Gospel & Culture blog
stuff like that before.
Ken: Now you've been kind of ahead of the curve on digital ministry - online - reaching out to people across the country, and across the world through gaming and such. That was pretty - people couldn't relate to that until the last couple weeks with the Covid restrictions - the quarantine. So tell me how your ministry has changed even at The Fount. From the past couple of weeks to this weekend.
Ric: Oh it's changed a lot in in the best of ways. I've been living with a dual purpose for the last year, trying to sustain a traditional ministry, and also trying to lean into his new style online ministry. And it's been really hard. And so when the when the Covid 19 started sweeping and then all the churches kind of got shut down, for me actually it set me free from a whole set of expectations and traditions and things that I just didn't have to do anymore. I didn't have to think about things like Easter egg hunts or Sundayschool or things like that - not that those are bad; but that it set me free to move in a new direction.
Ken: How did your congregation change in the past couple weeks? Your ability to reach people - and how did you reach them?
Ric: Okay so we've livestreamed two services now. The first service was really rocky, and I actually didn't even look at this the stats for that one - because we had people here in the building too - so as before they fully banned all attendance. I’m glad we livestreamed that one, even though there were people were in the building, because it prepared for the next week. So this last Sunday, we livestreamed only. We had just a skeleton crew. We stood apart from each other. We had our worship leader and accompanist. The pastor and me. And so our normal Sunday morning attendance in our little United Methodist Church – in kind of a shrinking denomination in a country where the faith is kind of shrinking too - we went from 40 who show up on a Sunday morning- we had 450-ish views on Facebook. And that's just 10 times the amount of people watching. And there are questions about how much were they paying attention? Were they doing the dishes or whatever? I think that misses the point.
Ken: But we may not even pay attention we were in the pews anyways!
Ric: I know for a fact people fall asleep in the pews. For a fact that happens all the time. So you can't make that comparison. So anyways 450
people actually watched for more than 3 seconds. I don't know what they were doing. I know my family was sitting on the couch. My wife and my kids were on the couch, and she used her phone and she cast it up to the screen with a chromecast. So that's cool just in and of itself. But the integration of the chat feature - we use Facebook because our demographic really resonates with Facebook. We have mostly women over 65 as our primary demographic. So Facebook is a place for us. But the chat window goes on the side. And you have people constantly commenting. Like when somebody jumps in to the video it’ll say “so and so is watching.” And if you're a friend of them you can wave at them. And then you can make a comment and say, “Hey so glad you're here,” right in the middle of worship. So you're not interrupting the worship. But you're also interacting with them during the service. So that it's not just sitting looking at the back of people's heads. You're actually interacting. So then when the worship is particularly moving, people will start doing “thumbs ups” and “hearts”. They'll start saying, “Amen” and “hallelujah”. So those are called engagements. And in our last video we have 53 engagements.
Ken: Okay. 53 “amens” during the church. During the service.
Ric: Right. So if they were here in the building it to be like them
raising their hands or saying amen. That doesn't happen on a Sunday morning
here very often - just sometimes. But it's not a frequent thing. So the fact that we had 450 people watching and then 53 engagements was huge. It was viewed in the streams of several thousand people, which means they didn't watch it but they saw it go through their feed. That would be a little bit like people driving by.
Ken: Okay - it was like thousand people drove by on Sunday morning.
Ric: So yeah, so just during our service, it would be like a thousand people driving by our street and seeing our sign, and also seeing like a billboard of the video inside. So we don't have a hundred cars drive by during that time. So if you were to make like real world to digital equivalences, that would be kind of equivalence that I would think of. So anyway, that led to us doing an impromptu worship set on Monday night. We livestreamed with just the worship leaders. The worship leader and a friend of hers. And during the session I got a message on Discord from a from a friend somebody I just recently met, who was having a really hard time. And I just really felt for her and I wanted to help her. And so she messaged me, and she was considering something dire in her life, because she was feeling hopeless. So I said, “Hey I'm not available right at the moment, but if you give me about 10 minutes I can get upstairs to the studio and I can throw my headphones on we can chat.” (This is during the worship set.) But I said, “Watch this for a little bit while I get ready.” So I sent her a link to the live worship set, and then, you know a few minutes later, she sent me a message that said basically had a little crying emote. And these - you know there's an “Emoji movie?”
Ric: It seems so silly but in that moment, it's a genuine expression of an actual emotion.
Ric: And so I didn't see it as a silly yellow face.
