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Tell us what you think: from John LaGrou

Sermon.jpgJohn LaGrou is avant garde when it comes to the power and value of technology. In this post, he questions the long term value and survival of the Sunday sermon. What do you think?

Antoine at MMM
asks, “How Do Faith-Based Organizations Respond to Increasingly
Mobile-Connected Members and Communities?” This isn’t just a
good question. I think it echoes a central dynamic shaping not just
religion, but all social organization going forward.


How do faith-based organizations respond to virtuality? The hardest
part may be convincing the community that there’s a good reason to sit
and stare at a stage, listening to a religious lecture. The
virtually-connected church now has on-line access to the finest
teaching and preaching imaginable, accessible at their convenience, 7 x
24 x 365. Of what value is physically proximate information (e.g.,
stage-centric pastor) when the average person can now access the best
sermons, preaching, teaching, and cross-referenced commentary on-line?

Finding better information elsewhere, the virtually-connected
community will restructure their physical gatherings to really
connect and be present with each other – like they do on-line
all week long. When this happens, pastors can step off the stage and be
released to really pastor. Gifted teachers (who may or may not have
pastoral gifts) can teach in smaller groups where true interactivity
can take place. Intimate, organic F2F gathering becomes the central
focus, not a mid-week breakout session.


I listen to the world’s finest theological discourses via my
Blackberry while I workout at the gym or on my morning walk or driving
in my truck. Why would I spend my time sitting in an audience every
Sunday to hear a comparatively mediocre religious talk? In the last few
weeks, I have absorbed hours of profound spiritual monologues and
conversations with people like Tozer, Yancey, Peterson, and Fr. Rohr.

We all have something to contribute, together. A
virtuality-connected community (which is everyone in my son’s
generation) will increasingly mimic their on-line engagement in F2F
gatherings, signaling the end of the monologue church era. “Church” is
redefined, in part, from a place of one-way information transfer to a
distributed gathering which fosters authentic collaboration – in many
ways mirroring the multi-way virtual experience.


Is it the end of the Sunday Sermon? No. Not in my lifetime, nor in my
son’s lifetime, nor perhaps anytime. And certainly there is a place for
the stage. But generational changes in networking assure that a
profound shift is coming. And this gives me great hope for a virtual
reformation in the way we live as a glocal spiritual community.

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posted July 17, 2009 at 2:22 pm

To the extent that a sermon is an information download, you may be making a point.
But I go to a worship service for more than just the sermon. Physical proximity and face to face communion with my friends and fellow believers cannot be replicated on line. If those who get teaching from a podcast are not hearing that, shame on our teachers.
Is the on line community of believers important? Absolutely. This blog is a testimony to exactly that point. But this is a both/and situation, not an either/or.

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posted July 17, 2009 at 2:55 pm

Ditto JKG, and further, I’m curious if most people think that this characterized their weekly service well:
“The hardest part may be convincing the community that there’s a good reason to sit and stare at a stage, listening to a religious lecture”

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John W

posted July 17, 2009 at 3:38 pm

Fellowship is not the same virtually or remotely. I think that is a feature the Sunday Morning Worship Service needs to recapture in some churches. I don’t see a feasible way to replace that personal Fellowship with technology at this point. I only see the threat of a technological overhaul for places where one does exactly what is quoted: “stare at a stage, listening to a religious lecture”. That right there is what keeps me from wanting to go to a mega-church. I want fellowship. I want to know the pastor/minister/reverend/etc. I want that real community that the real, non-technological world has.

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posted July 17, 2009 at 4:43 pm
The comments so far seem to have missed one of the key points of the post:
“Finding better information elsewhere, the virtually-connected community will restructure their physical gatherings to really connect and be present with each other.”
The gathering times would focus on interaction: face to face interactivity, genuine fellowship and rich community. Instead of gathering to sit quietly and listen to a lecture, he is proposing that we gather and discuss and share life with one another.

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posted July 17, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Sunday worship? SO, So old hat. We’ve started a Pyramid Church Worship Plan. Each member brings in two prospects, they bring in two, just like health suppliments. After four levels? We don’t even NEED to show up any more.
I’m actually splitting off to form a Prayer Pyramid. Pretty soon, I’ll have so many praying for me I won’t even need to petition God myself.
It’s win-win. Sign up now.

