Communications

Digital Parish: Digital community as a fresh expression of church

Rosario Picardo and Michael Beck are co-authors of Fresh Expressions in a Digital Age and are our adjunct professors for this session of Pastoring in the Digital Parish.

Pastoring in the Digital Parish seeks to provide resourcing and community for those engaged in some form of digital ministry–whether as a solo pastor in a church who is trying to keep connected with a congregation who has scattered into to digital space or as a digital pioneer seeking to build new community spaces in a virtual sense.  Michael and Roz speak into both of those contexts. They’re both pastors at small or mid-sized churches with limited resources. And they’re also both passionate about empowering the church to find news of expressing itself as a discipling community.

They’re sharing with us how digital expressions of faith communities can both empower an existing congregation and reach new people with good news.

The Episode

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Michael Beck:

We think of the gathered community comes into the space, we preach them up, we have the pep rally, we prepare them for mission in the world. But we've been seeing a lot of like what of the digital spaces, that collection point and that rally point and that gathered community, and then you send the church scattered into physical context to cultivate new Christian communities.

Ryan Dunn:

That was the voice of Michael Beck, who along with Rosario Picardo is a co-author of Fresh Expressions in Digital Space. Michael and Rosario are our adjunct professors for this session of Pastoring in the Digital Parish. My name is Ryan Dunn. Pastoring in the Digital seeks to provide resourcing and community for those engaged in some form of digital ministry, whether as a solo pastor in a church, who's trying to keep connected with a congregation who has scattered into digital space or as a digital pioneer seeking to build new community spaces in a virtual sense. Michael and Roz speak into both of those contexts. They're both pastors at smaller mid-size churches with limited resources. And they're also both passionate about empowering the church to find new ways of expressing itself as a discipling community. They're sharing with us how digital expressions of faith communities can both empower an existing congregation and reach new people with good news. So let's meet our adjunct professors.

Ryan Dunn:

Well, Roz Picardo is on staff at United Theological Seminary and is one of the co-founding pastors of Mosaic Church in Ohio. And Michael Beck is Director of the Fresh Expressions House of Studies, adjunct professor also at United Theological Seminary. And is co-pastor at St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Ocala, Florida, and Wildwood United Methodist Church in Wildwood, Florida. And together, it seems you two form the United Fresh Expressions Duo, which is fighting complacency through fresh expressions of church. You've also co-authored a book, Fresh Expressions in a Digital Age, which really is our impetus for having this conversation. I read your book and I'll tell you what, I was blown away by the fact that there is a plant that produces both tomatoes and potatoes at the same time. So seriously, could you tell us why this plant is a relevant analogy for the post-pandemic church?

Michael Beck:

Yeah, man, who likes to eat French fries without ketchup?

Ryan Dunn:

Nobody.

Michael Beck:

Very weird people, I guess. But interestingly, that is kind of the way we've been offering church, right? It's been one form of church, one like Euro tribal kind of iteration of the church that like a McDonaldized version, you can plant it on any corner and it kind of looks the same. And we're trying to really capture that image of hybridity. Like in Romans 11, Paul talks about this really cool image of the church is like a tree with deep roots. It's rooted in its traditions through Messiah Jesus, through the Matriarchs and the Patriarchs in the Torah, but then these Gentiles are being grafted in. And God is like grafting in these weird, maybe not so traditional looking kind of forms of church and people, and they're all in the same organism. And so it's always kind of like the church's history. It almost defaults to like a bounded set community where there's like these clear boundaries. And then God's always like expanding the edges, breaking that open, grafting in new ways and new people and those things.

Michael Beck:

So we thought that was a really good image for hybridity and general of offering different forms of church, both fresh expressions that meet in first, second, third places, but also digitally, the church has to be a both and church that's offering those digital forms of church and analog forms of church that are both are equally important.

