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Survive or thrive?

April 02, 2021

“If we want to survive, we’ve got to get online.”

I’ve heard versions of this sentence spoken by clergy and laity throughout the last 12 months as we have all struggled to find our way in a changing digital landscape. While I (Anne) agree with them and think having a digital presence is essential in this season of ministry, “survival” isn’t a compelling enough vision upon which to build an impactful ministry. Just getting online isn’t the answer. Putting your sermons on Facebook isn’t a magic bullet. Streaming your worship to YouTube will not guarantee survival.

If survival isn’t a solid enough foundation upon which to build an effective online ministry, what is? Mission. Contrast that with another statement said to me by another church leader recently.

“If we want to thrive, we’ve got to get back on mission.”

Let’s look at the differences in these two statements and see what we can learn about the potential impact and mindsets motivating each one.

“If we want to survive, we’ve got to get online.”
  • A “Survive Mindset” is driven by comfort. What often motivates this statement is the desire to maintain the status quo and facilitate the comfort of church members in the present and on into the future. This idea of survival indicates you want what is being done in the present and future to mimic the comfort of the past. In a survival-motivated church, if any evaluations of ministries are done, they are based on how good people feel about what was done, not how effective the ministries are in accomplishing the mission of the church.
  • A “Survive Mindset” is driven by fear. In addition, churches focused on survival are driven by fear. They feel threatened because some of the ministries they were doing before may not be attractive or even accessible to others. Some of their church members have gotten out of the rhythm of a corporate gathering and are settling into new routines at home. People are meeting their social needs in other spaces outside of the church. Church leaders focused on survival are begging people, saying, “Please come back, we need you,” and disengaged church members are saying, “Why? I’m doing just fine on my own.”
  • A “Survive Mindset” does more of what’s not working. Survival minded church leaders think in order to pursue disconnected people and find them where they are, the church must go online. “If they won’t come to us, we’ll go to them.” I love that philosophy of ministry! But here’s the caveat. If what you’re doing in person isn’t meeting the needs of the people you’re trying to attract, what makes you think that doing the same thing online will suddenly meet their needs? A church disconnected from its intended audience is still going to be disconnected from that same audience online. Simply putting something online that is not working to engage the people you hope to reach isn’t going to help you survive. It’s just going to make you tired and discouraged.
Now let’s look at the good news.

“If we want to thrive, we’ve got to get back on mission.”
  • A “Thrive Mindset” recognizes potential. This statement reveals an underlying belief that the universal church still has the potential to thrive and grow in this changing landscape. A church leader who is hoping for a thriving church communicates that even though things are tough, God is on the throne and the church is still God’s plan A for communicating the gospel to a hurting, dying world. The church will thrive, not because of what we do, but because of what God is doing. The church thrives when it partners with God in the work He is doing, not when it expects God to come and bless the work the church wants to do.
  • A “Thrive Mindset” prioritizes the mission, not the method. Many churches today have forgotten who they are and why they are. In the rush to put Humpty Dumpty (the church) back together again, many have tried to pick up the pieces of the past instead of leaning into the present and looking for new things in the future. The church is the representation of Christ in the world, and we exist to make disciples for the transformation of the world. Jesus gave us the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 knowing full well we would experience wars, famines, pandemics, political unrest, and a post-Christian world where being the church on mission would be more difficult. Yet He commissioned us anyway and promised to walk with us through it. There are people in the world who are waiting for your church to recapture the urgency of living on mission so they can hear the gospel. They are struggling through life because they don’t know the One who can make them whole. They are ready for your church to reengage in our mission so you can be the church to them.
Do I believe in hybrid ministry? Wholeheartedly! Do I believe online tools and platforms present a brand-new frontier for reaching people with the gospel? Absolutely! In order for our churches to thrive instead of merely survive, we must approach digital technology as a way to accomplish the mission instead of a way to protect and preserve the past. Our mission is too important to just survive. Let’s utilize technology and the digital frontier to thrive so we can help people become more like Jesus for the sake of others.

If you’d like to follow what my team and I are doing to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world in the digital space, check out The Chapel Online, a new digital-first community that seeks to connect those far from God with an online faith community. The Chapel Online is right where people are, right when they need us.

The Chapel Online utilizes the following platforms as tools for ministry:

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/thechapelonline
Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/thechapelonlinegroup
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thechapelonline/
YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCi8xOTItuAMo2OD5-6qZVMw
TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@lilthingsbigdifference

Jay Hanson, Director of Congregational Development  and Lead Pastor of The Chapel Ministries, and Anne Bosarge, Associate Director of Congregational Development and Campus Pastor of The Chapel Online, serve at The Chapel Ministries. They love sharing about the ways God is moving in their church. Contact them at jay@thechapelministries.com and anne@thechapelministries.com.

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