We’re Starting a New Presbyterian Church

There are times when some things in life just make sense. What might seem like a foolish and risky endeavor to one person might be a natural convergence of clarity and call to another. With that said, after nearly a year since I announced the end of my time at a church that I helped to plant over a decade ago, it’s with a deep sense of call that I am again entering the world of church planting.

But wait, there’s more.

For generations the idea of “church” has been bound by proximity, physical structures and time. Sure, many have been creative within these bounds, but most have nevertheless been limited by them. The past 10+ years has also seen the increased influence of social media on culture that has created profound opportunities for people to engage the breadth of the human experience and find genuine community. Many churches have found ways to integrate the use of social media into congregational life, but most are centered around the idea that the community begins at one central location and that particular experience is amplified by the use of social media. For a while now I have had an inkling that the “social media amplifies the local church” paradigm could be flipped upside-down resulting in a powerful way to be church. If this shift were to be taken seriously, some interesting questions are raised:

  • What if a church decided that the discipline of following Christ and building genuine Christian community could be lived out without everyone having to actually be in one place at one time?
  • What if a church unapologetically leveraged online tools to be a community no longer bound by architecture, time and physical proximity?
  • What if a church that met online believed that even a historic religious tradition like the Presbyterian Church (USA) can be expressed in new ways?
  • Essentially . . . can church be church when it is primarily lived and manifested online?

Well ask “What if?” no longer because the church that I am planting is going to be one that tries to answer these questions. Peering through the lens of social media, I am excited to push the bounds of traditional church formation, while maintaining all that is good about traditional church. To be clear, the online nature of this idea certainly creates great technological possibilities, but my intention is that we will build just a church like any church: one that worships, serves, studies and prays together . . . we will just happen to gather online. There will be no justifications seeking legitimacy, no quotes inferring that this is not a “real church” and no posture that we are competing for people, resources or notoriety . . . just a church.

As I dive into this, I have had some exploratory conversations with people who might be part of such a church, received some initial feedback from denominational folks and have prayed x 3 about it. but like any church plant, there is much to do in order get ready for any kind of official launch.  At this early stage it is tempting to come out launching a high-functioning and slick “product,” but we realize that if this is to truly be a church and not just a dispenser of religious services, the final mission, vision, form and function must be formed and owned by the community. At the same time, I know that some will need to know a little more before deciding whether or not to get involved. So to give a taste, here is a little bit of what I am thinking in terms of initial focus and tone . . .

  • Spiritual and Religious – This is not just about getting together and being Christians in isolation who randomly connect online, but about developing disciplines that help us to grow into who God intends.
  • Gracious and Progressive – While spirited theological and political disagreement will be welcomed, stridency and rigidity is not how we will approach difficult issues. We will be a church that will live under the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA): ones sexual orientation or gender are not barriers to leadership, reproductive options are important, capital punishment should be abolished, etc.
  • Reformed and Presbyterian – Reformed and always reforming according to the Word of God is central to our ongoing search for God’s intentions for each of us. As we seek to know the will of God and mind of Christ, we do so honoring all voices, no matter how small.
  • Open and Sourced – While all people who are part of this community are ministers in their own right, we also know that some roles will require particular gifts and skills. The life of the community will move along with a collaborative spirit, but leadership will also be tasked with guiding and shaping the process in a way that moves forward. The circle will definitely widen, but the initial leadership team is currently made up of: Katie Mulligan, Teaching Elder, NJ; Stephen Salyards, Ruling Elder, CA; Mihee Kim-Kort, Teaching Elder, IN; Derrick Weston, Teaching Elder, OH; Jack Jenkins, Seminary Student, MA; Jennifer Owen Walsh, NC and myself, Teaching Elder in CA. [Delayed add since Bridgett Green, Teaching Elder and PhD Candidate, TN]
  • Inward and Outward . . . but mostly outward – This is not about building up a crazy number of followers, friends or likes. This is about creating community that finds healing, discipline and love SO that we get the heck out into the world and do some good. From our tent-making pastoral leadership to our programs to our finances the outward nature of this community will be self-evident.

. . . and this is where we do it all through the lens of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Again I know that there are many of questions that we need to address before a full launch - “What about X?” and “How will we do X?” - but I also know that only way this new church will be able to respond well is to keep widening the circle of involvement. With this in mind our first step is to gauge the interest of folks and begin to gather people for some conversations and planning. Some of you are ready to dive right in, others will want nothing to do with this craziness and still others of you will need to lurk around the edges until the time is right. However you might see yourself connected to this church that has yet to be named, as we begin to build up a spiritual community, develop organizational strategies and start being church together, you are invited to JOIN OUR FACEBOOK PAGE and FILL OUT THE SURVEY BELOW.

