Reaction to Shane Hipps

I have been in a conversation with Ben Simpson regarding a post by Steve Knight in which he includes a video of Shane Hipps critiquing the possibility of online Christian community.  This is a subject about which I have thought a great deal as I lead a project at Resurrection to develop an Internet Campus.

I have two reactions to the Shane Hipps video.  The first regards his definition of “Christian community.”  The second regards his comments about the incarnation.

Hipps starts by saying, “We’ve radically altered the definition of [community].”  This premise suggests that at some time in the past Christians have shared an understanding of community that is radically at odds with what happens when people interact online.  It would be helpful to know the source and content of that prior definition, if in fact such a definition has ever existed, in order evaluate the validity of this premise.

Hipps then goes on to give his own definition.  He says, “A meaningful, missional, Christian community should have several ingredients:  1) shared history; 2) permanence; 3) proximity; and 4) a shared imagination of the future.”

Communities can have any or all of the characteristics Hipps mentioned, no argument there, but Hipps is saying a “Christian community” (or more precisely “a meaningful, missional, Christian community”) by definition should have all four of these.  It’s not clear to me that this definition of community is sound, from either a sociological or a theological point of view.

I’m not a sociologist, but I believe a good sociological definition of “community” is a group of people who interact with each other and share one or more things in common such as interests, goals, intentions, worldview, needs, practices, proximity, emotional connection, resources, or identity.  I believe a sociologist would say any one of these or other traits could be the basis of a community as the term is commonly used.

Neither am I a theologian, but some simple illustrations cast doubt on Hipps’ definition.  If church I attend closes, then it wasn’t permanent.  Does that mean the entire time I was part of that church it wasn’t a “Christian community?”  Similarly, if a church I attend never arrives at a shared imagination of the future, does that mean it isn’t a “Christian community?”  If I’m homebound and talk with other congregants by phone and listen to my church’s weekly worship service on the radio, does my lack of proximity mean I’m not part of the “Christian community?”  Further, the term “proximity” is relative.  As long as we’re getting technical here, how close is close enough?  Did people who were close enough to see and hear Jesus but never touched him fully experience the incarnation?

This brings me to my reaction to Hipps’ comments on the relationship between the incarnation and Christian community.  He begins by saying, “Jesus Christ is the ultimate medium and message for God’s revelation in the world.”  He goes on to say it is, “… hard to understand how you incarnate the gospel in a discarnate setting.”  It isn’t our task to “incarnate the gospel.”  God has already done that once and for all.  Jesus is no longer physically present with us in the body in which he was incarnated (or perhaps he is if you accept transubstantiation).  Rather, our knowledge of Jesus is mediated through the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit, and the Church, which is the Body of Christ in the world.  Affirming the gospel as incarnational does not mean we must physically touch Jesus in order to be in communion with God.  My question for Hipps is this: in what way does the incarnation demand that we physically touch each other in order to understand or practice the gospel?

Congress on Evangelism 2009 presentation

I’ve been at the Methodist Congress on Evangelism this week with Chuck Russell. This is the annual national evangelism conference for the United Methodist denomination.  Chuck and I were asked to present on the role of a congregation’s website in evangelism.  Chuck covered the basics and I talked about sermon content delivery, social networking and social media, and Internet Campus.

For fun, I used EVDO on my cell phone and a web cam to live stream our presentation via the Clif Guy Cam on uStream.  When I verified that my EVDO signal was strong enough to support the live stream, I tweeted and within minutes we had 10 people watching. The third time we gave the presentation, I recorded it.  You can watch it here.  Sure, the video production values are so non-existent it’s comical.  Despite that, the video gives a pretty good sense of the presentation.

Web sites/products mentioned in the presentation:

Life Church Internet Campus benchmarking day 2

This morning we went back to the LifeChurch Edmond campus to meet with Brandon Donaldson and Terry Storch.  When we arrived, Brandon showed us the new Digerati office and the Internet Campus studio.

Brandon shows us the Internet Campus studio

We then spent a couple of hours picking Brandon’s brain on everything from congregational care to budgeting to vision.  I’ll post details as soon as I can organize our notes.  After a tasty lunch at McAlister’s complete with enormous cups of sweet tea, we returned to meet with Terry Storch.

Terry Storch with Resurrection team

Finally I got a surprise tweet from Jeff Wilson of Henderson Hills asking if he could see us.  So we went over and spent an hour with him before getting on I-35 for the drive back to Kansas City.