Ken: Right, because you knew was struggling.
Ric: I knew deep in her soul she was actually feeling that way. And so it had some significance. So it's funny these little symbols end up actually carrying a lot of emotional value or weight.
Ric: So anyway so she said, “I'm crying right now. I can't do this. I don't know what to do. I just want to surrender my life to Christ.” And I thought she had done that. We talked about it. She's a Christian. She's on a Christian server; she goes to church every week; she leads in one of the ministries with junior high kids; she's a counselor. So I said, “Well haven’t you done that?” and she said no well I did when I was younger, because that was the expectation - because my parents told me that I need to go to church. And I need to surrender my life to God so that I don't burn essentially.” I mean - more or less that’s how they presented it to her. And I said, “Well - I mean - they're not totally wrong; but that's not why you surrender your life to Christ. You have to surrender yourself for your own reasons. And you have to live in your faith on your own without your parents.” And so we had a very long conversation. I was talking over voice, and she was typing because she was too emotional. And we had a long conversation about what it looks like to really surrender everything: people's perceptions of you, your parents’ hopes and dreams for you; even your love for your fiancé (because she that was a big thing. She loved being with her fiancé. She thought maybe they could move in together - it would solve some of the problems.) And so I said, “Surrender looks like giving up your fiancé. Would you do that?” And she’s like “I don’t know.” I said, “You’re not ready for surrender. I'm not holding against you. And I wasn't trying to judge her. I was just trying to say “Then you're not quite there because Jesus can ask you to give up anything any time - and we don't know why - we just say, ‘Okay Lord, it’s yours.’” So then she did get to that point where she finally was like, “Yes I'm ready to surrender it all.” And then the next day she sent me a message of an audio recording of herself leading worship in her house on guitar. She said, “I haven't picked up a guitar in a long time. I haven't sung in a long time.” She said, “I'm not a good singer.” I'm like, “You're way better than me - so don't even start.” And so I sent that on to the worship leader. And it was a really touching moment.
Ken: And so what is your idea - what is reaching out to gamers who - I know about Facebook and web pages
Ken: And blogs. but I don't think people under 40 read blogs. So what platform do you use, and what do you do?
Ric: There are an infinite number of platforms. And it's really overwhelming you first start because you're really not thinking about - how do I phrase it? So strategy is important; demographics are important. You have to know who it is you ought to be in ministry to. So, you know, it doesn't necessarily make sense for a 60-year-old married man to be in ministry to 14-year-old boys playing fortnight. Which is a video game.
Ken: OK. Well, I’ve heard the words “Twitch.” I’ve heared the word – what’s the text?
Ken: Discord. I know my kids need to use it now all of a sudden for school.
What do you do on those?
Ric: Right. So there are tools that young people have been using for a long time. You know, older people now are starting to use them: Zoom, Facebook Messenger, Videos, Google Hangouts, Discord. Canvas. There are a lot of things that people are starting to use become familiar with kind of instantly. So what it looked like for me in a narrow focus for people who are gamers specifically, is that I would go on to Twitch, which is a livestreaming platform where gamers and sometimes performers, musicians, crafters - basically anybody - but it's gaming heavy. They go on and they livestream themselves playing video games. And I have to be honest I was a little bit judgmental at first about this idea. I thought, “Well why do these people want to go on and have themselves be seen?” And number two, Why would you want to sit and watch people play video games? Why don't you just play a video game?
Ric: But what I found through a fair amount of research - I was spending several hours a night every night for a couple of months sort of researching - trying to understand why people were on Twitch. Why they were streaming and why they were watching. And what it seemed like they were trying to do with Twitch specifically was that the streamers wanted to share themselves with other people
Ken: …who enjoyed the same video game they enjoy.
Ric: Right they wanted to find people who had they had a common interest with. And they just want to be in relationship with them. And so because our society has become so insulated. And we're so busy, we just ended up not having time or the or the ability. You know let's say you play Minecraft. That's a pretty well-known game. You play Minecraft; none of your friends play Minecraft; your parents think you're silly for playing Minecraft. So what do you do?
Ken: You find a two million other people online who play Minecraft.
