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In light of yesterday’s healthy discussion, I thought I’d follow up today with an insider’s perspective of how God is using video technology via the internet. The following is a guest blog from Brian Vasil, Internet Campus Pastor at Flamingo Road Church – Miami, FL

A little while ago, I was in a chat room with an Internet Campus Pastor friend and colleague, Brandon Donaldson.  He and the brilliant team at Lifechurch.tv were early adopters and trailblazers of the notion that real church could happen on the Internet.  As we talked about one thing or another, he referred to the two of us as “old school” Internet Campus Pastors.

I had to stop and drink that in.  Can you be “old school” at something that didn’t exist before 2005?

Maybe… and with that comes the responsibility of sharing what you’ve learned.  I’d like to do that here…

Here are three things that I’ve learned (so far) about Internet Campus Pastors and what I’ve been called to do in the past 3 years:

1)  It’s much more about the Pastoral side than the technical side…  I tell any church that is even remotely interested in starting an Internet Campus…if you are going to put your messages out there, chat about them, and allow prayer requests, you have to have a dedicated Pastor available to help shepherd the digital flock.  Sometimes my inbox resembles the online prayer scene in Bruce Almighty…but I consider it a privilege to pray and care for people around the globe.    Many churches don’t start Internet Campuses because they don’t have the right “technology” person to lead it.  The tech will take care of itself.  Find a person whose Pastoral heart beats for people he may never meet physically but loves just the same.

2)  Your motives will be questioned…  You will be criticized, ostracized, analyzed, and unfairly questioned.    People will challenge your salvation and say that your ministry is worthless.   Soldier on.  My heart beats for the lost…even if they are in prison, sick, phobic, or otherwise unable to attend a physical campus.   That’s why we’re here.  It’s all about the vision God’s given us at Flamingo Road through our Lead Pastor, Troy Gramling.    We believe God has called us to have an Internet Campus…and we would be disobedient to do otherwise.

3)  Learn from everyone… I love talking to brand new Internet Campus Pastors.    They are packed full of fresh ideas…new thoughts… and brilliant strategies… God gives them a different angle or a varied look at the internet community that we’re all working to save from hell.   No matter the size of the church or its Internet Campus,  I can always glean something new that may help us in our journey.  In turn, we are always ready to help anyone just putting their digital stakes in the ground.

I know that reflecting about Internet Campus Pastors is a little like writing a biography of a baby still in the womb.  There’s still so much to do and explore.   I can’t wait to see what God has planned for iCampuses… real churches seeking real people with real hearts in virtual space.

I blogged about the known internet campuses last week and received emails from many people that are beginning or considering starting an internet campus. I’m afraid by listing the churches that have taken the leap that it appears that I’m suggesting that all churches should move in this direction.

I want to be very clear about my personal opinion on this. I’ve shared this with friends in person, but never written publically about it. My two cents: just like there are bad Christian movies and bad Christian television, I think there are and can be bad internet campuses.

Just because you have a video camera and use uStream or LiveStream doesn’t mean you’re called to launch an internet campus. There are numerous things to consider including staff, volunteers, budget, philosophy of ministry, equipment, etc. Here’s the thing about the internet – it’s Global! Once you broadcast (good, bad or ugly), you are out there for the world to see.

Honestly, if I started a church plant and I wanted to offer an online campus experience, I would just link to LifeChurch.tv’s or Seacoast’s internet campus from my church’s homepage –  UNLESS I absolutely felt called by God to start our own internet campus experience and I thought we had something special, unique and life-giving to offer the world.

Another thing to consider is timing. The best internet campuses worked long and hard on their Sunday live experience. It was years before they considered reaching out beyond their live worship times. Unfortunately, what I see lately are churches that haven’t put enough time, effort, innovation, creativity and life into their main Sunday services and now want to take on another huge undertaking like an internet campus. I’ve always been a voice for less is more and I think this applies here, too.

Please don’t take on something new until you’ve got your live services jumping with life and excellence. Again, if you need a second opinion on this and want an outside set of eyes to give you feedback on your worship service, talk to me about coming as a secret shopper. Read HERE for more info on that.

Wrapping up: if you feel God is absolutely calling you to start an internet campus then forget what I said and be obedient to God. IF you’re just getting caught up in the craze and buzz of all the chatter in Church leadership circles, please put your plans on hold and don’t consider it until you feel truly led by God and know you can do it with excellence. We don’t need anymore bad Christian examples for people to point to. Your thoughts?

Below is a blog post from my friend, DJ Chuang of Leadership Network:

As the multi-site church revolution continues to grow and mushroom (cf. the Leadership Network book, Multi-Site Revolution: Being One Church in Many Locations) — over 1,500 multi-site churches in the United States (2005 stat, per MondayMorningInsight.com) — not only are churches going to multiple locations geographically into other cities and states, a few are connecting people via Internet campuses! Here’s the ones I’ve found so far [add a comment to keep this list updated]:

[ count = 33; last updated: 07/13/09 ]

Granted, a video podcast feed allows people to view a sermon message from the archives on-demand, or you could watch a worship service via streaming live video or Cable TV broadcast, e.g. Tenth Presbyterian Church‘s live webcast or Bell Shoals Baptist Church‘slive webcast or watch live service from C3 Church in Sydney, Australia(!).

But an Internet campus is more than having a live streaming video — it’s adding live interactive features like lobby chat room, message notes, communication card, raise a hand, say a prayer, and even online giving. Some have on-going ministry during the week with attenders by forming small groups or service projects. I’d imagine more features will be added as these campuses grow and technologies mature. (I’ve already participated at 2 of the above Internet campuses — once when I was homebound during a snow storm, and we had family worship at home with my wife and son online!)

These Internet campuses are reaching hundreds and thousands already! One prediction projects that 10% of Americans will rely exclusively on the Internet for their religious experience by 2010.

So, what do you think? What would it take to launch an Internet campus at your church?

[update] Other churches preparing to launch internet campuses:  Liberty Church(Pensacola FL) has what it calls its internet campus using Ustream.TVC3 Church(Clayton NC) has a live feed, and Manna Church (Fayetteville NC) planning to launch one cf. linkGateway Church (Austin) has an internet campus pastor who will be preparing the way for their internet campus. Discovery Church (Orlando FL) has live video from its Orange Avenue campus services and has an Internet campus pastor in place. Discovery Church (Voorhees NJ) offers Discovery LIVE for live-stream video. New Hope Family Church (Sioux Falls SD) has a live-streamed video of its worship service. Church of the Redeemer (Gaithersburg MD) has live webcast of its services in English and Spanish. The River (Little Rock AR) has live webcast on Sundays 11am (Central).

My friend, DJ Chuang, has put together some great information and links on internet campuses HERE and HERE. So – what are your thoughts? Have you ever attended an internet campus? Would you consider launching one?

Church Marketing Sucks, Tony Steward and Tony Morgan blogged about making Guy Kawasaki’s Modern Church Alltop List, so I will, too. 🙂

I am the 4th blogger listed on this very interesting list. So many of my friends and peers are listed here. This is a great place to check out some very relevant blogs worth reading! Thanks Guy! You can check it out HERE.

Thanks to Tony Steward for providing this:

*By the way, I encourage you to check out Tony’s “Internet Campus Starter Kit” blog – it’s great!