Congregations Without Walls
Why do people of faith need to nurture congregations without walls, in digital spaces and along the information superhighway? The brief answer: because that’s where many of us are spending large parts of our lives today. Some of us live long distances physically, emotionally, and spiritually from the faith and the faith communities that nurture our spirits, encourage us in sharing our gifts for goodness in the world, and offer places of refuge, spiritual practice, and worship.
The reality is that traditional congregations have failed many people of faith. We’ve experienced abuse, lost trust, been told we’re welcome but then found out that’s only true if we become just like everyone else already there. Maybe we’ve been blocked from sharing our particular gifts and talents. Maybe the congregation isn’t living how it says it will or is in the midst of a conflict that seems petty to us, or overwhelming, or simply alienating. Congregations in digital life create spaces where we can rebuild trust, heal religious wounds, create inclusive communities, encourage and equip people in living faithful lives that affect and are part of their local communities and global community.
The reality is also that many spiritual people have never been part of a faith community. Traditional congregations can have very alien cultures, into which we’re required to assimilate in order to belong long enough to learn and to offer what gifts we have. Some of us so value co-creativity, empowerment, and the ability to organize and address particular life events and issues in wide-ranging, fruitful, and diverse communities – something we’ve experienced digitally. The speed of church and “the way we do things” can be enormously frustrating and create crises of faith, apathy, and cynicism. Congregations in digital life innovate constantly and will reflect best the generosity of netizens and the transformational work that can be done because we’re better together.
The reality is also that smaller communities – those under a few thousand – have limited resources and gifts and tend to focus those resources and gifts in specific ways. The built environment can only accept so many of these communities, and that means these communities are often pressed to be all things to all people, rather than thrive with their gifts and calling in their locale. Digital congregations and digital ministries can multiply, be of all sizes, share all kinds of gifts and resources, and answer a wide and constantly changing variety of callings. Innovation is easy and low-cost in digital life, with high potential for personal and world transformation, and for nurturing spiritual values and practices.
Digital congregations and digital ministries are complementary ministries with geographically rooted bricks and mortar congregations. They are congregations and ministries of invitation, empowerment, equipping, apprenticing, teaching, learning, worshipping, caring, sharing, advocating, witnessing, seeking, innovating, and celebrating the great good gifts of life and the wonderful ways we can live faithfully.
I’m a Unitarian Universalist. I hope my denomination and my global faith will embrace and encourage digital congregations and digital ministries. There are some early indications that we are - growing numbers of religious leaders (laity and ordained) using social media as part of their lives of faithful leadership and faithful growth, bylaw changes that will permit non-local (thus, digital) congregations, and a growing awareness of how much faith may be challenged and strengthened through our digital communities acting globally and acting locally together. Indeed, I hope all faiths will do so, because every day I’m growing in my faith through the rich diversity and astounding generosity of netizens – every day people and superstars – living faithfully together.
I’m reblogging this updated piece, once posted on another blog that was archived. The questions and concerns remain relevant for congregations to consider.