There is definitely more to come and I look forward to walking this journey with some of you. Please pass this along to any folks who you think might also be interested.

[wufoo username="achurchonline" formhash="z7x3k1" autoresize="true" height="1631" header="show"]

47 comments

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  • LoneWolf Ethos  

    Everyone is a person of faith, and everyone suffers hypocrisy. (The faith of atheists is secular humanism; their god is ‘Self’.) … We’re all congregationalists!

  • Brittany Harrold  

    Thanks for this article. Could you and anyone expand a little on the first warning “I am bigger than the church I serve.” with an example. I am just not sure exactly what you are talking about. Would that include sharing a photo on your facebook of you at a political rally or something like that? Just curious as a young person with all the social media and now working at churches and trying to balance being authentic with congregants online and with my friends and family online.

  • Dottie Metropol  

    Thank you, Bruce! Boundaries are a necessity in this social media world.

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  • Dwight McCormic  

    Hey Bruce, I submitted a survey without my email.  I went to resubmit it with my email, but was unable to do so because it was a duplicate submission. 

    I think it is a great idea and I’d love to stay connected and see where it goes.  I’ll speak with Derrick about it further.  It’s an exciting possibility.  I’m going to post my church name suggestions here because I was pleased with myself over them, and I also think a couple could be legitimate.  

    They are:Gracebook.  or The First Apostolic Assembly of Holy Ghost Technology Temple.  Or Electronic Ecclesia, Maybe  The Way on the Web, or 1001 01 1001  011

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  • Laura Cavanaugh  

    I’m interested and looking forward to updates.  I’d love to be more involved in this discussion.

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  • Godwin  

    I think its an idea whose time is come but you must tread cautiously so as not to do sheep stealing.  If this takes people out of the churches and they lose the benefits of being physically together and the spiritual disciplines there, it will have negative unintended consequences.  Last night our church had a talent show and watching children sing and dance (including two with down syndrome), an elderly member sing a song from his performance days in the late 40′s, etc, as the whole church cheered them on reminded me of some elements only a traditional church can provide.  Watching children learn to serve through being acolytes, grow in faith through Sunday School, attending children’s sermons, etc, are all ways that the traditional church can serve.  If families drop out to be a part of an on-line community, that is a loss.  All that said – for many who are not in church, want to see what Presby’s are all about, are physically unable to attend, just don’t connect to traditional church or want a boost in addition to their church life – I think its great.  Look forward to watching it develop.   

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      TOTALLY agree. While I honor when people do need to shift and move communities for whatever reason, as a church planter, we do not simply want to transfer one set of habit and systems to another. We are not out to clone any other church, but to find our own identity in the new expression.

  • Dennis Maher  

    I filled out the form. The first question that hides here is: “What is a church?” or “What would make what is said or done here ‘a church?’”

  • David Derus  

    I just filled out the form and forgot to put my email on there. Anyhow, I’m the one that mentioned moving from “no way” to “skeptical”: in the process of filling out the form.

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      David – Thanks for filling out the form. I will say that I am pretty sure that we are not going to be about trying to convince people that this is going to be a good idea. We will do our thing as faithfully  as we can and, like all chruches, we will grow and change along with the people who are attracted to us. Thanks for the open mind on this.

  • SarahLee Morris  

    I completely echo Ann Knox’s comment about excitement, as well as connection to our own present congregations.  As for being part of far-flung communities, I’m an associate member of the Iona Community, and feel that there are ways to connect both virtually and personally if one really wishes to do so.  I look forward with great anticipation to further developments here, especially after having attended the NEXT Conference in Dallas.

  • janewilk  

    What is the difference between a teaching elder and a ruling elder? I’m an ordained elder in the PC(USA) but have no idea. Do I just need to read my B of O more closely? (Quelle horreur.)

    • Michael Kruse  

      Since reunion in 1983 we have had elders and ministers of word and sacrament. They used to be called ruling elders and teaching elders respectively. The new form of that took affect last summer returns to the historic language. Our polity has been that congregations and the church are guided by a community of elders, with the teaching elder occupying a specialized role … but we are all elders. It was felt by many (including myself) that the previous language change was leading to a clergification of the church and away from Presbyterian polity. You and I are ruling elders. Bruce is a teaching elder. (BTW, “ruling” does not mean “Lord it over.” It means to rule as in getting out a yardstick or ruler and measuring something. Ruling elders take measure of the health and vitality of those under their care and seek their welfare.)