Jeff Wilson of Henderson Hills

Jeff is now leading IT at Henderson Hills and is thinking about Internet Campus too.  It’s becoming quite a club!  Henderson Hills is a cool church that was our host for MinistryTECH back in April.  It was fun to show Chuck, Brian, and Andrew a quick tour of their comfortable, human-scale facility.

More substantive content to follow soon.

Life Church Internet Campus benchmarking day 1

I’m in Oklahoma City with Chuck Russell, Brian Slezak, and Andrew Conard to benchmark LifeChurch’s Internet Campus by observing them in action and by meeting with Terry Storch (Digerati Pastor) and Brandon Donaldson (Internet Campus Pastor).

Our day began with attending the 10:00 service (“experience” in LifeChurch parlance) at the Edmond campus where the Global Operations Center and Internet Campus offices are located.

worship at LifeChurch Edmond

After the 10:00 experience, Terry took us up to the Global Operations Center where we got a high-level view of what was happening at all Life Church campuses, including the Internet Campus, during the 11:30 experience.

LifeChurch Global Operations Center sign

Terry Storch discusses the Internet Campus while it displays on the lower monitor

We then went over to the Internet Campus offices to chat with Brandon Donaldson while the 11:30 experience was underway.

Brandon Donaldson (Internet Campus Pastor) with his DELL laptop!

Terry’s boss, Bobby Gruenewald, dropped by.

Bobby Gruenewald and Terry Storch

We learned many interesting things and I’m sure have much more to learn when we meet again on Monday.

After hanging out with Brandon, Terry, and Bobby, we grabbed some lunch and went downtown to see the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. In this photo you can see the 9:01 Gate with First Methodist Church in the upper right background. Being right across the street to the SE of the Murrah Building, the church was heavily damaged in the blast and played a key role in the recovery following the events of April 19, 1995.

01 Gate and First United Methodist Church

My apologies to Jason Reynolds and David Helbig of Christ Fellowship, who hosted Chuck Russell and me back in mid-June as we benchmarked the Internet Campuses of Christ Fellowship and Flamingo Road. Due to my laptop being stolen the night we arrived (while we were enjoying the beach), I never posted a single blog entry about our trip or what we learned there. I hope to correct that soon!

CITRT: Internet Campus – Terry Storch

Terry Storch,

Volunteers: Vols are involved in every aspect of Internet Campus: technology, greeting, communications, counseling, missions, etc.

Giving:  They have a way to permit people to donate without having an online account.  Done via PayPal.  They’re working on better UIs for online giving.  Difficult to design a system that works equally well for physical campuses and online campuses.  Made a change that increased physical campus giving 20% but decreased online giving 60%.  That was a bad day for Terry.

Sacraments: They taught on sacraments in a sermon series and lead IC congregants through the process of communion.

Identity and interoperable social networking

Social networking and social media have been near the top of my mind since our senior pastor first announced our Internet campus initiative.  I see social networking as the primary method of reaching our target audience – tech-savvy people who "live" online.  The Internet campus will grow as participants share church-generated content with friends through social networking technologies and as participants create their own content in response.

Since I first began posting on this topic, I have repeatedly mentioned the issue of online identity because I think the lack of an open, portable identity system is already putting a drag on the adoption rate of social networking and social media sites.  There are simply too many sites, too many accounts, and too much maintenance required.  User fatigue is setting in.

Recently, there have been a number of encouraging technological developments.  This week came the announcement that Google, IBM, Microsoft, VeriSign and Yahoo! have joined the OpenID Foundation.  OpenID is gathering steam.  This is most welcome.

The second major technological issue is the lack of an open, portable way to exchange social graph data.  (Of course, identity data and social graph data are closely related.)  OpenSocial got some buzz when it was first announced in November.  Unfortunately, our hope was short lived when we realized that Facebook wouldn’t allow us to access its data and pull that data into applications outside of Facebook.

This week Brad Fitzpatrick of Google announced the Google Social Graph API.  As part of its normal search indexing, Google is now crawling the Web for XFN and FOAF markup and provides whatever it has found to calling applications via their API.  Matt Bradshaw of our team and Web Empowered Church has already built a simple application using the API.  As soon as he has a web UI for it, I’ll post it here so you can play around with it.  I can’t overstate how cool this stuff is.  When you see it in action, you’ll immediately grok the significance.  This is a major step along the path of interoperability and portability.