church worship service: 1) people of all ages love movies — movies are nearly a universal “language”; 2) non-Christians relate to movies; therefore 3) movie clips are an excellent “hook” for attracting and reaching non-Christians. I’m not the only one who thinks so — check out the books published by Abingdon Press, Standard Publishing and other companies that are available from www.christianbook.com. There’s never been a better time to use movie clips as a tool to reach non-Christians, I think. The Networked Church will be known for its consistent use of clips from popular movies in its home church services.

Sometimes, though, instead of or in addition to a clip from a popular movie, the teaching portion of a home church service might include video drama sketches from Willow Creek Church / Willow Creek Association. Drama sketches are an excellent, non-threatening way to introduce difficult subjects to Christians and non-Christians alike. Another multimedia teaching resource is the high-quality, cutting-edge “video sermonettes” available in VHS or DVD format from nooma.com. (When you visit this site, which requires that you have the Flash plug-in installed, it helps to realize you’re entering an online store.) The video sermonettes feature Rob Bell, a pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan.

The above comments comprise my original concept for the use of multimedia in The Networked Church. Now I’m considering ratcheting things up to the use of what has been called “media intensive services” — same as the above, but on steroids — because I’m coming to realize that words, upon which are based our worship songs and our preaching, are culturally exclusive (they are in one language only!), and, moreover, inadequately communicate the mysteries of our God and our faith.

I’ll start with the latter point first, since I have less to say about it at this point in time. C. Michael Hawn’s book One Bread, One Body contains a foreword by Justo L. Gonzalez in which Gonzalez writes (page XV),

“Too often, in our meaning-oriented culture, we confuse meaning with significance. If we cannot understand the meaning of something — understand it as we understand a sentence or an equation — we think it is not significant. In worship — particularly in mainline Protestant worship — we focus on words. We act as if what is important is what the words say, what we can write down on a notepad and repeat to another. That this understanding is insufficient should be obvious as we reflect on our daily lives. The experience of eating a well-flavored meal cannot be expressed in words so that another can relive the experience by merely hearing the words; and yet it is an important, significant experience. What is true in everyday life is even truer in worship, for in worship we are by definition in the presence of mystery — and the experience of such presence can never be fully expressed in logical sentences. And yet, we insist on language, on verbal communication, on words we can understand, as if what we cannot understand would not be significant.”

I’m starting to wonder if worship based on the model of a praise and worship time followed by an expository or topical sermon — so common in the “contemporary” evangelical churches I visit today — is the best model for a post-modern visually-oriented generation in a multi-cultural society. I say this because I’ve come to realize that praise and worship and preaching are both culturally exclusive. More about this below.

Now, regarding the first point above. Recently (May 2004), I’ve finished reading Dr. Michael G. Bausch’s book Silver Screen, Sacred Story. He ministers at Union-Congregational Church (UCC) of Waupun, Wisconsin, a church that has made a name for itself (at least among reformed and mainline churches) through the use of multimedia in worship. Bausch is also one of the instructors for the innovative Certificate in Ministry and Technology program offered by University of Dubuque (Iowa) Theological Seminary that I am considering enrolling in.

In the book, Bausch explains how his church made the (careful) transition to offering a “media intensive service” along with its existing two traditional (reformed-style) services. In the book, he provides suggestions for other churches wanting to do the same. He explains ways to overcome members’ objections to the use of multimedia. He offers practical suggestions on how to use multimedia in worship, how to identify clips (ideally three-minute segments) from popular movies that would be suitable for illustrating a sermon or for inclusion in worship, how to use popular songs in services (his church has used more than 250 songs by popular artists, he says), ways to incorporate religious art in worship, and more.

After telling the story of a late 19th century (American) church that refused to switch from using Norwegian language to English in its worship and apparently died as a result, he says (p. 49), “We are now in the midst of another language transition, although usually we do not think of it as such. Our native worship language is expressed in printed words and oral communication, while the new language of the 21st century, which has not quite made it into our worship, is expressed with visual imagery and popular music punctuated with short bursts of spoken information. The new language, with which most of us are familiar, comes into our homes through many media” including TVs, radios, audio tape and CD players, video game players, VCRs and computers.