      • janewilk  

        Thank you, Michael!

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  • A.Y. Siu  

    Um, Bruce? This sounds awesome!

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Thanks. A little strange, but we’re pretty excited about planning this thing as well as the energy that has already been generated.

  • Luke Ellis  

    Sounds intriguing, but I think it will be important for an online community to recognize certain limitations – and then to address them in specific, concrete ways.  Mainly, I wonder about the inevitable disconnect between the intimacy of Christian incarnation and the necessarily impersonal nature of online relationships. 

    In other words – and with reference to the sacramental dimension of this problem – there is a real and significant difference between *Communion* and *communication*.

  • Rebekah  

    I’m so glad to hear you’re going forward with this. I’m excited to see what happens.

  • DanielHaas  

    One of the biggest concerns that I have would be a sacramental one. The signs
    of Baptism and Holy Communion ought to be tangible. In order to be a real
    mainline church you ought to be able to abide by ecumenical agreements on
    Eucharist and Baptism where the elements play a role that cannot be accomplished
    without physically touching them. I’m not saying an online church needs to be
    put on hold until beaming is invented but the body of Christ must be tangible at
    times:
    http://danielhaas.org/2012/02/church-online/

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      A very good concern and one that we have had some conversations about. If you will read the post, tho, there is no assumption that this is ALL online, but the paradigm of what comes first and is primary is shifted. We have played with regional face-to-face gatherings, taking advantage of other events as well as a possible annual congregational meeting were some folks gather. So we are still thinking about this, but not so much a barrier to avoid stepping out.

      • Jo Ann  

         I should have read this before filling out the form, instead of wasting readers’ time saying the same thing!

      • Paul  

        This could answer my major concern as well, that is gathering together (physically) as Christian community from time to time, specifically around the communion table and through the sharing of meals.

  • Mark Smith  

    I’d love to be part of the leadership, but I fear that my availability as a seminarian who has to maintain ties to my current church might be limited.

  • Ann Knox  

    Wow, wow and wow.  I’m 60 years old, but this is very exciting to me and I can’t even tell you why!  But I will definitely be following how this shapes up and am grateful to you for envisioning a way the church might exist differently, even while absolutely loving my own congregation.

    • Jo Ann  

       I’m 64 and it thrills me too.   Maybe this is why God hasn’t yet called me to a congregation,  nearly 9 years after finishing seminary.

  • HartEdmonds  

    Bruce, I think some spiritual and missional explorations such as you envision are very much worth pursuing. I view your approach as a virtual and online support network to the incarnational gathering of those called to follow and serve Christ and not the primary experience for many. Something about a warm human body…”what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life..”(I John 1:1) is indispensable!  So, please push the envelope on this, while regarding the en-fleshed experience of the gospel as essential.

  • Joe  

    My initial impression is that this is the ecclesiological equivalent of a disembodied soul, which doesn’t sound that great to me.

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Say more Joe, the idea of a body meeting online and in person . . . would love to hear why this is the reaction.  thanks.

      • David Moon-Wainwright  

        Bruce, I think the form I just filled out reflects a similar reaction. As you gave no specifics in the post I think many of us filled in a lot of blanks without data. At the same time, as parish clergy, I cannot imagine what you all have in mind when it comes to major elements of our worship celebrations: weddings, funerals, baptisms or eucharist.

        Is not the Church the reflection, the ambassador, the followers of the Incarnate God? How does cyber church represent that? 

        • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

          I think what you’ll begin to see is some guiding reflection on this as the body develops its understanding. The interesting thing has been the number of Teaching Elders who have felt called to be a part of this. Expected, but not our intention AT ALL. We will create a space for this part of the community to be in fellowship, but we are not forming a church for pastors. So . . . like any church plant, we will see who is really committed to being part of this endeavor and then begin walking them through a process of discernment. Many folks want a finished “product” with all of the answers already set, but we will always sit in the tension between the known and unknown . . . kinds like most churches.  

          I also think that for many folks, this just won’t be for them, again, kinda like most churches, each meets the needs to particular people at particular times.
          Back your questions, I do not think online interaction limits a body of people any more than other bodies from being the church as you describe it. Sure, different aspets to navigate, but for many, this is already happening all over the place.

          • David Moon-Wainwright  

            Bruce, in terms of a Church Online, I guess I simply cannot fathom what appears to be so clear for you and others. Go with God!

  • Timothy Marvil  

    A wonderful new thrust into “being the Church” in present times.  Worthy of exploration.  I hope the power and internet connectivity stays on though!  Good luck!

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