Rosario Picardo:

That kind of goes along with, and I picked this up for Michael, this, it's actually real, but the Tree of 40 Fruit, which was more of an experiment, but a tree has 40 fruits on it. And it was created by Sam Van Aken. And it shows you that you can have wild branches, but that root being in Christ. And so this blended ecology of not just analog, digital, but even going forward now, how can we move from more franchise-like or homogenous to more heterogeneous or more of a mosaic when it comes to worship?

Ryan Dunn:

Well, there's something cool within that analogy where it's like, the point is not to conform the tomato plant into the potato plant, so to speak, or to eventually have this 40 fruit tree be a singular fruit. So can you speak a little bit about the ways in which fresh expressions exist on their own? Like, is the goal to bring them back into, I guess, a more homogenous form of, or expression of church, or what's the vision moving forward?

Michael Beck:

Well, there's a tension to be managed in the blended ecology where it's a both and we have to hold together. So we cultivate fresh expressions, Roz and I to be church with people that don't go to church. That's the ultimate goal. It's forming Christian community with people where they live, wherever that is, tattoo parlors or dog parks or Facebook groups or wherever, Zoom Rooms. But then there's this both and to that. So as we do that, and as we join the diversity of God in our community and we get out, a lot of people have those stereotypes about Christians, those things get broken down, stereotypes about church. Oh, they're not these angry, hostile judgmental people. They're actually all right. I may want to go check out what happens on Sunday morning.

Michael Beck:

And so I think definitely Wildwood, and I think Mosaic too, a lot of people that connect with the church through those missional communities do actually bridge back into the inherited congregation. That's not the goal, but it happens a lot. And the inherited churches grow as a result of that. And it grows another way where you're kind of unleashing the mission force. People in my churches, they're like, "The high point of my Christian life is I get to serve on the committee. What's the goal of this?" And people want to do things that bring meaning and purpose and transform lives and communities. And so this also gives away like unleashed people to see themselves as a minister and a pastor, and oh, I can turn my little sewing circle or my yoga group into a fresh expression of church. So it's kind of this two way unleashing that's happening.

Rosario Picardo:

You don't want to create a bait and switch and saying, all right, you've come to this gathering, whether it's dinner church or recovery group or whatever it might be, and then say, all right, now that you're here, you have to come to real church, which is on Sunday morning at 10:00 AM. So I think Christians create unnecessary barriers to conversion. So we try to convert people in many different ways with many different hurdles. So then it's first maybe come into a dinner church or fresh expression, then come in Sunday morning, then dressing a certain way, then voting a certain way and then conforming in other aspects. And we end up creating these barriers instead of bridges. And so fresh expression saying, "Hey, this is worship, this is church." If you come, we just started a Wednesday night recovery service that Michael was actually our first speaker at, and it's on a Wednesday night. Now a lot of those spoke are never going to come out Sunday morning. And you know what? That's okay. That's worship. So we have to think differently than 52 weeks a year, and start thinking 365 days a year.

Ryan Dunn:

The traditional church model has changed quite a bit, or at least is in a period of transition spurred by the pandemic. And I guess that a lot of fresh expressions have been moved into a little bit of a transition as well. In fact, Roz, I think it was in one of your chapters, you wrote that, really you're kind of measuring transition, not so much even in months, but in weeks that things are changing over that quickly. So are there some things that we're working in the early part of 2020 that are now not so relevant in the latter half of 2021?

Rosario Picardo:

I mean, I would say some of the changes we see from a digital format is people are not worshiping in realtime. I mean, when we were growing, I think we're all around the same age, but 20 or 30 years ago, the big thing was ABC, when they would tune in and everybody would watch TGIF, Thank Goodness It's Friday, and you had those great sitcoms. Well, eight o'clock, you would sit right in front of the television and you knew what was coming. Now that's changed with on demand. And so I think at the beginning of the pandemic, people were watching worship in realtime. And what we've seen as a trend is the viewership is not as high on Sundays, but later in the week, it picks up. So people are not glued to that one hour or so on that sacred Sunday morning, but it's worshiping on their own in their own way just like they would watch something on Netflix or on demand.