Ric: Right. So you go on Tiwtch and then you have you know 100 people, 200
People - a thousand people watch you play. But not just watch you. Because it's not a passive thing. When people are watching on Twitch, they're engaged in the community. So actually I'm gonna make a shout out a guy named
Jax Mackay is an ironworker - if I remember right. Jax, if you ever see this correct me if I'm wrong. I’m pretty sure you're an ironworker. You're in your golden older years. You got a big gray beard. And at night he streams Minecraft. Sometimes he streams himself cooking. Some other video games that he plays. But I found him with Minecraft. And he had hundreds of people watching him. And he was building cool stuff on Minecraft. He's very talented. But it's the way he decompresses in the evening; and people were watching him. And people were engaging with him. And they would come into the chat which runs on the side. You have the video of the streamer (which is the person) in a camera, and then you have the video game play behind them, and then you have the chat that goes on the side. So they come in they say, “Hey what's up Jax?” And then he would shout out to them. And he’d say, “Oh hey Grumpy Monkey, how are you?” Like, “How was your day today? What did you do?” And then they would have an interaction. And basically you're just hanging out with people. And that's what people don’t do.
Ken: Hang out with people.
Ric: They don't hang out with people.
Ken: I understand you were giving an example of a musician who - she was able to play in bars or whatever - now she's confined to her home. Her audience is confined. She's on Twitch. And in a way that's changed the way she's doing her music.
Ric: Right. She's a live music performer. She's very talented. In Nashville. Her name is Annelle. And she was playing in bars and she has a website. She's recorded some singles - some original singles - one of them is amazing called Dragons. Very good. Go find it. And so she was really smart because she was forward-thinking. And she didn't just sit around and say, “Woe is me.” She said, “Okay what do I do now?” And she started a Twitch channel. And she didn't get any extra equipment. She just had what she had. She's using a webcam. I'm gonna mail her my webcam – my personal one - because I think she deserves it and needs it. So anyway, she went on Twitch And within 2 or 3 days she had hundreds of people watching her at a time. So picturing the situation where somebody could go on after a hard day and they can say, “Oh I know her. I've seen her. We've interacted.” I'm you know for the extreme example, “My wife passed away six months ago and I'm gonna watch Anelle stream her music.” And then she can say, “How was your day?” And I say, ”It was it was okay. This is the anniversary of my wife's passing and I miss her, you know gravely.” And she can say, “Oh my gosh that's terrible.” And she might say, “What was your song - your wedding song? Or what was the song was important to you?” And she could play that song for that person. And they can have this moment. Even though they're across the country - across the planet - and there are 300 other people watching. These two people can have this moment of an intimate relying on each other and of community and then 300 other people can watch and be a part of it and to celebrate that really touching moment – relational moment. And this is all digital. So there's a lot of doubt. There's a lot of people who would say, “Well you have to - you know- the face-to-face you gotta have it. “ And I would say, “Well, I mean yeah you do. But don't dismiss the online because we can connect in an entirely different way.
Ken: If she's interacting with him it's not a one-way thing.
Ric: It's not one way.
Ken: Streaming isn't just you uploading a video. It’s live video and talking with people - chat windows - responding to them. So you actually built up a small group - one of your multiple small group type ministries that you have throughout the week. A small group of just people he found on Twitch?
Ric: So I found initially some people on Twitch. I found a church called God Squad Church which is kind of the first church for gamers. And then I found a pastor named Pastor Skaar, who's in Australia, who's arguably the biggest pastor online. And they each have something called a Discord server. Discord is another program - another app. And Discord I really where the deep relationship can happen, because it's almost like living in a village where the people are directly connected with each other all the time. You hear everything that happens in the neighbor’s house. You walk out your front door or the other neighbors there - you talk to them. Not like in the US, where we have these insulated houses. But in like a tribal village - and actually I hadn't really thought about this being like a tribal thing - not in the negative sense of tribal- but people who all have something in common: a tribe. And you have these little things all facing each other. So in the morning when you come out, you know online, you say, “Hey, good morning!” And then five other people say, “Hey good morning. How are you today?” And so these Discord servers, I got connected. And they have a prayer request section. And I would go to the prayer request section and I would find people who had a prayer need that was something I could address practically. So one guy in particular, his wife had had a miscarriage. And I understand that personally. So I reached out to him and said, “Hey I'm really sorry to hear that. That's really hard. I understand that. Can I pray for you?” And he said, “Absolutely.” And I don't remember if we did it over voice or just text that first time. But that started us on a relationship where we built into more and more relationship. And then one day he and several other people we have similar stories with - you know a little bit different - one day I started asking, “Would you like to meet online with me once a week for about an hour and a half?” And they all said, “Yeah. They desperately wanted and needed that.” Some actually didn't say that. Some of them said, “Meh. I guess so.” But they're the kind that would not go to anything else! And so even just that…
Ken: These aren't all Christians?
