An Online Lead Balloon

Most people will think of a lead balloon as a very unpopular idea “well, that went down like a lead balloon”.  But there is another way of thinking about a lead balloon which is the one was introduced to by Tony Payne who was the editor of The Briefing at the time.  It is a thought experiment that that on one hand you cannot prick a hole in and destroy, on the other hand it is so impractical it will not get off the ground.

We are now in lockdown and, like most churches, we are heading back to online church.  During the last lockdown our church, like most others, choose to essentially run a church service on a screen.  We should keep in mind that I was responsible for most of the shaping of this.  I think this was helpful for people at the time because it was something that was familiar in a time of chaos.  However, I reflected later that this did not help our people in terms of their understanding of church. 

Online church gives people the impression that church is what happens on a screen, or when they come back, up the front. It’s all about the preacher and the prayer and the Bible reader, not something that they participate in.  This view of church was demonstrated when we came back with people’s reluctance to serve in church “this is something you do, we just watch”.  We, as leaders, need to take responsibility for that since this is what we have implicitly taught people using online church.

The thing is that I can’t see anywhere in the New Testament that this is what church is like. It is a community. It is a gathering of people who come together to hear from God, to praise him and encourage each other⁠1

It is important to ask the question where is church?  Church is a gathering⁠2. The greek word we use to translate the word church is ekklesia comes from two words “ek” meaning “out” and “kelow” meaning called.  People are called out to gather in a place.  In the ancient world you might have been called out to meet as a political party or a protest (e.g. Acts 19:32).  Christians are called to meet together as the people of God.  

This is an important issue when we are doing online church.  The locus of online church, the place it is happening, is not the screen that you are watching, it is the lounge room (or wherever) you are sitting in.  It is not the person on the screen, it is the people around you (if there are people) that is church.  

Back to my lead balloon.  If this is the case, here is my proposal:

Instead of having an on-line service that people can passively look at that is all prepackaged, let’s give people elements of church that they can use to build their own service that would be appropriate for their household, their church.  

There is a degree that I noticed people were already doing this, with their remote.  Some houses didn’t have young kids and so were fast forwarding though the kids section.  Others thought watching people sing was weird and so they would fast forward through the songs.

Why not go with this and have several key elements of the service – Bible Reading, sermon, songs, prayers or ideas for prayers, creeds, kids spots, etc.  As well as suggested outlines as to how these could fit together for each household, including if you were watching alone.

Why do this?  Because church is about gatherings of people, not passively watching something on a screen.  This will take some work on the person who will need to put it together at the other end of the screen.  But that is the whole point.  They have to actively do something.  And in doing something consider what is the best thing for those around them – the whole point of ministry.

Yes, it is scary.  It would mean trusting people.  This would require some extra work on both sides of the equation and for that reason I think it becomes the lead in the balloon.  


1 There are a lot of assumptions about this definition of church, but for the sake of this post, let’s go with it.

2 See Peter T. OBrien, “The Church as a Heavenly and Eschatological Entity,” in The Church in the Bible and the World: An International Study, ed. D. A. Carson (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2002) 88-119

One comment

  1. Thanks Pete for an interesting viewpoint to consider.  Made me think about my initial misreading of the title as lead or guide rather than as the saying goes with the heavy metal and what that means within the context of your message. Thanks so much for your leadership ang training of us all as the church. God is Good.


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