Listen to this article:
Despite heavy accusations of the digital church being impersonal, distant, or anonymous, how it expresses radical welcome online should be noted. We may all benefit from adapting these expressions of hospitality to our own lives.
When was the last time you walked through a church’s doors for the first time? What was your experience like?
If you entered a church with a strong volunteer-base of greeters, then you were hopefully welcomed with smiles, and a firm handshake or gentle hug. As you departed, you may have received some church-branded swag.
In my experience, this has become the normative experience of welcome in the traditional church context. There is nuance, of course. Some churches have visitor events where the staff can readily answer questions and engage directly.
Perhaps, though, you’ve experienced a different welcome - one with cold shoulders, reserved pews, and a forced offering plate before learning anything about you.
During my time in active digital ministry, I’ve been surprised to learn the ways that a welcoming presence is expressed online. I’m hopeful that this article will be able to pass along some surprising, yet practical, ways I’ve witnessed hospitality, which we can then take into our ministries or day-to-day lives.
Where Everybody Knows Your Name
It shouldn’t surprise anyone in the Christian world that the church was far from a trend-setting force online. We are often behind the times. The same is true with how we practice hospitality. When we planted our church online, we found we didn’t need to reinvent the wheel. There were ways to welcome visitors built into the platform–and they existed long before the church got there.
At Checkpoint Church, we specifically use a platform called Discord as our church building. We have designed it from the ground-up as a space that people should join as a pseudo-experience, akin to walking through the front doors of a traditional church for the first time.
The moment that someone joins, they are given a brief, customary flyer that explains the most popular places in our building. Then, they are sent directly to a channel made specifically for their first moment: the #Welcome channel.
When they enter that channel, they should expect to be welcomed instantaneously with our automated bot named “Checkie,” who will welcome them and assign their user number with a cheery, “Welcome to Checkpoint Church! We are so glad you’re here.”
Then, over the course of the next hour or so, the visitor should expect to be notified several times by other members of the community welcoming them with kind words, waves, and animated emotes.
More Information, Less Time
The visitor will then be encouraged to go to our #React-Roles channel, which will allow for them to self-sort how they identify in a myriad of ways through a click of a button. What gender do they identify as? What age demographic space do they fall within? What time zone are they in?
All of these questions allow for automatic sorting performed by an integrated robot. The bot gives the visitor a labeled role that other members can see. The label notifies them how to identify the user properly. It also increases the chances of personal connections: “Hey, we’re both East Coasters!”
New participants are then directed to a channel for #Introductions, where they will be able to share a quick blurb of information about themselves. This often results in the quick connection between our existing members who share those hobbies or interests with proper channels and spaces for the visitor to plug into right away.
All of this happens upon introduction to the Checkpoint Church server. There is no need for special gatherings or awkward ice-breakers or heavily-volunteered events. The information takes just a few minutes to get and provides instant connections without all of the anxiety-creating situations for the more introverted( like myself).
More Spaces, More Places
This might be more applicable to my nerd-focused church plant, but the reality of a digital church is also one that allows for built-in welcome in a myriad of connected places.
A recent example: there was a new multi-player video game available online. Within days of its launch, we were able to have members of our community in the game and connect with those inside the game space. We’re able to be present as a welcoming presence in all of the limitless nooks and crannies of the online sphere.
What takes intentional effort, time, and funding for a new fresh expression in the traditional context can be a simple click of a button to create a new “guild” or “team” in an online game or connecting point in the metaverse. You can multiply immediately and - depending on the space - without ever leaving your home.
I’ll close this by hopefully getting your gears turning about a truly revolutionary concept that - currently - only exists online. And it should absolutely be a consideration of the church.
One of the major platforms that we utilize is the video streaming platform Twitch. On Twitch, there is a mechanic built into the user interface called “raiding.” ”Raiding” might sound violent. It's actually quite the opposite – though it can be a bit chaotic.
The premise is this: User A is streaming for their audience of 15 viewers. User A is about to end their stream. User A could turn off their stream and call it a day. Or User A could send those 15 viewers over to User B who is still streaming and plans to stream for a while longer. This is called a “raid.” All of the 15 viewers that opt into raiding will be digitally sent over into User B’s stream, often doubling or tripling the viewer count and active chatters in User B’s stream.
While there have been bad actors in the past, Twitch has done a good bit to squash any negative raids. In my circles, raiding has become a way of encouraging, building up, and practicing radical hospitality in the digital space.
For Checkpoint Church in particular, I encourage all of our viewers to spam the chat of our raided stream with our mantra, “You Matter!” to let that streamer and their community know that Checkpoint Church believes that they all truly matter to God.
Imagine if we did that in the traditional context of the church! I can recall the days of shared revivals where I could hardly get my church members to attend the revival nights hosted by any church other than their own. What a stark contrast to imagine the church just randomly selecting another church off the map and sending a cavalcade of love and encouragement their way!
Dare I say that sounds an awful lot like the Body of Christ?