SOCIAL MEDIA & Going to church in virtual reality: examples, ideas & cautions

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D.,  I once was skeptical about the depth of community that could be created online. But having taught graduate courses online (as well as onsite) for over 20 years, I’ve come to believe online community can be very personable and deep.

And so, I’ve come to see online churches as another campus or venuethrough which to spread the Good News. Granted, it still has its weaknesses as does every type of venue, but it also has a potentiality that the strategic leader must not overlook.

7 weaknesses I have identified of online venues include (but also often occur in live venues):

  1. Hubris that comes from being personality-driven
  2. Focus on receiving and not giving
  3. Accountability eclipsed by entertainment
  4. Technology drives expenditures
  5. Disenfranchised continue to be marginalized/ignored
  6. Reconciliation takes more effort
  7. Spiritual transformation is downplayed

Recently I had the opportunity to pull together speakers for the annual conference of the Great Commission Research Network. These were speakers who had experience leading online churches. You can find more information from the conference at these links:

SOCIAL MEDIA & Questions to stimulate discussion on how churches can more effectively utilize social media.

SOCIAL MEDIA & #NathanClark the leader of one of the nation’s first online communities tells the best thing a small church can do to connect & minister online

In addition one of my students from Kingswood University in Canada has started a church with her husband that includes an online service. Find more info about their multiplication strategy here: SOCIAL MEDIA & How a Toronto church plant uses gaming site Twitch to create online bible studies & community

Finally, here is a good video from CNN that gives a introduction to online churches.//

You can also view the CNN video here:

MARKETING & Tiny Arizona church wins Supreme Court case on signs #USAToday

by Richard Wolf and Brad Heath, USA Today, June 18, 2015.

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that cities and towns generally cannot limit roadside signs based on what they say.

The justices unanimously said the town of Gilbert, Ariz., violated the First Amendment by giving signs promoting a church’s worship services vastly inferior treatment compared to political campaign signs.

Writing for the court’s majority, Justice Clarence Thomas said the town law limiting the size of the church’s signs and the length of time for which they could be displayed was a “content-based” restriction on the church’s speech. He said the town had no justification for such a restriction, and it was therefore unconstitutional.

The case was touted by lawyers for Good News Community Church as a major test of religious freedom, but the justices didn’t treat it that way. Rather, they said local governments must be able to justify the disparate treatment accorded organizations seeking to spread their messages….

Read more at …

COMMUNITY IMPACT & To Meet Needs in A Community You Must Go “Beyond Branding”

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel:  “Recently Outreach Magazine asked me and four colleagues who study evangelism and culture about how a church can raise it’s visibility in a community.  I joined Tony Morgan, Len Sweet, Tom Bandy and Will Mancini in explaining how a church becomes “visible” in a community when it serves the needs in the community.  (Consider subscribing to Outreach Magazine, one of the best sources for helping a church reach out).  Click here to read the article: ARTICLE ©Whitesel Beyond Branding OUTREACH Mag

ARTICLE ©Whitesel Beyond Branding OUTREACH Mag PICTURE

SPEAKING & How Storytelling Makes Your Speaking Memorable

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “It’ a teaching tool not just reserved for the Son of God 🙂 … because storytelling (i.e. narrative) is key to not only memorable speaking presentations, but bringing about change too (Wishert, 2013). Here are specific steps to attach appropriate stories so that listeners remember a message.”

Read more at …

MORALS & The Longer You Look at Something, The More You Will Think It is Right

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that “participants were more likely to choose the answer they had spent the most time looking at,” even when the answer was morally ambiguous or repugnant. This suggests the more you gaze at something, the more likely you are to think it is morally the right thing to do.”

Read more at …

COMMUNICATION & 7 Biblical Ways to Increase a Church’s Visibility – from my interview w/ Outreach Magazine

by Bob Whitesel, 2/25/15.  The following is from my interview with Outreach MagazineI was asked, “What you would want to convey to the church that says, ‘We aspire to be better known in our community’.”  Below are my thoughts about how to organically and biblically increase a church’s visibility.  (It is probably not what you anticipated.)


ELEVATE: Raise Your Visibility Before a Skeptical World

Today in an increasingly skeptical world, the church must move beyond branding and build a new, more powerful reputation.

15-MJ_BobWhitesel-300x225Here are 5 steps to elevating your visibility in a community.

1. Elevate the visibility of your need-meeting. Churches should be known as the place in a community where people go when they have a crisis. Churches that offer divorce recovery programs, grief support groups, 12-step programs, etc. increase their visibility as the primary place where needs are met in their community.

2.  Elevate the visibility of spiritual-change. People are looking for ways to change their lives and often psychologists or self-help programs are their first choice. While these can offer the physical change that people need, I believe only Christ can offer the spiritual change that people long for deep inside. So in the name of helping people better their physical lives, do not neglect their higher needs for a supernatural transformation that only comes through Christ.