Ryan Dunn:

Well, Michael and Roz, you're both practitioners in that realm where you do kind of present online worship services, correct? How has that knowledge changed the way that you're putting together your digital worship experiences?

Michael Beck:

Yeah. I'm seeing the digital space almost kind of like a blended ecology space in the same way that I would think of my parish, which is a network of neighborhoods and people and places and practices. And so from my generation, my context, a lot of people use Facebook, it's free. So we're translating some of those principles from Fresh Expressions to like find the third place, find the practice that connects people, because people don't really, they may or may not know their neighbor next door, but they'll connect around something that they get to do together communally. And does that translate into the digital space? So I'm not necessarily, the Sunday worship service is one aspect of what we do.

Michael Beck:

We have decided, and this is not some kind of universal prescription, but we need to have online church for online people and onsite church for our onsite people. And we don't try to actually do both, because for us, we're churches that have no staff and no paid people to do anything. So it's an all volunteer priesthood of all believer thing. So we don't necessarily have those capacities. So we work with what we have. The way we look at it is every day, can we offer something in digital space that people can gather and connect around, whether that's yoga one day or like a really kind of traditional service that happens on a Tuesday or a Wednesday night worship experience or positive praise digital or all of those things that are happening in digital space, just like they would in a blended ecology in a physical environment.

Rosario Picardo:

I would say some of the shifts as well is churches are changing models. And I know our colleague, Jason Moore, cautions churches about switching models midstream. I think your context is everything and knowing why you're doing it. And so an initially, we had this slicked prerecord, oh man, it was great. It looked awesome at the beginning, but my people hated it because they wanted to be in the room with us. And so we switched models, we were in the room, they wanted to be with the mistakes, with the hiccups, everything else, where it's, unless you have a lot of resources, it's hard to control sound. That's very difficult with mixing online and the lighting and everything else.

Rosario Picardo:

But what we discovered then was those who have already returned were satisfied with returning, our audience shifted then, our focus shifted to, okay, it's going to be more for folk who have never don the dorbz of our church. And if online, worships it, then it's it. And so now I'm meeting people in worship that had never attended before, but had been worshiping with us online for six months.

Rosario Picardo:

And so I think that's more of a trend. Know your why. Don't flippantly switch models every week or so. We waited months for doing this. But I'm seeing other churches now switching models. One prominent church I know, they went from a nice prerecord. I mean, they put a lot of resources in technology and now they're finding, hey, our people want to be in the room. And so they made a shift just recently. And so I would say know your why. That's crucial.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah. You both mentioned that really, you're not working with the big staff, so at least big paid staffs, that these are smaller churches engaged in digital ministry, which really speaks to a majority of the people who would listen to this podcast and not dealing with a huge church staff, don't have somebody that they can specifically dedicate to digital ministry. That's the context that it sounds like you both are in. How have you been able to balance the in-person role with the digital aspect role of your pastoral experience without creating too much stress upon yourselves?

Michael Beck:

So with us, we've been trying to live in this whole idea of a priesthood of all believers. I feel like my calling and life, my wicked problem is the clergy cast system. So I'm all about like releasing the whole people of God and doing team-based ministries. So with all of our fresh expressions, it's, I'm not the key leader. I'm the key cheerleader, encourager, helper when that's needed, give an input and stuff. But I'm really, I spent the first 10 years in my industry trying to grow fruit on my own tree, which is nice, but now I really see myself as growing fruit on other people's trees, which is, to me, that's like the true work. That's that.

Michael Beck:

So the teams that we have, the way that I'm able to balance that is we have like inherited church teams, care shepherds, doing old school, like care packages, letters, phone call, phone trees, all that stuff that's like the bread and butter of the traditional church. And then we have, like our digital church teams, our fresh expressions teams. And like if you look at Living Room Church, it's mostly just lay people and they're spread all over the country. So one of the ways we started to try to bring people in was like to give them a leadership role, like what Jesus did on the job training. A lot of times I feel like our discipleship is like we're playing football with no end zone or soccer with no goalpost, like we just run around for a while and we go, what's the point of this? But the point of our discipleship should be to form new Christian communities. Every person, not just like the professional church planner, expert specialist, every follower of Jesus.

