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Will moving online accelerate trends towards a consumer church at the expense of costly discipleship? That's my fear, writes Michael Shaw

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Sunday’s service left me drained. I didn’t have to do much, the service was run by the minister-in-training, my sermon had been pre-recorded in the week, so all I had to do was sit back. But my brain is full of concerns about the people in the church. Normally I can grab a coffee with one or two after the service, or during the week. It doesn’t help that we were struggling before this crisis financially and that things have got worse (only in a good place thanks to a Baptists Together emergency grant) so I am already worried about whether I will have a church to go back to after the end of lockdown. But I am worried about whether what we do is meeting the needs of others.

Reading a social media posts of fellow Baptists ministers later that day, I discovered I was not alone in my despair. At least two mentioned wanting to resign and give up, while another mourned for what she had lost. Others listed their failures. 

The church was already very consumer-focused, with attractional churches, possessing seemingly unlimited resources, drawing people from the margins into city centres or from rural villages into towns for the “big” church experience; while smaller churches struggled with what they could do, a borrowed musician here and there! But these days you don’t have to get into a car to switch churches, you can do it during the service, and nobody will ever know!

That may give some churches a distinct advantage, but other, less technically minded-churches are going to feel the pinch. And while we read the stats that more people are going to churches, what kind of churches are they choosing?

One local Anglican minister berated the Church of England for what they are doing. 'We're … seeing central sources only linking to excellent content that the local can never produce. The potential for folk to migrate to such resourcing that may not continue, and can never support them locally, could have a real future ministry and discipleship issues.'

Are we as Baptists doing the same? I know some local associations, including my own, are profiling churches each Sunday, will they be opting for the ones that look better on their streams rather than the ones that are cobbled together by ministers who are doing their best, but were never trained for this. 

My fear is that online church may mean that local, community churches may not survive. And even if we see people wanting to engage with the church beyond lockdown, will they be disciples or consumers? 

I have been doing some vlogs, not as polished as the YouTube clips I see, but expressing my vision for what church renewal might look like. There's a high priority on costly discipleship - and a warning on pandering to a consumer-led culture.


Image | Glenn Carstens-Peters | Unsplash
 

Michael Shaw is minister of Devonport Community Baptist Church in Plymouth

 
 



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Baptist Times, 06/05/2020
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