He explains that it is true that multimedia already is often used to illustrate some part of a service. Examples include using film clips to introduce a sermon topic; showing pictures from a youth retreat; projecting lyrics, Bible passages or sermon outlines; or showing a video promoting missions giving.

Then he goes on to say (page 55):

“Where illustrative media may be incorporated into most any kind of worship experience, a more intensive use of media might require a separate worship service because it uses more electronic language than oral and print language. What is fundamentally different about this use of media is that the media, which have been carefully selected for their artistic relevance to the worship theme and message, shape the message. The silver screen and sacred story become a multidimensional art form. Imagery is allowed to represent itself, rather than being a servant of words. While there is an interaction between words and visuals, such worship becomes “trilingual” in the sense that it uses oral presentation, print communication, and the electronic language of audiovisual media. This intensive use of multimedia in worship allows for experiments with electronic language through the use of music of all types and styles, film clips from a wide number of movies, and special animation effects on the screen. ... This service will appeal to those most comfortable using electronic language. ... Those who will respond favorably ... are the visual learners and those who are looking for God in the midst of the world in which they live and the electronic language that they speak.

The point of my discussing at such great length Bausch’s book (aside from a desire to promote a valuable resource) is to say that I have been humbled to realize my “innovative” use of movie clips in the home church services of The Networked Church would count as only what I call “Level 1” use of multimedia in Bausch’s experience.

Now to return to a point I made above. Though I love “contemporary” praise and worship, as it is practiced in many churches now, I have come to realize that such singing is culturally exclusive. This is because songs are sung in one language — primarily English in the United States, of course. On top of that, the preaching that follows the singing is in English, so preaching is culturally exclusive, too. These are all good reasons to switch to a “media intensive service.”

Yet I’m reluctant to give up entirely the praise and worship I love so much or the word-based preaching that is so common in churches today. I have been pondering the possibility of using “personal listening devices” and low-power FM radio broadcasts to permit real-time translation of the worship leader’s singing and the pastor’s preaching for the sake of people in the congregation who are not native speakers of English.

I was thinking about this very subject while visiting a church recently in the Portland area. After the service, I wandered to the back and discovered that, apparently, during the sermon, the church’s Hispanic ministry had been doing exactly what I had been thinking about. On a chair in the back corner of the sanctuary was a box of these “personal listening devices” (miniature radios, I assume). The Hispanics in the congregation had been listening to the sermon translated for them into Spanish in real time!

Would it be possible for everyone in a multi-cultural congregation to sing in his or her native tongue through the use of these personal listening devices? What would it sound like?

Prayer

A recent visitor to this site emailed me chastising me for lack of emphasis on prayer in my proposal for a new kind of church. I don’t blame him. I hadn’t even mentioned prayer on this site (at the point of time)! In fact, I was thankful for his comments. He believed that prayer should have the highest priority, followed by worship, then sermons. I don’t exactly disagree with that, but on further reflection, I realized he may have missed the point that what occurs in the weekly home meetings of The Networked Church is CHURCH — a reproduction of all the elements of BIG CHURCH (e.g., your typical Sunday morning service), but in a HOME SETTING. (With the big exception that the teaching portion is modified to accommodate the principles of Dr. Gregorc’s Mind Styles.)

While prayer will have an important place in The Network Church, if you envision people spending an hour in prayer for each other in the home meetings, well, you’re picturing a small group meeting, or a true cell group meeting instead of a CHURCH SERVICE that occurs in a home among a small number of people.

Now in the churches I’ve served or attended, there certainly is prayer for people’s needs. For example, pastors typically invite people to come forward at the close of a service to receive prayer for special needs. In a couple of churches I’ve attended recently, services are stopped midstream and people are directed to join with those around them in groups of three or four to pray for each other. (This is a nod to post-modernism.) In some churches, services always include a period of time in which people in the congregation are invited to stand and pray as the Spirit prompts them. These are all valid ways of incorporating prayer into services (besides, of course, prayer from the pulpit) — and there are other ways I haven’t mentioned or thought of. However, because The Networked Church is highly focused on reaching people who have never been to church before, prayer for people’s needs will occur following the home church service, and in a separate room, allowing those not seeking prayer to leave or fellowship with others.