Michael Beck:

And I think like Roz has always talked about this so well, is that the digital space allows for a leveling of the playing field, where people can use these cheap, free technologies to really connect with people and do this and be empowered to do it. And people that maybe wouldn't have been comfortable, like in a physical setting leading a fresh expression, we're seeing them do things like video game church and people even who are on the autism spectrum. And they're pastoring a community of people because they're able to use these digital technologies in ways that maybe they wouldn't have been able to do that in like a physical onsite place.

Rosario Picardo:

Yeah. And my dissertation was in bivocational ministry. So Michael and I are kind of the same cloth where we try to work ourselves out of a job and empower folk. And so even though we have a paid person that has led the charge on this, before she came on staff, I was the cheerleader. We were incorporating staff and lay people. But honestly, we're doing a healthy amount online, but there's so much sound bites, so much out there that you got to be careful to not over communicate and put too much content out because I think it clouds your message.

Rosario Picardo:

And so we're pulling back a little bit and we're more focusing in our groups where our Facebook groups become the prime pastoral care insider language communication and inviting people in those groups versus our main page, which is more of our front door. So people may say, I think you have to communicate things seven ways a Sunday, and ext message, video, written, all those things. And of course, we know video has more of an impact, but this is a perfect way to engage lay people. And really, I think the future of Christendom is more empowering laity to do the work of ministry. What we've really been intended to do from Ephesians 4 is equipping the saints. And we don't have to do it all. The religious paid professional doesn't have to do it all.

Ryan Dunn:

So how are you engaged in equipping now? When you talk about bringing people on as leaders in like a Facebook group, what are some of the tools and resources that you're providing?

Michael Beck:

So, Roz's church I think is actually one of the fastest growing church plants in his conference. So he's on a larger scale, a bit more resources, I think. And I'm working from like churches that are about to close. Okay. I have two congregations that are on the closure list.

Rosario Picardo:

They pay him in dog food and bottle caps. That's what they.

Michael Beck:

That's right. I pay them to be their pastor. But anyway, so we were like, "Well, we can't do this, we can't do that." But there's a free technology, like a stream yard. And people are in pandemic and they're like isolated and what if we just own that? So it's living room, we're in our living room, you're in your living room, let's have a conversation. So not a 30 minute monologue sermon. We just sat there and said, "Hey, how are you? Here's a couple ideas from a Jesus story. What do y'all think about that? Post it in the comment section. Let's bring in guests and people to talk about, let's bring in lay people to be part of the sermon and to feed into that." And so it just became this kind of communal thing. Then over time, we're like, "Oh man, people are starting to give money and tithing from Georgia and Pennsylvania and New Mexico, what do we do with that?"

Michael Beck:

So we started bringing them on and calling them network partners. And we would flash them up in Living Room Church. They would come in and do like a version of the membership vows, do you want to be a Methodist? All that business that we do. Well, you stir up kingdom mischief there in your physical context where you live. And people joined. And they were like, "Here's some opportunities. If you want to be on a leadership team, here's some things you could do." So now our Living Room Church team is spread out all over the country, we've not actually met some of us, but they're very much part of our church.

Michael Beck:

Like Roz and I, we worked together for like over a year, wrote a book together, taught classes together. And we just met like last month for the first time physically. But I would say our relationship was solid and good and like a deep friendship and like a kingdom relationship, but we never met. And so technology had facilitated that. So we're trying to own that and give people opportunities to serve and lead discussion groups and all those things.

