Could Your Next Multisite Campus Be Online?
When I talk with churches about how to launch an online campus, I always share my own story of how I became connected with Church Online.
I married an Oklahoman, and we initially settled in his state. We moved into our first little house and lived across the street from this church with very loud music.
When I was pregnant with our first child, I felt terribly sick one Sunday morning. We were part of a great local church, but in that church, I had to wear heels and a nice dress to service. I told my husband, "I cannot do that today. I just can't do it, I'm so sick." He said, "Well, I'll just walk across the street to that church where you can wear jeans."
Establishing New Roots
He walked across the street to Life.Church, which, at that time, was not a well-known church. We didn't know anything about it except we liked their music. My husband, a CEO of a tech company, came home with tears in his eyes. I could tell he had been crying on the walk home.
He said, "What I just saw was incredible. I saw people in the Bible Belt, where I grew up, commit their lives to Christ. I never saw that happen in the 20 years I’ve lived here." And he said, "This guy that was teaching. It was so compelling and he made no bones about the Gospel. We've got to go back there.”
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For the next 14 years, our family was significantly involved, first as volunteers. In the last five years, I was a pastor at Life.Church. During that time, God led our family to sell everything we owned, to cash it all out, to go overseas to expand Church Online, to essentially be the first online church planters. We launched about ten online churches in non-English speaking countries combining the use of relational evangelism and technology.
A Broader Vision
My online church story comes from 2006 when we were in Guatemala City, adopting our youngest child. Adoptions were about to shut down in the country, and we had to stay in a hotel room almost the entire week. It wasn't safe for us to leave because we didn't have legal guardianship yet but we could spend time trying to bond with her.
She was 18 months old, had a cold and was screaming all the time. No sleeping. We’re thinking, "Boy, this is stressful." And my husband said, "Hey, let's go to that Internet church thing that we have at Life.Church." We got on the hotel WiFi, pulled up the Internet campus and, lo and behold, we were hearing our pastor and worship music from home.
It didn't change our circumstances because we still weren't sure we were going to get a visa to fly home with our daughter. And she wasn't suddenly feeling better. It didn't change our circumstances but it changed our experience of the circumstances.
First, it was a pivotal moment in my life. I was holding my daughter, and we had typed in a chat room, "Hey, we attend this church. We love this church. We happen to be in Guatemala—would you pray for us?" And to this day, I don't know who prayed for us. They just typed in this simple prayer and I received it. And it was so incredible. I experienced God right there in that little hotel room in a moment of desperation.
I walked out to the balcony of our hotel room, holding my daughter and thinking to myself, “Oh my goodness, we love this country.”
Guatemala is always going to be a part of our family's heritage because of our daughter. We want to be involved there in a deeper way, to disciple people. I knew we needed to reach out and connect with people where they are, which is online.
Know The Why Before the What
Life.Church had started online just a few weeks before we attended the physical church for the first time. So many people were sending questions via YouTube or email saying, "Hey, I saw this message online. What does the Bible say about [fill-in-the-blank]?" We realized, "We need to disciple these people."
This is an important thing to know if you're thinking about starting an online church. You have to understand the why before you know what you’re going to do.
We became intentional at Life.Church about online ministry because we realized we needed to disciple people. Our purpose was not to claim intellectual territory or Internet property. Instead, it was the realization that God was sending people to us left and right. We needed to love them and lead them as far as they were willing to go in their faith journey.
What else is important to establish when you’re considering launching a church online?
- Church online is not typical, but it's biblical. When I was at Life.Church, Craig Groeschel asked me why I loved my job. It just spilled out of me. “Because Church Online is a key way that God's leading billions of people to Christ before He returns." It's so exciting! It's not just about the evangelism, but it’s also about the relationships.
- It has to lead people who are unwilling or unable to come to a local church to attend. They may never step across the physical threshold of our church. We have to be okay with that. Our responsibility is the investment. God handles the output.
- You can’t necessarily anticipate growth in attendance or giving because of it. Initially, it’s not going to show up on the right side of your balance sheet. It can eventually. When I was at Life.Church, we were thankful that we were one of the campuses that was able to not only support ourselves, but to give money back to the central organization to launch new campuses, which was a beautiful model.
- It has to be strategic. We have to ask, "Who do we really want to reach? Who is God calling our community to reach?" We are always offering people the next step to help move them forward in their faith journey.
- It’s not church in our pajamas. We make jokes about that, but my former boss Bobby Gruenewald used to say to us, "Don't forget, we never cast a vision for people to be lazy."
At the height of my role as the associate online campus pastor at Life.Church, I was leading a couple of pastors. We had three different main volunteer teams with 800 volunteers in 40 countries. I had the time of my life trying to figure out how we could culturally communicate what our church was passionate about.
None of us wants a lazy church. Because if we contribute to a lazy church, we know we're selling out. I understand that sometimes we miss our goal, but ultimately, we are casting vision to connect with people and help them connect with God and one other.
About Dana Byers
Dana Byers is the Executive Pastor of Mercy Road Church in Carmel, Indiana, and a pioneer in the online church movement. She began as a Life.Church Online volunteer in 2006. In 2007, Dana and her young family sold nearly everything they owned to fund living overseas to launch BlueDoor Ministries, Inc. The first online church planters in history, the Byers family’s purpose was to help pastors launch online churches outside the U.S. in a variety of languages and to expand the reach of Life.Church Online. After moving back to the states, Dana wrote “The Art of Online Ministry” in 2011 and became the Associate Online Campus Pastor at Life.Church in 2012.