Ric: These are all Christians. There's a couple of the group that are struggling significantly with their faith. They all believe in God. They all believe that Jesus was a real historical person. They have questions about God's goodness, God's provision, God's providence. But so then you ask the question, “What is a Christian?” So some of them are not fully-surrendered. They’re in that phase where they're kind of like, “I'm a little bit mad at God.” But they still show up every single week. And they tell us they're mad at God, and we still tell them, “We love you and so does God. And we’ll see you next week.”
Ken: This image of - there are people who will go to a small group on Discord who would not walk into a church for a weekly Bible study - some of it's the anonymity? You have some who just text in to the small group? Some who just voice in without …
Ric: Right yeah so Discord is a very complex tool. It's not necessarily intuitive so you know- it takes some time. It took me a long time to really fully understand it. But once you understand it, it's invaluable. So here's what it looks like: On Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. Pacific, I log on and we initiate a video call. We initiate a call, and then the people up on the other side - these other seven people - can respond either by just doing a voice or they can do video or they can just type into a little chat with them. (It's a little bit like zoom but a little bit different in that it's constantly connected to this community. It's not on now and off later. It’s always on.) So then we get on and then we're using the “class meeting model” that John Wesley used during the early Methodist movement. So basically we get on and we just go we take turns. I try to keep small talk to a minimum because I don't the schedule from 7:30 to 8:30 Pacific to get overrun by chitchat - because we can chitchat anytime during the week. We're connected on Discord and we literally can just send a message or make a phone call anytime we want. And we do; often. But this time set aside for discussing the state of our soul. So we answer the question, “How's it with your soul?” I did start adding some prompts that are from the general rules that the UMC has adopted, that are kind of modeled after the class meeting questions that Wesley, that would address the specific areas of our soul like how you present yourself to others, whether or not you are giving to the poor, whether you are overly concerned with your appearance or dress- you kno, those kinds of questions. So now we're starting to answer that prompt in addition to, “How’s it with your soul?” There's no intake. There's
no information. That time is only about transformation. So there's kind of an expectation that these people have to be connected to the Word and in worship other times during the week. This is not a Bible Study.
Ken: Now I understand - I mean how is this different than just standing on a street corner and preaching? You just get on Discord and tell all two million people playing Minecraft, “Hey Jesus died for your sins.” I mean is it is it is it more effective than that or?
Ric: I think it’s way more effective. So there are people who have been brave enough to stand on a street corner with a Bible and proclaim the name of Jesus. And they’re braver than me, honestly. I’m not that brave. And there are probably people who have come to faith through that kind of thing. I don't know. I haven’t seen it.
Ken: It seems reasonable with it would have happened.
Ric: I've not experienced it. So there is a a guy that does that actually locally here in Huntington Beach, frequently. He is Ray Comfort. And he goes to the pier, and the way he does it – he is not just the prophetic type like “turn or burn.” He has some pretty sophisticated conversations. And tactics and things like that - and it's pretty interesting to watch. The problem with what he does - and I don't fault him for it - it's not his fault it's a problem - is the people who are there are there for the beach.
Ken: That's what I worry about. I go on to Minecraft. I go on to these games. I don’t know anything about those games, and I want to tell them about Jesus. And so you go to the beach, you want to tell them that Jesus like, “We're here for the beach.” So you try to enter this conversation on Discord or Twitch. So what do you do instead?
Ric: So it's a long game. It's not drive-by evangelism. It's sitting with your eyes open. And it's resting in the Spirit and it's allowing the Holy Spirit to guide your attention and your focus through these communities. So it's a little bit like if you were to sit in like a town square or a mall. We don't have town squares here. Maybe somebody does - like a mall. And you were to sit let's say in the food court of the mall. And you were just to pray and say, “God just open my eyes to somebody who need your Word today - who needs your love today.” And as you're sitting there you're noticing things. And you're noticing like: that person is eating alone. And they look a little sad. That woman is yelling at her kids in a way that's a bit above and beyond what I would expect. That man is having an argument. He's very angry at his wife. That guy he is going through the trashcan looking for something to eat. So these things are happening around us all the time but we don't feel empowered to get involved because that's somebody else's business, right? So to walk up to the lady who's yelling at her kid and say, “Hey, are you okay? Do you want me to pray for you?” That would be really out of the balance of social norms.