Rosario Picardo:

One example, if we were writing the book again, I would include this. In our church planting network, we have a Filipino congregation that is a part of us. And in the pandemic, they were just starting out. Before, they were under a 100, starting out, doing well, pandemic hit. And so the [Doples 00:20:16] family decided that they were going to do Facebook devotions and they do it as a family. And it's young to old, they do music, devotions, all that. They have done it close to 400 days consecutively and are getting thousands of views around the world where he said, and I don't think people believed him. He stood up at a conference. I said, "Hey, you got to stand up and tell people how much is coming in online from the offering plate outside of the United States." And he said something like 60% of the revenues offering is coming in outside of his church and from around the world. So it's not anything fancy, no fancy lighting cameras, all that, but it's inviting by people into the living room and pulling up a chair.

Ryan Dunn:

Well, Michael, you brought out the big S word, the sermon. How has your sermonizing, how has your preaching changed over the course of the past year and a half specifically within the realm of kind of an online presentation?

Michael Beck:

Sure. Well, so again, this is one of those things that kind of translated in the fresh expressions approach really easily into digital space, because we actually in fresh expressions don't have sermons per se. We have sermonic conversations. So when we're sitting in the tattoo parlor, worshiping Jesus and getting tattoos, it's not like the professional stands up and says, all right. And here's the sermon time now, let me tell you what the Bible means. But what we do is we have everybody take out their screens, we read a little bit of a Jesus story or a couple verses, and it's an inquiry based approach to preaching. So like Jesus asked 370 questions or something, he asked questions, like his model of teaching and sermonizing was to ask questions. And then sometimes people would respond with questions, he would respond to questions with their questions. And so we've tried to turn that into a communal creation of the sermon, if you will.

Michael Beck:

So it's like, we have a couple of questions that we use because most of our people that are leading these have not been to seminary, have no formal education in the Methodist Church or any of that, just what we do in house. And so we give them these simple questions, like if this Jesus story happened today, what would it look like? So it's not a right or wrong answer. Okay, Jesus touched the leper or Jesus hung out with the woman at the well. If this happened today, what would it look? Everybody can feed into that. It's not a right or wrong answer and everybody can be comfortable.

Michael Beck:

And we also find people, we can find that common ground, people push against the church, but they're way more open to Jesus. And we sometimes just start from the beginning and say, "Can we all agree Jesus is a great teacher?" And usually everybody's like, "Yeah, I'll go with that. Great teacher, sure." And if we can start from that framework, then we can start to have these conversations. So people are feeding into it. So they're shorter, they're not a monologue. They're a dialogue, they're communally created.

Ryan Dunn:

Roz, have you changed in delivery over the past year and a half?

Rosario Picardo:

Yeah. I mean, I think Michael said, moving from monologue to dialogue, shorter is better. You don't want to stuff people believe them hungry. And I think we've seen that even with the length of worship services. Ours is down to 25 minutes right now that we're putting out online. And so that the-

Ryan Dunn:

The whole service, not just the sermon.

Rosario Picardo:

The whole service. Yep. And so because people don't watch the whole thing anyway when you think about it. And so that's the part of livestream, we're holding people hostage. We think we are. And they're not actually watching the whole thing anyway. And so yeah, I think it's just gone shorter. And then we try to avoid language of presence and tense, like try not to use the day of the week and happy Sunday and all those things that kind of give that away. So you can play it all during the week as well. So that's kind of some of the things we're seeing. And then we try to do a variety, we believe in having a preaching team. Michael's the same way. And so that it's not just one voice, kind of that Moses voice, but it's, hey, we're going to go to the mountain together. And so we have a variety of folks that we incorporate to bring the word.

Michael Beck:

So that's why for us, we, like in our inherited church, we have a preaching team and everything, but it's a sermon and it's a typical 20, 25, some of our preachers, 30 minute sermon in the traditional and contemporary services that we have. I'm still doing that and I'm still preaching. That's why I feel like sometimes trying to do both at the same time doesn't really work, because like what Roz just nailed about the medium, Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message, and kind of screen hold somebody's attention all that. I mean, I don't think sermons in a physical location can either for 25, 30 minutes, unless you're like Billy Graham or something, T.D. Jakes, but people are checking out anyway. But I think Roz is hitting on like the nature of digitization and how you have to like a adapt for the medium and the context where you are.

