Back in 1992, IBM launched an ad campaign with a single word: think. It was brilliant because who doesn’t want to be regarded as a thinker? But then, in 1997, along came Steve Jobs and Apple who launched what is regarded as one of the most creative strokes of advertising genius in all commercial history. He said, “Think? No! Think different.”
Everything changed from that point forward. We now live in the world of Steve Jobs in a very real sense, as much of our daily processing has to do with the technology he created.
Riffing on the Apple slogan, there is a sense in which the church has had to think differently for the past two years. In March of 2020, the world changed. Suddenly, believers had to start asking a lot of questions no one had considered before. If we aren’t able to meet in a physical location, how do we worship together? What does worship look like online? How can we be with people in spirit while not being with them in person?
Over time, the questions have evolved. Many churches have resumed their in-person services, but how many people will come back to the physical building? Did the pandemic permanently move some people online for their spiritual engagement? These are important questions, but maybe they’re not the most important when it comes to thinking differently.
…over half the planet’s population is online.
In November of 2020, Carey Nieuwhof wrote in a guest column for Barna about the effects of COVID on worship services and the migration towards all things digital: “Crisis is an accelerator, and so many of the trends we’ve been seeing over the last few decades are now happening faster than ever, in real time. The digital genie is out of the bottle.”
In other words, before the pandemic, there was already a growing trend towards moving life online, and then the virus simply sped up that migration. As of the first quarter of 2021, over one-quarter of the world’s population has an active Facebook account. Instagram currently has one billion users. It’s estimated now that 4.66 billion people have access to the internet. That means over half the planet’s population is online. It also means that, for the Christian, you can share the gospel online with a whole bunch of people who would never come to a church but would click on a link they saw while scrolling through Facebook or YouTube.
And that’s exactly how Dana Bearden discovered Storyline Church.
Storyline Church is Light Bearers’ online church. It streams every Saturday at 11am (PT) on Facebook, YouTube, and live.storyline.church. It exists so that people, church and unchurched, can encounter the beauty of God’s character and the Bible as one big story of His love.
Dana was raised attending church regularly, but she struggled to see God as loving and felt she needed to earn His favor. Eventually, buckling under the pressure and wounded by local church members, Dana stopped identifying as a Christian. However, after her father passed away, she reconnected with God, though she still didn’t feel comfortable attending church.
Fast forward several years to the beginning of the pandemic. Dana lived next to a Christian woman who began sending her sermons on YouTube by a pastor named Pavel Goia. Focused on God’s love, the messages helped Dana understand the gospel for the first time, and it began to heal her. Soon the YouTube algorithm suggested messages by David Asscherick, then Ty Gibson, and then messages by Storyline Church.
Dana watched a service from Storyline and found she loved the gospel-centered messages and the approach that spoke to the unchurched heart as well as to the churched. Soon she became a regular attendee. Eventually, after listening to many messages by David and Ty, as well as Jeffrey Rosario, she decided that she wanted to start keeping the Sabbath again, not as a means of earning God’s favor but because she had a real relationship with Him. Attending Storyline’s virtual service became a regular part of her Sabbath.
Now, two years into the pandemic, Dana serves as a virtual greeter for Storyline. Every week at 11am (PT), she opens her laptop not to simply watch church but to participate. She welcomes attendees, tells them she’s glad to “see” them, responds to questions, and reminds them how they can re-watch the service if they missed parts. When she became a virtual greeter, Dana requested to be present on Facebook regularly because she wanted to be a familiar face and name for people.
“…there’s this whole population of people that never had a place to go to begin with.”
“I’m not going to be a missionary to foreign countries,” she said. “I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen at my age… And I don’t have a theological background. However, what I do have is the good news that I can share with the people I interact with every day.”
In a world of unknowns, Storyline has given Dana a place to live out her mission. She doesn’t see online church as a stand-in for regular church. It’s her church. She sees it as a place to meet with people who might not feel comfortable coming to a physical church building but they would click on a link, just like she did.
“For some people [online church] is a place that you went when you couldn’t meet in church, but as soon as the restrictions were lifted, they went back to their churches, and I get that, but there’s this whole population of people that never had a place to go to begin with.”
There are many important questions to ask right now but maybe a big one the pandemic has forced believers to consider is this: Are we meeting people where they are at? A good many of them are online not just in a crisis but all the time. Maybe we shouldn’t just be asking how to get out of this hard situation or when things will go back to normal. Maybe we should also be exploring this neglected mission field.
If you’d like to worship with us online, you can join Storyline at 11am (PT) every Saturday on YouTube, Facebook, or at live.storyline.church. We recently completed a six-part sermon series titled, Think Different, which breaks down new ways to think about Christianity, God, Heaven, suffering, and more. Our current series, Kingdom Manifesto, explores the greatest sermon ever preached—the sermon on the mount.
If you already consider Storyline to be your community and you’d like a chance to serve, like Dana, you can look into becoming a virtual greeter at storyline.church/virtual-greeter. If you’d like to support Light Bearers in our work to create a beautiful, winsome online church service, consider becoming a regular partner with us as we seek to spread the gospel everywhere.
Allie is a 2012 ARISE graduate and on-staff writer and communications assistant for Light Bearers. She is fascinated by the intersection of faith and the creative process and enjoys poetry. When she’s not watching a good movie with her friends, she enjoys narrating life with mediocre accents.