3. Elevate the visibility of your openness and honesty. Churches often promote that they have the best program or the most exciting worship. But non-churchgoers sense that this is not the real purpose of the church. Acknowledge that your church doesn’t do everything well and sometimes you get fixated on your organizational needs. Then remind them that your church is a spiritual community, seeking to work together to draw closer to Christ.

4. Elevate the visibility of your unity in diversity. In an increasingly diverse world, people want to go to a church that mirror’s the diversity of God’s creation. But such diversity must not be only symbolic, but also heartfelt. It is important for people of diverse cultures to run the church together, to worship together and to learn from one another about cultural background and baggage. The church should be visible in the community as a place that not only promotes spiritual reconciliation to God, but also physical reconciliation between cultures.

5.  Elevate your visibility as a place to learn. People today have a conceptions of the church as a place that lectures and criticizes, rather than a place that promotes learning. Jesus gave us a Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) to “make learners.” Thus our goal must be to acquaint them with His words, while we exemplify how these words are lived out in community.

6.  Elevate your visibility as a place where everybody can find a place to fit. Emphasize smaller fellowship groupings within the larger whole. Most people today are not only looking for a large event, but also a smaller group where they can ask spiritual questions and receive support on their spiritual journey.

7. Elevate your visibility as a community that promotes and seeks God’s wisdom. The church should be known as a place of Bible-study and prayer. Thus it should be a place where people who are estranged from God or even just struggling in their relationship, will find people and prayer environments that will assist them in connecting to their heavenly Father. If a person in the community needs prayer, the first place they should think of is your church.

If you can’t elevate one or more of these areas, because they don’t yet exist in your church, then start with the easiest but don’t stop until you develop these seven ways to elevate an organically spiritual and Biblical visibility.

CLICK HERE to download the entire article with contributions by my colleagues Len Sweet, Will Mancini, Tony Morgan and Tom Bandy: ARTICLE ©Whitesel Beyond Branding OUTREACH Mag

And HERE IS A LINK to the online version:

NAME CHANGE & Product Names (& Church Names?) Mostly Do Not Matter. Don’t Believe Me? Read This #ForbesMagazine Article #GoodResearch

Commentary from Dr. Whitesel: “Thinking about changing the name of your church? Research has shown that one of the most highly regarded denominations is the ‘Salvation Army’ and in hindsight, their name is not the most welcoming. But their actions have changed what people think when they hear the name. I recommend clients change the culture before you change the name. People are becoming aware that a name change often signifies a desperate church. Read this interesting article on secular corporation name changes and how creating an image for your name is more important than creating a name for your image.”

Read more at …

MARKETING & A Quick Review of False & Misleading Tricks Used In Ads #InfoGraphic

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “We all know that ‘advertising’ is the third step in marketing, after you 1) assess needs and 2) design ministry to meet those needs (B. Whitesel in Smith and Wright, Church Leader’s MBA, 2011, pp. 191-213). But because advertising is often deceptive, people reject marketing altogether. Marketing is necessary, for in its first stage we learn to address the needs of others. But advertising deceptions (such as illustrated in this poignant and even humorous infographic) remind us we cannot let advertising dissuade us from meeting needs.”

by Finances Online™ Read more at…

HUMOR & Has the church become “a culture itself?” So, what if Starbucks marketed like the church? [video]

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “Below is a humorous video about how church culture can unintentionally confuse people who are not part of our church-going culture.  Since most of our churches are trying to reach out to non-churchgoers, it is important that we look at our behaviors, ideas and products that can confuse (and even potentially turn off) people with whom we are trying to share the Good News.

I sometimes share this with my students at their residential.  Now, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be changed when Jesus saves us. We should.

But when we create an artificial culture we erect cultural barriers to people outside of that culture.  This video gives a humorous way of looking at how, if we are not careful, our churches become confusing and irrelevant ‘church cultures.’

That is why newly planted churches often grow faster than older churches.  New churches don’t have that Christian culture developed as strongly in them yet, and so unchurched people can relate more to them.

But, if they are not careful, even planted churches will eventually mutate into a separate ‘church culture.’  Now, you might think, ‘Well, we need to plant more churches.’  And, we do.  But, if we don’t also help established churches from becoming disconnected ‘church cultures’ then the Devil will have succeeded in keeping us irrelevant to unchurched people.

Charles Kraft, in his book Christianity and Culture (1979) said that ‘the church has become a culture itself.’  Thus Eddie Gibbs said that church leaders must receive missionary training, to understand those outside of our culture and learn how to present Christ to them in culturally relevant ways that will not compromise the Good News (Church Next, 220).  Kraft also warned that ‘cultural conversion’ is wrong, meaning missionaries are to convert others to their beliefs, not to their culture, for cultural conversion smacks of colonialism and empire-building (Christianity in Culture, 339).  Rather, the Good News is ‘supra-cultural’ (Kraft 1979), meaning it is a way of holy living that is above culture.  It changes culture, but it also (like Jesus in the incarnation) may take on non-sinful behavior, ideas or products … but without sinning.