Reaching seekers and the curious means going outside church wallsLifestyle Missions and Outreach
As the Director of Fresh Expressions Florida, Rev. Michael Beck doesn't just think outside the box. He often rips the box to pieces and stomps that sucker flat.
That's a necessary trait in this role since the pandemic has chased people away from the pews in many churches throughout the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church.
"In Fresh Expressions, we follow a different way," he said. "It's not about building a building; it's about relationships and giving people space to explore faith."
With that in mind, consider the latest examples from Team Beck to meet people where they are instead of where churches and pastors expected them to be.
Their two newest initiatives: Living Room Church and Virtual Reality Church.
The Conference has already made Living Room Church its entity. It's not just a streaming church service.
"It's the first all-online congregation in Florida UMC history," Beck said. "It uses Facebook as its platform and calls itself "a network of house churches connected by technology."
It's open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and Beck said it has already had more than 1,500 members with a reach far beyond Florida.
"It started as our attempt to do an online worship experience. I reached out to other pastors and said, 'Instead of all of us struggling to do this individually, let's collaborate and do something different together,'" Beck said. "We decided as a leadership team that we were going to reach out to new people who were quarantined in their living rooms."
"No organs or anything like that. Just a guitar. People would go up on the screen and make the membership vows."
Speaking of different, late last year it dawned on the Fresh Expressions team that the virtual reality headset Oculus would be a hot Christmas gift and could be connected to a church experience through an app.
|Welcome to Virtual Church!|
"There's like a billion people in VR," Beck said. "It's a massive mission field. As a team, we talked about that and just decided to get the headsets and see where God took us."
The team leaders created personal avatars and opened the virtual doors, hoping that curiosity from users would turn into seeking and even leadership.
Even though the virtual church has only been open a few weeks, that is happening.
"We've had indigenous people step up to lead. We've got people from all over the world. It's so amazing," Beck said. "We have people from the U.K, Australia, Africa, different people of different faiths. The Facebook algorithm limits some of what we can do in the Living Room Church, but VR opens that up."
"We're creating a living room environment that doesn't look churchy. There is a greeter who guides you into the service. It's really cool to see. We can send people to the fountain where Jesus was. We can put them alongside Moses and the burning bush."
|WANT MORE INFO ABOUT VIRTUAL CHURCH OR FRESH EXPRESSIONS?
Reach out to Rev. Michael Beck at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 352-203-7258
This approach seems to reach a younger audience who want to know about God but may not want a traditional church.
"This is a Fresh Expression," he said. "We're trying to create stuff for people who live online. We have people in the group who have never preached before in their life, but they're stepping forward to lead.
"I'm kind of like the chief foot-washer, supporter, and cheerleader. I'm trying to lead from below. When the conversation goes off the rails, I have to step in, but that hasn't happened much."
God finds people where they are. This endeavor is proof of that.
"In Fresh Expression, we have yoga church, tattoo church, prayer times, you name it," Beck said. "Virtual reality is part of the online ecosystem. That's where the people are, and that's where we need to be."
Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for FLUMC.org.
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