CLINTON – It has taken time, work and a lot of refinement with a six-month roll out and launch plan, but it’s finally official – on Sunday, September 10, Clinton UMC will offer another way for the community to worship with the debut of its “online church.”
“We can worship God anywhere; it doesn’t need to happen in a traditional church building,” according to Rev. Michael P. Smith, Senior Pastor of Clinton UMC, who said that with “our online campus anyone can use their phone or laptop to access a worship environment.”
“That’s our digital equivalent of a church building,” he said. “Once they are online they can connect with God and with community. This can happen through devotionals, blogs, recorded videos and other content. But they will also be invited to worship as part of a community during an interactive, online weekly service and community group. Looking back on the past ten years, I smile when I think about all the things we have tried in our congregations. We stretched our comfort zones and somehow I am still moving forward by God’s grace.”
Smith, who just finished serving his third year at Clinton UMC, has had previous appointments in the Cape Atlantic District, including St. Peter’s in Ocean City and Tabernacle UMC in Erma. He believes the concept for launching the “online church” came about because of a problem in need of solving.
“It was developed because of the need that was presented to us,” he said. “We understood our context, people and community and we decided to take calculated risks in digital ministry, such as launching our mobile app. These things have produced positive results that gave us even more confidence to take a step forward.”
According to Smith, many talented people have contributed to the launch of the “online church.”
“Creating an online worship space requires resources in technology, communications and worship,” Smith said. “Our full-time digital ministry resource, Corbin Payne, is leading the charge, collaborating with our communications manager, Beth Crawford.” To get feedback on whether the church is accomplishing goals, leaders have enlisted a focus group made up of people within the church.
“In the church world, it’s never just one person. We are a community and I am thankful for the people here,” said Smith. He added that the Clinton UMC online worship experience should mirror a physical worship experience in many ways. The online campus will be built around four key elements: hospitality, worship, missional living and giving and next steps.
“We want to extend a warm welcome to our online visitors via everything from the wording to the design scheme,” Smith said. We are offering a space where people can worship God at a time and place that is convenient for them. The missional living and giving is encouraging people to be in relationships with others and to give generously of their gifts. The next steps are providing access to online and physical community groups where people can stay connected outside the worship experience.”
Smith believes that the “online church” is innovative in the way that it looks to new methods or advanced methods of fulfilling the mission. He added that in reality, however, it is not completely original.
“It is simply creating community where people are and the church has always tried to do that. We should be leading the way in the development of community. We want our online worship experience to be more than just watching a physical church service. We are working on a highly interactive experience that will enable people to share their stories and connect into a community. Such tools would be online chat and prayer requests, online community groups and online pastoral care,” he said.
Smith added that other churches don’t have to do it the same way as Clinton, but his prayer and his hope is that churches will leverage everything that they have for the sake of creating community for others.
“This is Clinton UMC’s vision: to be a community sent for others. We will connect people into that which is most needed – community. It will just be done online,” he said.