My name is Chesley. I have been in ministry for over a decade. I started out as a pastor in Omaha, Nebraska; a lead pastor of a church revitalization. So I came in. I got voted 26 to one, and I promptly grew our church down to 19 and then up to the nineties in about a year, year and a half later. So we were stuck in a group. I say stuck. That’s probably the wrong word but I was the youngest lead pastor by at least 30 years in this room, in a different denomination at the time, and the question that was asked was how do we reach young people?
So they all look at me, because I am the youngest person in the room and like, “What do you think?” I say, “You know, one of the things that I’ve been wrestling with is what if the church didn’t have a building?” They promptly laughed at me and thought like, “No, really? How do you actually reach young people?”
But as I moved on and moved here to Phoenix, Arizona, where I’m at right now, this idea of digital just kept showing up as a youth pastor with my students and then obviously everybody knew when COVID hit, everybody had to go online and I had been partnering with Young Life and Youth For Christ, and they got stuck. They got stuck because they were… Their entire model was around reaching kids in physical spaces, in their schools, but schools even today, are not letting outside people into their campuses and so they’re trying to figure out how to deal with this and we had an online, private social network, that was pretty heavily mediated with background checked adults, and then students, where we could see every conversation. Our goal was for them to have spiritual conversations with a mentor. It blew up. We had over a hundred kids within the next five weeks and we saw that a one-on-one communication became a mainstay for how we did ministry.
Well, I’ve been thinking about church for a while. So I went to our lead pastor and said, “Here’s what I know. My friends don’t go to a physical church and some of them are hard pressed to ever get into a building until they meet Jesus and grow in relationship with him. But I also know that over 80% of our visitors in our physical church location had been watching online for three to six months prior to ever coming into our building.” I said, “What if we did a thing that was new, like put new wine into new wineskins. I don’t want to mess with everything that’s happening in a physical location. But, if we were able to do something completely online and maybe it feeds each other.”
So I got a hold of a guy named Jeffrey who was on the 14th page of Google when I Googled digital church planting and now he’s on page number one. It probably… He’s the guy that really popularized the term phygital, where we’re physical and digital. I don’t like that word. We focus with a bunch of Millennials and Gen Z, and they don’t like it either. So I call it [Meta Church] and what I want to explain why we call it Meta Church is because it’s not so much about the expression of the church. We’re going to go above the expression of church, and we’re going to say whatever we can do to reach people for Jesus, anything short of sin, that’s what we want to do.
So if people are online, which they are, believe it or not. Everybody you want to reach is on a social media platform. Everyone you want to reach who is doing a digital at some kind, because we have these things in our pocket and so we want it to go ahead and pull that off. So, that’s how I got started on my road to beginning King City. We’ve been working together for a while. I think there’s about five different things that allow us to innovate in the digital space that will create a shift for how we do ministry longterm, even in the physical space.
I believe what we’re doing digital… Honestly, digital for some time now, is going through a shift, what I call the digital reformation. I believe it’s going to shift the way we do certain things in our theology, mostly in our ecclesiology and a lot of that is moving towards what does it mean to really be a church. We’re finding out. I just booked a trip to Nashville where I go tomorrow.
The largest hotel chain in America is not a hotel chain at all and owns no hotels. It’s Airbnb and there is a platform called Turo, to rent a car, and I have more personal interactions on those two platforms with real people than I ever would get if I rented a car with Budget or Enterprise. In fact, I had a conversation yesterday with the guy about how he got started in the business of renting his personal vehicles, where he’s actually making money to live off of. But I got to have that unique conversation with him because of the digital platform.
Meta Church is this. There are specific platforms where we can grow community and discipleship and faith, through different expressions. One of the platforms is digital. One of the platforms is your building. One of the platforms is people’s homes and businesses. And if we will rethink what church has to be based off of our past and re-imagine it, I believe we’ll move into a place where it says we can do church on any level because doing church is not the point; being church is the point.
So, that’s my story in a nutshell, I know it’s short but I hope that helped you guys.