I once visited a small group meeting — comprised of people from a certain church (not mine) all of whom knew each other well — in which we were directed on two different occasions to join with a few others around us in prayer. Even though I have been a Christian all my life, I can tell you being forced to join with people I didn’t know in prayer was intensely uncomfortable for me. How much more uncomfortable this would be for a non-Christian.

Children’s ministry and youth ministry

Honestly, haven’t figured this out yet. Email me your suggestions. My wife is newly pregnant with our first child, so I expect I’ll be getting some on-the-job training soon.

Target population (take 2)

I hope to plant the first home church in the Pearl District of Portland, starting in early 2005. This is an area just north of downtown Portland that is the current focus of intense urban renewal. City planners expect 12,500 people to live in this area within a few years. Since the area is small in size, this means it will be densely populated. Many high-rise apartment and condo buildings are under construction right now; many new ones already have been built. You can be sure that all of these are wired for high-speed broadband that will make possible the planting and growing of The Networked Church. In addition, available (undeveloped) land in the Pearl District is largely owned by one developer (Hoyt Street Properties) who is working in partnership with the city to develop the area. This will make it difficult to acquire land to build a physical church building. (Not to mention the difficulty of obtaining a zoning permit to construct a church.) For these reasons, I believe The Networked Church is ideally suited to reaching non-Christian people living in the Pearl District with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

For more information about the Pearl District, download these two Portland Development Commission (PDC) reports in Adobe Acrobat format: Pearl District Plan (5.5M) and Appendix (1M).

After that, there’s another high-density area just west of downtown, on both sides of Burnside, with many high-rise apartments visible from a distance, where I’d like to also establish and grow The Networked Church. After that, there’s the South Waterfront District that will be developed along the waterfront just south of downtown over the next decade or two.

Statement of faith

The Network Church's statement of faith is The Apostles' Creed.This creed covers all the basics — the essentials of the Christian faith — and leaves room for differences of opinion about the non-essentials of our faith.

Regarding the Pentecostal gifts of the Holy Spirit, i.e., speaking in tongues, prophecy, etc. I personally believe in these gifts, but The Networked Church will not be a Pentecostal church per se. However, Ralph Neighbors in his book Where Do We Go From Here observed how it was that such expressions of the Holy Spirit were frequently to be seen in cell group meetings. I expect and pray for The Networked Church to be a church known for signs, wonders and miracles — resulting in the conversion of many souls.

Background

I was born and raised in southern Iowa. I received a Bachelor’s Degree from Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa, in 1980. I received a Master’s Degree in Journalism in 1984 from The University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism. (My major was photojournalism, so you can see why The Networked Church will be a very visual church in its use of multimedia.) I have taken an additional year of post-graduate coursework at Memphis State University, where I studied both music and counseling.

I’ve been a copy editor and graphic designer for several big-city newspapers, as well as several magazines. In 1991, while living in Nashville, I helped to launch Worship Leader magazine, which remains the leading magazine on worship in this country. I served as managing editor and designer of the magazine during its difficult first three years before resigning to move to Portland.

Since moving to Portland in 1995, I have been a member of numerous churches and have served three church plants (startup churches). The first of these was Tualatin Valley Baptist Church (now defunct), where I was on staff part time. The second was Woodhaven Community Church in Sherwood, Oregon. The third was Freedom Foursquare Church, where I oversaw the audio ministry from April 2002 through October 2003.

(Following updated 14 December 2008)

I met my Filipina wife Chuchie online in May 2001. We married later that year in the Philippines. She immigrated to the States in December 2002 and quickly found a job as an accounting clerk for The Greenbrier Companies in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Her brother is a church planter in the city of Jagna, on the island of Bohol in the Philippines. My wife later worked for The Banfield Hospital (a pet hospital chain) corporate office on the east side of the metro area as an accountant for a period of time. In Fall 2007, she returned to her first employer, Greenbrier, mentioned above.

From February 2003 until April 2004, I worked as a graphic designer and Filemaker Pro database programmer for Oregon Catholic Press (OCP) in Portland. OCP is the leading producer of Catholic worship materials in the U.S. Although I’m not Catholic, but Protestant, my job gave me a great appreciation for the value of the lectionary, which is reflected in my thoughts above. Of course, OCP uses the Catholic lectionary, whereas I intend to use the Protestant Revised Common Lectionary.