Ken: Right. But on Discord, people are laying that all out, right? They're inviting you in by saying, “Let me tell you about this problem with my wif, with my kids, with my parents, whatever.
Ric: Exactly. So imagine this woman who is yelling at her kids. And then after she's done yelling at her kids she turns to the entire food court in the mall and says, “Somebody please help me! My child has autism and he is aggressive and violent with me and his siblings. And he destroys our house, and I don't know what to do. And I'm at my wit's end. And I have no support and no one cares.” And she just shouts that out to this whole place
Ric: And what typically would happen is everybody would go, “OK? Gotta go!” But we have an opportunity to say, “Do you want me to pray for you?” just that simple.
Ken: You've been offering to pray for people. Right? That's kind of the inroads.
Ric: That’s it.
Ken: Yeah and people will take you up on it. I don't know what percentage.
Ric: 90 percent.
Ken: That's what I hear. When evangelists say they offer to pray, they almost never get turned down. I've had it a couple times in my life - you know -people say, “No.” But…
Ric: Well and online it's probably a lower number, I think.
Ken: …of people who would say, “No.”
Ric: Because it's a lower cost of entry. It's less intrusive. You know for me to say, “Hey, can I pray for you?” online for somebody - just or text - over a direct message - they almost always will say “yes.” Because well number one, they're asking for prayer. So when I say, “Can I pray for you.” They’re like “Well yeah, that's what I asked for.” But not only that - it's very non-intrusive, whereas if you were in person, face to face and you say, “Can I pray for you?” They don’t know you.
Ken: Yeah. They don't know what to expect.
Ric: They don't know where you're from. They don't know about you. And if they were to be real honest with you, and you're a real person and you live near them, all of a sudden the stuff that they might unload on you could be incriminating - it could it could be used against them. Whereas online they can just stay - there's some anonymity.
Ken: It’s less threatening.
Ric: So you pray for them. And depending on their answers. Or depending on the prayer, you might say at the end of it, “Are you connected to a local church? Like, do you go to church on Sundays?” Okay if they say, “Yes.” You use the app and you say “Yes. Connected to a local church.” And then you would say, “Well does your church offer small groups?” And then if the answer is “no” then you push “no”. And then you say, “Well we have some small groups that are forming, and they meet once a week on Discord.” Or you could use other platforms. Discord is just what I use. So if they say, “No, they don't offer that,” you can say, “Well we have some if you're interested. We don't want to pull you from your church. We want to support your church. And you in your discipleship.” So if they say, “No they don't have a group.” We say, “Okay well would you like to be a part of a group?” And then you choose the time zone, because right now my small group - we have a guy in Australia, we have one in Boston, we have one in Missouri, one in Oregon, another one won't tell me what area he's in - he's in the Eastern time zone. And there's another guy who's in Scandinavia somewhere, Norway? Sweden? I don’t remember - So anyway we’re over the world. So we have to know that those time zones and our availability mix. So then they choose a time zone, and then a category “like single man between 25 and 40. Or married women between 40 and 50.” Whatever. So that they get placed with a group leader who is representative of their demographic. And then we place them with a group leader. And then they’re in a small group that meets every week that addresses the depth of their soul. And that watches over one another in love. Because that was that was Wesley’s whole idea - was that we - I don't have the quotes memorized- but the idea was we ought to be watching over one another in love, and pushing on to toward righteousness.
Ken: Not just getting people to pray the Sinner's Prayer in other words.
Ric: Right. Not just saying, “Are you saved or not saved?” “Okay, you're saved, now we'll figure it out.”
Ken: Yeah. Well thank you for introducing us to this new frontier of ministry. And it’s especially timely with this quarantine. Thank you Ric.
Ric: Glad to.
Ken: You offering to do a webinar to instruct others on - or to answer questions about how to engage in these ministries so I should put that link here
Ric: Yeah if you're interested in learning more about the tools - because the tools can be really daunting and overwhelming - and it took me a year to learn them. And the church doesn’t have a year! We have a week.
Ken: All right!
Ric: So let's get on it! So we'll have webinar, and you can jump on and we can - I can show you the tools I use. I can show you exactly how I do what I do. And you can ask me questions that you might have.
Ken: Great. Thank you.
© 2015 Kenneth Nehrbass. All Rights Reserved.
Kenneth Nehrbass, Ph.D.
Associate Professor at Biola University, Author, Pastor