Ryan Dunn:

A lot of times we default towards sermonizing as a means of evangelism. In your book, you devote quite a bit of space to equating evangelism with healing, which I think is a great perspective. How have you witnessed churches using digital means for offering a sense of healing to people?

Rosario Picardo:

I mean, with us, we started doing classes like on the winter blues and depression and kind of the mental toll that people are going through. So we've done just a variety of classes. And my wife and I even started a podcast to really dive into some of those marriage things, because with isolation and quarantine, people were having marital problems. If they already had them before, it exacerbated everything. And so we use that digital platform. We did something called Quarantine Conversations, how to communicate with your spouse without killing them.

Rosario Picardo:

And so we dived into a lot of those things like unforgiveness and speaker-listener technique and positive intent and just all that applied to any relationship. And we had people contacting us afterwards, hey, you need to extend this series. We want you to keep doing this. And it was unscripted on Facebook Live, hey, pray for my marriage or my relationship. Hey, I'm battling unforgiveness. And that was pretty eyeopening. But that was kind of more the digital platform and Michael really wrote that chapter on. He's written some of our articles in the chapter on equating healing with the good news. And that's what Jesus talked about in Luke 4.

Michael Beck:

Yeah. I think we just have this collapsed idea of evangelism that it's, I go share Jesus, somebody prays the sinner's prayer, I give them a track or whatever. And that's put a notch on the belt and they become a Christian or whatever. And the idea of evangelism scripturally is holistic, Shalom and God's kingdom coming into our lives and the new creation springing forth and a whole world at peace where the nations beat their swords into plowshares and their spirits and printing hooks to don't make war anymore. So there's this whole vision of salvation that's bigger than I think in our Western individualized approach to church, which goes back to our missionary roots, like go in, build the mission station, extract people from their social relationships, bring them back to the mission station, Christianize them, which also meant westernize them and colonialism and all those things.

Michael Beck:

So what we've tried to do our Celebrate Recovery meets online, creating these little groups of people. What I find is people just kind of will unload really real authentic stuff. Like Roz was sharing that it feels for more people. And now remember, there's digital natives and there's digital immigrants. And maybe for digital immigrants, that's a little bit harder, but for digital natives, that's a safe space where I like, "Man, I'm really struggling this week. I got drunk or I smoked a joint and I feel bad about it. Is that okay? Is Jesus upset with me or whatever?" And we can talk about that in a Zoom Room and have real authentic breakthrough and stuff. So we've tried to create those little breakouts. So like after Yoga Church, we're going to have a spiritual conversation for a difference, what spiritual practices are sustaining you in the midst of the pandemic? And then like this real honest stuff can come out. So that's healing that people are experiencing in digital space.

Ryan Dunn:

Let's transition a little bit. Let's get into the deep theological weeds. In the, I guess maybe the conflictual point when we start talking about digital ministry and analog ministry or in-person ministry is this word incarnation, the way that we're able to be present with one another. And it seems that so often when we talk about digital ministry, it's being used as a step towards the in-person incarnation. You seem to take it a little bit of a different approach in talking about incarnation. And I really love the way that you guys described it within the book. So do you see the need to push for, I guess in this point and age, a reclamation of in-person gathering or are we incarnated enough in digital space?

Rosario Picardo:

I mean, we look back at the Apostle Paul and he knew that he couldn't confuse the wine with the wine skin. And so while he was imprisoned, he knew he wanted to be in-person with folk, but what did he do instead? He wrote a letter. And I think online and digital is our form of writing letters to folks that are not just in our cities and states, but around the world. Oftentimes, we confuse, like Michael said, the message with the medium.

