Decentralizing Church in the Digital Age: A Behind-the-Scenes Look

If you’re curious about how the proverbial sausage is made when it comes to starting churches, allow me a few lines to lift my church planting kilt…

Back in 2011, Jen and I went to a church planter assessment for a week. This is part of a process where candidates wanting to start churches with the support of a church network go to receive criticism and be evaluated as potential church planters. During that week, we heard over and over about how masses of churches close their doors for a final time every year.

Personally, I received the criticism I was looking for, and perhaps just as importantly, a lack of support for my “cutting-edge” ideas for what a church plant could look like – because the ideas were hardly mine and they weren’t cutting-edge. I wanted “relevant” and “authentic” messages, rowdy music, and branding that would appeal to a younger generation…please excuse me, this was eight years ago. I know, I’ve grown since then. What skeletons are in your closet from eight years ago, huh?

Fast forward a couple years, Jen and I had checked the boxes that our critics had provided us for improvement and we moved across the country to start a brand new church.

When we got there, some things went according to plan. I made it a point to really investigate the churches in the area every week to see what was happening locally and maybe make some helpful contacts along the way.

However, even though I’d altered my vision of what our church could be, I began to wonder just how much I would be forcing my vision onto the people coming to us from our area who were simply spiritually curious.

You see, for the first time in my seriously Christian life, I had some time away from church leaders. I know I just said I was going to church every week, but that’s different. I wasn’t lending my ear to these people for spiritual counsel or guidance. That being the case, spiritually it was just me, my large collection of Bibles and reference material, my family, and the Voice. Not Adam Levine’s The Voice, but the voice of Spirit.

The Voice that, if it says something a church leader is trying to say, is the Holy Spirit. Yet the same Voice that, if it says something contrary to/questioning of what a church leader is trying to say, is then attributed to that of Satan, the father of lies. The same Voice who every person on the planet hears from, but might not recognize as the voice of Spirit.

I had come to the place of planting a church because as I grew spiritually, I wanted to do all I could for God and all of humanity. It now seems that out of my immaturity, I understood that the best way to do that was to become a pastor and eventually start a church. After all, all my mentors had done just that and a few had prophesied that I was cut from the same cloth.

Not to fault those mentors because they are terrific, intelligent people, but if a piece of moldable clay with a shred of aptitude came to you and said, “I want to do what you do,” and doing that thing also helped you accomplish your perceived mission, I imagine most would be gung ho to facilitate.

So again there I was, for the first time in a long time, fairly isolated spiritually. And every bit of silence, of which there was much, especially when my young son was sleeping, was allowing a conversation with the Voice to take place, and my vision of what church could be began to change.

In a time when megachurches were flourishing and traditional churches were struggling, we eventually settled on creating a home church network built around round table discussions that followed food, brief messages, and music. Oh, and we were only pursuing “unbelievers.” It was as grass roots as a church with a central location gets.

It was fun and hard. I learned a lot. I was bi-vocational and making nothing from the venture into which I was putting the majority of my work time. This caused almost all of the financial burden to be placed on my wife while I was “following my calling.” Even the money that came in I sent back with the people who brought it because I wanted them to give directly and enjoy the immediate benefits of giving and helping someone.

Epoch Nation Ministries, as it was called, was an unsustainable, good thing.

The more time I spent away from church leaders, the less churchy I became, which resulted in me becoming significantly more open and my beliefs changing. Jen and I met fellow epoch-minded human beings, like Austin, and we traveled further down the rabbit hole, taking an extended look at how the proverbial sausage of the universe was made. (I guess “proverbial sausage” is my thing this week.)

My vision of spirituality in a digital age is one that’s even more decentralized than the home church network I envisioned for Epoch Nation Ministries. It’s one where we eventually recognize that God dwells within each one of us. While Papa called all of His people to the mountaintop, out of fear and immaturity, people responded by sending Moses to represent them.

I believe community still plays a huge role in what a church looks like in the digital age, as do spiritual guides. We now have more options to connect with people than ever before, but the jury is still out on how much quality of connection can be juiced out of all those options.

I think the old adage, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” is certainly still in play. I know of a few people personally, and several others, who are working diligently to figure out how to use existing and upcoming technologies to increase our ability to relate and foster community digitally.

While I don’t know what that ultimately looks like, I’m pretty sure that the closer we get to decentralizing religion, the closer we get to acknowledging and enjoying the divinity within all of us as life was meant to eventually be.

I look forward to seeing you all on a digital mountaintop, where you have been invited since before you were born here.

planting a church in the digital age
church planting in a digital age
About the communicator

Matt

In addition to contributing to The Epoch, Matt is currently the host of the Evolving Parent Podcast and he coaches any youth sport his kids will play. He's a former US Marine journalist and public affairs specialist who has worked as a contractor in the tech sector for numerous companies. He recently earned a BS in Freshwater Science and Sustainability, but continues learning in multiple fields every day. www.evolvingparent.com


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