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posted July 17, 2009 at 7:42 pm

I’m not so sure about this. While we definitely live in an increasingly virtual world, I don’t know that the live sermon will be done away with as Grou admits later in his piece. I think of higher education. Many of the adults I work with go to online schools. However, for me, I enjoy the classroom experience and if I go back to school, I will opt for that over virtual. I enjoy being in a group of people dialoging or even listening to a lecture as long as it is is interesting. I have no problem with listening to another person speak as long as the content and the delivery are fresh. So, whereas I see a place for the virtual that we can tap into, I think the sermon will always have a place, but there may be an increase in small groups and virtual small groups, but I think the Church ought to be the one place that we would place more emphasis on flesh and bones contact versus virtual contact.

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Karl Dahlfred

posted July 17, 2009 at 11:35 pm

Online interaction will never replace face-to-face interaction. Also, more fundamentally, a good pastor will have relationships with his congregation and they with him such that his sermons will be suited to the understanding and needs of the congregation. The truth of Scripture may be the same but the application needs to be local – i.e. suited to the people and their situation in life. A pastor who knows his people can speak to where they are. Most people do not have the time or ability to search for a sermon online that is precisely suited to them. A sermon is not one size fits all and to think that online church or sermons will replace the fellowship of the saints is to be too individualistic and consumer oriented. The church is the body of Christ that fellowships together and bears one another’s burdens, not merely all showing up in a physical location for a religious lecture.

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Richard W. Wilson

posted July 18, 2009 at 2:09 am

Fascinating reflections on the part of all. I just last week experienced my first recorded video sermon by Darin Patrick at The Journey here in St. Louis; I think the other three “campuses” have been getting video feed of live sermons from the central campus where we have been worshiping for some time. There really isn’t any intimate or extensive fellowship or interaction of the congregants, particularly with the pastor/preacher/teacher, on Sunday mornings anyway, but there is participation, spiritually with God and the community on various levels.
I “get” the sense of not needing to be there to engage with the pastor/preacher’s input as I’ve been maintaining a sort of involvement with another congregation (from which my wife and I are mostly estranged) through listening to the sermons of the pastor with whom we don’t “relate.” (I still meet with a mens’ group from that church too).
I also “get” the sense of being able to access superior preaching/teaching 24/7/365–this DOES change things. I’d guess that we can’t now begin to see how things will “emerge” among the churches in coming years. We will grow, change, adapt, and by the grace of God be transformed more and more into His image despite our natural tendencies to desperately hang on to old modes of church and humanness.
For Christ and His Kingdom,
Richard W. Wilson

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John L

posted July 18, 2009 at 11:14 am

Thanks, all, for the excellent comments. I purposefully exaggerated my point (a bit) to elicit a response – to get people thinking about our Western religious-consumeristic status quo ? to take a fresh look at things we often take for granted. I do think future generations are going to change the nature of religious gathering ? perhaps radically – and virtuality will be a central catalyst driving many of these changes.
Karl, I’m not inferring that on-line activity should replace F2F interaction. Not at all. I’m considering the ways in which virtuality might enhance our expectations of F2F experience, just as printed books radically changed our glocal culture, including religious culture.
“a good pastor will have relationships with his congregation and they with him such that his sermons will be suited to the understanding and needs of the congregation.”
Let’s not overly romanticize. Unless there are specific issues common to a single community (which at times there are, of course), the “needs” of any particular community are fairly universal. Speaking from personal experience (25+ years of sitting and listening to local sermons), it’s rare to hear anything deeply tailored for locality, save for the occasional rhetorical use of some shared local experience (local news event, a road everyone drives, etc.)
Someone shared privately ??but I really like the live sermon. It is part of my heritage.? I can?t argue with that. But I do think, for those interested in such things, we can find a far more organic balance to our gatherings. Moving away from the stage, towards a common floor we all share, might be a positive beginning.
We can now encounter the greatest religious monologues anywhere, anytime. So let?s use our rare F2F gathering time to really connect as community, rather than as individual spectators. As givers rather than consumers.

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Cindy N

posted July 20, 2009 at 10:47 pm

Of course, one interesting effect of sermons no longer being preached is that there would no longer be a weekly setting for all those stunningly articulate preachers to preach so they could be recorded, thus killing the goose that laid the golden egg….

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posted July 21, 2009 at 10:35 am

I think the message will no longer be controlled or shaped by those in power. That is good news. I think that any who are savey enough to look things up will and a variety of view points will abound. I think dialogue will be an imperative as folks come to the community and want to talk about what they have learned in virtual community.

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