Does Your Church Need an Online Campus?


Multisite ministry expert Jim Tomberlin says having an internet campus involves more than just offering a video sermon online. It involves offering a full, virtual experience of church. He anticipates an explosion of internet campuses in the coming years.

Called by many names — internet campus, iCampus, cyber church, digital church, virtual church, church in the cloud — an online campus is an interactive church experience in the virtual world of the internet. While the skeptics are busy questioning if this can really be a church, lives are being transformed through an online church experience.

What is an online campus?

Here’s how online church pioneer Brian Vasil at Potential Church in Florida describes these internet campuses: An online campus is a community of people who are learning about, connecting with, and growing closer to God in a virtual environment. The goals of an online campus are similar to that of its brick-and-mortar counterpart, that is, to use whatever tools are available to help people enter into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, equip them to serve their communities, and go into the world (both physically and online) to share the Gospel.

The largest neighborhood in the world is at your fingertips. Millions who live there need a church like yours.

Online campuses are more than just a live-streaming video of a church service. People log in to their computers or smartphones, engage in worship and watch the sermon, interact with others, pray together, respond to invitations and challenges, give tithes and offerings, and are cared for by an internet campus pastor — all in real time. These churches are not restricted by walls and can reach literally every inch of the globe.

I remember having the conversation over a decade ago when I was on staff at Willow Creek in Chicago whether to put our weekend service online or not. Some were concerned that this would decrease our weekend attendance; others were concerned about protecting our brand and that our message could be distorted and misrepresented. We eventually decided to make our messages available online and discovered that our attendance did not go down and that thousands of people around the world were benefiting from our teaching online.

A full worship experience

Today hundreds of churches offer their sermons online and many of them call it an internet campus. Yet what makes an internet campus is not just offering a video sermon online, but offering the full worship experience, live online interaction with others, growth steps, and a dedicated internet campus pastor. Not many churches have true internet campuses online, but their numbers are growing. The latest survey from Leadership Network indicated that 28 percent of all megachurches have an online campus.

Online campuses are interactive virtual church experiences. With globalization through the internet and the explosion of social media, online campuses are becoming fully integrated into the life and strategy of local churches. No longer a techie experiment, online campuses function more like a multisite campus with a dedicated campus pastor with multiple experiences throughout the week in addition to lots of volunteers.

Four features of an online campus

1. An introduction to your church. Your website is the front door to your church. A live online worship service allows people seeking a church home to experience and decide whether your church is a place to visit in-person.

2. An outreach of your church. People are coming to faith through online worship services in the same way millions did through watching evangelist Billy Graham in the privacy of their homes. For many people seeking God and faith, attending a church is too threatening. Visiting church online can be a safe first step towards coming to your church

3. A lifeline for your church family. Sports tournaments, sick kids, vacations, business trips, and other reasons can interfere with regular church attendance. Church families can stay connected and in community spiritually, emotionally and financially through an online campus. I am grateful that my son was able to stay connected online with his home church while deployed in Afghanistan.

4. A church multiplication strategy for your church. Thousands of people are logging on to internet campuses from around the world, but also from your local region. Your online campus congregation can reveal where to launch a multisite campus or a church plant.

Social media church expert, Nils Smith, reports that “Facebook now has almost 2 billion monthly active users and any church of any size can now launch a global online campus using Facebook Live for worship and Facebook groups for small group Bible study at no cost. The barrier to entry is small and the ministry impact is seemingly limitless!” We will see an explosion of online campuses in the next decade. The largest neighborhood in the world is at your fingertips. Millions who live there need a church like yours. Won’t you reach out to them?

This article was originally published in Multisite Solutions Newsletter. Used by permission.

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About Author

Jim Tomberlin

Jim Tomberlin is founder of MultiSite Solutions, later merged with The Unstuck Group, which works with churches to develop and implement multi-campus strategies. He pioneered the multi-site model at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. He is author, with Warren Bird, of Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work (Jossey-Bass, 2012), available at Cokesbury and Amazon.

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