2021 Church Word of the Year: Multi-Modal
Churches are taking new shapes, sizes and formats to reach previously disenfranchised people.
April 6, 2021
If it has a hyphen, does it count as one word?
Jeff Reed, Director of Digital Church Planting at Stadia Church Planting, says that If 2020 was the year of phygital (one part physical, one part digital), this year is seeing the emergence and maturation of the multi-modal church. Jeff led a panel discussion at last month’s Stadia Innovation Meetup, and drew some contours to define an emerging model(s) of church.
Prior to Covid, there was really only one prevailing model -- the church building in a community (small, medium and large). it was somewhat effective in reaching people, though there were plenty of groups of people who were belefting disfranchised by that model.
The prevailing model is not broken, just incomplete. And, to the credit of nearly every prevailing model church, all have adopted some sort of digital strategy, either as a temporary coping mechanism, or as a potential new strategic dimension of their mission. Everyone has begun to recognize that digital discipling is powerful. What if there are other ways your church could multiply?
Today, we’ve begun to see different types of churches sprout up to reach different types of people, those not attracted by the church building.
Jeff invited three leaders to share their perspectives from their church modality. Each mode has its own style of gathering, discipleship and mission.
Mode: 100% Online
The question that ambitious kingdom builders used to ask themselves was, “How can we get people to come to church -- to the church building?” says Angela Craig, founder of the all-online Pursuit Church Live. and author of Online Jesus. Ten years ago, six years ago, even just two years ago, that was the shape of church growth and outreach. Clearly, the calculus has now been turned inside out, and is more about how to bring the church to where people are.
The number of online-only churches has been growing, and Pursuit Church Live has been a pioneer in this space. The key, though, is to concentrate on the other 167 hours of the week, says Angela. During all that time, Pursuit creates opportunities for people to gather, to get equipped, and eventually to release them for mission.
- Gathering. Like any church, the ‘main event’ happens on Sunday, where there are hundreds in attendance. Pursuit also has many other non-Sunday online content and events, such as their daily devotional.
- Equipping. The leadership at Pursuit has found that the integration of faith into everyday life happens so much faster in a digital space because people are getting “micro moments” about Jesus being part of their everyday life. They're being encouraged by others around them. This happens in all sorts of social and communication media: YouVersion-hosted 5-day or 7-day Bible studies that are easy to join, as well as longer commitments (e.g. Bible In A Year); small groups in Facebook Groups or Messenger groups, WhatsApp groups.
- Releasing. All this connection and discipling surfaces and grows leaders, who Pursuit then releases, encouraging them to impact the lives of others in their communities. That can be a local community, where Pursuit helps someone find a local church. It can also be within the larger Pursuit community (there are nearly 16,000 people following Pursuit on Facebook), where such critical mass means there are all sorts of affinity groups that can gather in a meaningful way and integrate Jesus into their daily lives.
For example, one member of Pursuit was particularly adept at encouraging others. She stood out to the Pursuit leaders, who then got to know her better. This woman happened to have multiple sclerosis, and it was challenging for her to attend in person at her local church. After a period of leadership development, she started an online community specifically designed to reach people dealing with long-term illness.
Mode: Watch Party
First off, Danielle Hicks, Watch Party Pastor of Elevation Church made clear that they are actively considering a different tag for this mode, as the phrase Watch Party too strongly implies that it is mostly about watching. So, let’s not expect this particular phrase to last forever.
Elevation is much more interested in discipleship and community impact. In fact, that is the explicit goal of Watch Parties: to broaden the reach of their livestream to mobilize people at a local, community level.
“We're not trying to recreate consumers of content gathered around an experience,” says Danielle. “We want them to be tethered by the relationships of the people around them; we want them oriented around what the Holy Spirit is doing in their communities.”
Originally, the Watch Party mode at Elevation consisted of in-person gatherings of several dozen people in someone’s home -- all up close and personal, the good ol’ days. “We had a notion of establishing ‘official’ watch parties with specific criteria, including an interview process, onboarding, etc. We try to strike the balance between accessibility -- we want everyone to feel empowered to reach people and to minister; and consistency in the experience. We started off by being more encouraging of the larger gatherings -- and unintentionally created an expectation that for a leader to be successful with a watch party you needed 30-40 people all gathered together in a space.”
“We would go out and capture them on video and show them on our broadcast, and celebrate, and it was cool. Then we felt convicted by the Holy Spirit: are we trying to multiply and recreate (watch parties)? or are we about reaching people in these subcultures of neighborhoods and communities? Are we trying to create a big gathering that is impressive, that mimics what we already knew? Or are we listening to God to see what he is doing in this season?”
Once Covid hit, that relatively large model yielded to the new reality. Not only did Watch Parties move out of homes and into digital format, but they also grew smaller.
Danielle keeps an eye on leadership potential among Watch Parties. She aims to develop at least one volunteer organizer within each group to identify and create opportunities to serve a local partner, such as working with a pregnancy resource center. The watch party mode serves to bring people together who will generate a true sense of belonging among them, and then strives to marry that with action.
Some watch parties include far-flung members from across the state, or country, or the world. However, the core model centers around people in reasonably close geographical contact.
Mode: Microchurches and Microchurch Networks
Jeff asked the obvious question about Micro Churches: “Isn’t a micro church just a new name for what has historically been called a ‘house church?’ Not really, explained Emily Diaz, church plant project manager at Stadia. House churches are essentially a miniature version of the prevailing church building in the center of town. They are community-focused in a particular location.
Micro churches, and micro church networks, are decentralized movements of disciple-making. The emphasis of micro churches is to empower everyday Christians where they work, where they live, where they play.
Like other churches, there is an ecclesial minimum: worship, community, and mission. What sets micro churches apart is the nature of each of their missions.
For example, one micro church is passionate about skater kids and reaches out in skate parks. Another may be committed to international communities and focuses on urban sub-neighborhoods. Some reach out to soccer moms. There is one micro church spearheaded by a rodeo worker who has attracted other itinerant rodeo workers.
One level up are micro church networks, such as the Kansas City Underground, which serves to marshall and leverage resources from multiple micro churches to achieve a broader goal. The KC Underground’s mission is “gospel saturation” throughout Kansas City. They want to see a missionary on every street in a micro church in every neighborhood.
Altar Live and Multi-Modal Churches
As new modes of church arise online and in various hybrid forms, Altar Live seeks to provide a space for formal and casual gatherings. In some settings, they have watch parties where they consume worship and teaching together; in others they meet in small groups to deepen in discipleship; and in others they find ways to reach out to others and/or invite others in with them.
As 2021 unfolds, we will be keep an eye on the various modes of doing church, how they evolve, and where our platform can serve their needs.