In late April 2004, just before leaving OCP, I launched www.greatchurchwebsites.org, which is meant to be a showcase of excellence in church website design. As mentioned at the top of this page, I am currently updating and upgrading this website.

After leaving OCP, I was unemployed until June 2008, except for a nine-month position as Lotus Notes trainer for Kaiser Permanente, a large health-care organization. That contract ended when the money ran out after nine months. However, that job experience led to my current job, working as a temporary contractor for Siemens Business Services, which itself has a deskside tech support contract with Daimler Trucks North America of Portland. This company manufactures Freightliner and Western Star trucks, Sterling trucks (for another year), Thomas Built school buses, and (overseas) Mercedes brand trucks.

Though I regularly looked for work during the period April 2004 to June 2008, both jobs mentioned (Kaiser and my current job) were jobs that I did not actively seek and which God provided by his own hand. For example, on a Friday in November 2005, I was still unemployed, for a year and a half. The next day, Saturday, I got a call about my experience using Lotus Notes. On Monday, two days later, I was working for Kaiser making $275 a day. I didn't have to do a thing to get this job — God provided it. My current job, which unfortunately pays much less, came about in a similar, though less dramatic, fashion.

The Kaiser job enabled (in part) my wife and I to purchase a newly constructed home in Wood Village, Oregon, on the far eastern edge of the Portland metro area. We moved into the house in February 2007. Note that I had been unemployed again (after the Kaiser contract ended) for more than six months at this point.

Because I remained unemployed throughout 2007, and the debt was piling up, my wife and I decided at the end of the year to move to Beaverton, Oregon, on the west side of the Portland metro area, and rent our house. This was the "cast your net on the other side of the boat" method of finding work, as Nike has its headquarters in Beaverton and Intel, Yahoo, and other high-tech companies have offices in Beaverton and (farther west) Hillsboro, Oregon. (Beaverton is also closer to her job back at Greenbrier.) But still, I remained unemployed through the first half of 2008, despite my applying for 100s of jobs around Portland and around the entire country.

In March 2008, I began a 40 day long fast to seek God's help in finding work. In the middle of that, my wife demanded I get a job or leave, with a deadline of a few months later. (Without going into detail, her demand reflected the experience — and unbiblical model — of her own long-separated parents and her upbringing in the Philippines.) The irony is that a couple of months later, God provided the job with Siemens at Daimler — but my wife and I still separated.

Other things happened after this, but as the result of strange twists of fate, I've now moved back into the home in Wood Village that my wife and I still mutually own while she and our two kids (and her mom, who immigrated to Portland in January 2008) still live in Beaverton, where, as mentioned, she's close to her job with Greenbrier. My job is near downtown Portland, but it's an hour and a half (one way) commute by bus. (Ouch.) But I use the commute time to read the Bible. I've finished the entire New Testament since my job started in June 2008. I'm currently in the Old Testament, reading the book of Numbers. I hope to have read the entire Bible before I start my next 40 day long fast in March 2009. (I want to do this annually.)

So now I live in one part of a big house with a mortgage to pay, and the rest of the house is empty. So I'm currently searching for a roommate — hopefully a Christian who is ministry-minded and can help me to launch The Networked Church.

I view my current separation from my wife and family as spiritual warfare against The Networked Church. I take comfort in knowing that this must mean Satan is greatly threatened by the prospect of my starting a church and snatching many souls from his hand. But prayers for our marriage would be appreciated.

(End of 14 December 2008 update)

Present status

Currently, I’m researching resources suitable for use by home churches. Yes, there are tons of small-group Bible studies available, but except for a few exceptions, they’re not VISUAL — that is, they’re not available in VHS or DVD format. Also, I’m searching for sources of recorded sermons in VHS or DVD format, particularly sermons based on the Protestant lectionary. The search for resources will continue through the year 2009.

In addition (and more importantly), throughout 2009, I’ll be focused on spending time in prayer, asking God to prepare in advance all the resources needed to plant and grow The Networked Church. These include people (leaders, and those with a variety of giftings, including musicians); facilities such as homes, condos and apartments for the home church meetings and Big Blowout Worship Services; sermon resources; multimedia resources; and other worship resources.

—David Gillaspey

Email your reactions — positive or negative (both are welcome) — to david.gillaspey@networkedchurch.com.

 

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