Rosario Picardo:

And in no way did we say, hey, we're forsaking the in-person gathering. I think there's always a place for the in-person gathering. I think the trend we will see in this was happening pre-pandemic, but people are less attracted to the auditoriums full of people. They want the living room show. They want to pull up a chair. We use this illustration of the book. But one of Jimmy Fallon's most memorable and watched segments was his At Home Edition, where his kids were in the mix of everything, his wife was the camera person. There were mistakes and mess ups. What did that show us? People wanted authenticity and reality. And you could get that even in a digital form. He invited us into his home.

Rosario Picardo:

And so in no way are we saying the in-person gathering is phasing out or less likely to happen, but I think the digital influences the in-person and we're already starting to see a shorter worship services. What we do in the room, we're thinking twice about how does it translate to online when we do communion or baptism or when we're having testimonies and those kinds of things. So there's always a place. It has this hybrid approach, both and when we're thinking of that. And we have to decide based on time and resources and all those things what our unique calling context is.

Michael Beck:

Yeah. And I love this about Wesleyan theology is that it's a practical divinity. And Roz and I are not in some ivory tower creating theories. There's people in front of us that we love. And some of them took their last communion in their living room digitally and died from COVID. And should they be denied that? And me in my pastoral role, am I supposed to not create a way? So I think what we said in the book and like, we need both. It's not one over the other, one's more important or one's more real than the other. And I think like, and as Roz mentioned Paul's letters and then in John, where he says, I'm writing this letter to you, I long to be with you face to face. So I'm using this medium to communicate and be in relationship, but I long to be together in the flesh.

Michael Beck:

And so I think there's that longing for a lot of people, but we also have to recognize that there's people that they'll only participate probably in the digital church. And there's a lot here that we can learn from the disabilities community. We're coming into this space many of us, we're new with our pioneering attitude or whatever, but there's people that have been living out here for like decades, their only form of community is digitally and the only way they can work is through these technologically-enabled means. So we have to take that just as serious as well.

Michael Beck:

And I like to lean toward Manuel Castells and real virtuality and all that, like we're not together right now in this moment. We are really together. Now we're in a space that's facilitated by technology, but I'm real, you guys are real. We're bits and bytes together, but in a sense, we're in incarnated way together in this moment. And that's real. And I think Jesus is at work in the space of flows.

Michael Beck:

Mr. Rogers said this beautiful thing, and if anybody was like a technological pioneer, it was him. But he would pray and say, the space between the screens is holy ground. He knew he was talking to real children and real situations and families with real hurts and needs. And it wasn't not real for him, but he was broadcasting this, Mr. Rogers neighborhood. And people were deeply impacted and transformed by that. So is that church? Is that incarnation? Can Jesus not manifest in digital space? And can the Holy Spirit not work and move? I've seen it. So I know it's real. And Roz and I both have offered communion and tried to figure out baptisms in this social matrix and all of that. So for me, I think I would say that it's just as real to that person who's part of a digital church as the person who's sitting in the onsite church.

Ryan Dunn:

What are some ministries outside of your own that are really inspiring you in terms of like a digital fresh expression?

Michael Beck:

Well, I love what Nathan Webb is doing, where he's using technologies that I don't even know how to use basically, but he's forming community with gamers and doing all this and Twitch and these things. One of our Florida pioneers here, Piper Ramsey-Sumner, is using TikTok. She's doing public theology on TikTok, which I just, I really struggle with, 30, 60 seconds, come on. I mean, but she's doing it. And forming community with people and doing like Tallahassee Brew Theology, where they have a drink, they hang out just like they would if they were in the bar, but they're doing theology together digitally. So those are just a couple that I'm thinking of.

Rosario Picardo:

Yeah, Michael took some of the ones that I was going to say, but with Nathan Webb, who's doing this gamer church, one of the criticisms was, oh, you're just going to play games and that's it. But he's built a discipleship strategy around that. So what you'll hear from Michael and I is what do you do Monday through Saturday? We focus on Sunday in the book, but that's not our primary focus. It's how do you do the outreach, the discipleship, the relational components.

