Planting Digital Churches in Response to COVID-19

So, tell me… Are you responding to the pandemic or merely reacting to it?

Some who react struggle to survive while other reactors have simply moved the program out of the box and onto smartphones or whatever. Disciplemaking churches, on the other hand, see this as an opportunity to multiply disciples, leaders and groups.

To be clear, I’m horribly prejudiced in the direction of disciplemaking in small groups as the chief organizing principle for a church. In my mind, programs exist because of needs in the body. They do not serve as the primary structural setup for a healthy church. I see what we call church as a weekend convention of small congregations operating under “lay” leadership.

Church is a disciplemaking continuum starting with whatever you call your senior leaders working its way into concentric circles of disciplemaking clusters. One natural fruit of this is the multiplication of autonomous, or at least semi-autonomous churches.

Planting DigiChurches

All of which brings me to my friends at Mission Church in Omaha and their efforts to plant churches digitally—they call them DigiChurches.

For them, the pandemic is an Acts 8:1 moment when the church becomes unfettered by its comfortable traditions and practices. Long ago Acts 8:1 made Acts 1:8 possible much like the tragedy of this virus is helping some churches get out of the box and into new communities and tight relationships.

They began with a pre-COVID goal of saturation church plants in every inner city in the United States (there are nearly 400 such communities, each hosting scores of neighborhoods). Such a goal can be overwhelming or at least stretch over several generations much like the construction of European cathedrals. Their pastor Myron Pierce owns a burgeoning social media marketing company. Coupling his digital understanding with hands-on disciplemaking set the church up to respond to the pandemic by organizing churches in other cities—even across oceans.

The church gathers people in a location where they have someone on the ground to lead both during and after the crisis—both online and in homes and other buildings. They’ve planted from Omaha in St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago, New Jersey, Brixton (London) England, Harare Zimbabwe and Kampala Uganda.

It’s Pretty Simple

The method is simple. They use highly targeted Facebook ads to draw people together around the four services in the mother church each weekend. The ads pinpoint a location, even a specific neighborhood. Then they assign a leader in Omaha or in the city they target to pastor the people digitally while organizing them into small Zoom groups. Longer term this person will gather the digital crowd for face-to-face meetings of what we traditionally see as church.

The church in Zimbabwe is led by a clinical counselor from that country living in the U.S. He’s able to speak the local language and will eventually replace himself with someone actually living in Harare. The first week in Harare they gathered just over 450 people. Those numbers have held so far. Organizing these people into groups via social media is a challenge from far away.

Even Humorous…

The story actually gets better. You’ll enjoy hearing about Myron getting lost in Brixton, England at the end of a train line in the middle of the night and then using Uber to catch up to the seminar where he was to meet me, a hundred miles away. But it was at that seminar that he met a man living in Brixton. The plot thickened nearly a year later when his morning prayers were interrupted… Myron called me a couple of weeks ago, “What was the name of that place where I got lost? Jesus told me to plant a church in that city. And I’ve got a guy who lives in London that can lead it—I just can’t remember the name of the town.” Mix getting lost, spending a fortune on Uber and a response to a pandemic and out pops a fledgling online gathering of nearly 200 people. God does work in mysterious ways. BTW, did I mention that this is a small church without a lot of money? They’re putting roughly $100 into Facebook ads to launch each of these DigiChurches.

You can hear the whole story in much detail and catch the humor by CLICKING HERE to join Myron in the podcast. Remember that adding comments and sharing links is an act of love, so please do.