Rosario Picardo:

And then look at, we even include a chapter in the book on going old school in a new school world. And so the power of written letters, care packages, deliveries, those kinds of things. So in no way are we saying forsake the incarnation personal, physical touch, but you need both. And churches that don't embrace that because a lot of churches are saying, all right, we're back in-person, we can ditch this online stuff now, while others have really embraced it. Pastors were wanting to buy equipment before and their boards are finally saying, "Hey, let's get all that stuff you were talking about beforehand. Let's install it. Come on. What are you waiting for? Let's go." When it was a struggle before. So yeah, that's been great to see.

Michael Beck:

Ryan, I think too, one cool thing that's been kind of that shift where we think of the gathered community comes into the space, we preach them up, we have the pep rally, we prepare them for mission in the world. But we've been seeing a lot of like, what of the digital spaces, that collection point and that rally point and that gathered community. And then you send the church scattered into physical context to cultivate new Christian communities. So like with Living Room Church, we're trying to flip that and say, let's gather here worship. Yeah, but that's not the fullness of your Christian life. You either start one of these in digital or something you love to do in your community, can you get together some people, pray, eat burritos together, whatever that is? And so there is that, can the digital become the gathered church? And I see some cool things happening across the country with people starting to do that.

Ryan Dunn:

Right on. Cool. I'll put a link to those things that you guys mentioned in the show notes. Thank you so much for your time and for providing so much inspiration, especially in Fresh Expressions in a Digital Age. Michael and Roz, for folks who want to get ahold of you, what might be the most expedient way of doing that? Michael, we'll start with you.

Michael Beck:

Okay. Yeah. Just on my website is the easiest way, michaeladambeck.com. And anybody out there wants to go deeper with this fresh expressions and digital kind of ministry, the House of Studies at United Theological Seminary Fresh Expressions, we would love to have you, masters, non-degree, doctoral options.

Rosario Picardo:

Yeah, we lead a group in fresh expressions at United. So check that out, united.edu. But you can look me up at rosariopicardo.com or you can email me at [email protected] Love to connect.

Ryan Dunn:

Cool. Well, thank you once again for your time.

Michael Beck:

Thank you. Thank you for having us, Ryan.

Ryan Dunn:

If you'd like to get ahold of me, Ryan Dunn, the best way to do that is at [email protected] If you go to the site pastoringinthedigitalparish.com, you'll find show notes for this episode, which include links to some of the people Roz and Michael mentioned as doing some creative stuff. We're often doing new season. Check back next week for the newest episode of Pastoring in the Digital Parish.

Ryan Dunn:

The best thing that you can do to help the Pastoring in the Digital Parish podcast is to listen to another episode. If this one was interesting, then click on back into season one and listen to our episode with Wil Raney about the why of digital ministry, or you can listen to our own episode with Nathan Webb, who Roz and Michael mentioned, and get a sense for how Nathan is doing a fresh expression on discord. That episode is called Discord and Digital Discipleship. I want to thank United Methodist Communications for sponsoring this podcast. Also, a big shout out to Reed Gaines, our audio editor who makes my sometimes rambling questions sound so succinct and on point. My name is Ryan Dunn. I'll talk with you again soon. Peace.

 

 

On this episode

Michael Beck on Fresh Expressions.

Michael Beck is co-author of Fresh Expressions in a Digital Age. Michael is Director of the Fresh Expressions House of Studies, adjunct professor also at United Theological Seminary. And is co-pastor at St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Ocala, Florida, and Wildwood United Methodist Church in Wildwood, Florida.

Rosario Picardo on Fresh Expressions.

Rosario Picardo is co-author of Fresh Expressions in a Digital Age. Roz is on staff at United Theological Seminary and is one of the co-founding pastors of Mosaic Church in Ohio.

Ryan Dunn, co-host and producer of the Compass Podcast

Our proctor/host is the Rev. Ryan Dunn, a Minister of Online Engagement for United Methodist Communications. Ryan manages the digital brand presence of Rethink Church, co-hosts and produces the Compass Podcast, manages his personal brand, and obsesses with finding ways to offer new expression of grace.