Friday, May 1, 2009

Wonderful resource: lifegroups

Sometimes I meet someone in Second Life who is interested in drawing closer to God. If at all possible, I'd like to encourage them to join a good group that prays together, and reads scripture together.

Unfortunately, our Bible study isn't the right match for everyone who wants to read the Bible and pray - our digging into the Greek and Hebrew is likely to turn some off - we have some excellent Bible readers, and simply the level of response might make some feel like their own contributions won't be "up to snuff" - however much I try to assure them of the contrary.

Obviously, the thing I would most wish for such people is that the find a good "real life" Bible study, and a good "real life" church, and take part in real life fellowship, instead of the kind of fellowship we have in Second Life. However, in most cases, this isn't likely. People we meet are often distressed - or have had bad church experiences - or, for whatever reason, don't feel comfortable moving themselves into a real-life location where they will see and be seen by a real, live group of people. Or - they may be afraid of showing up at a Bible study which is boring, and disappointing the people present when they don't come back. The relatively anonymous format of Second Life - and of online Bible studies - means that many will be willing to "come taste and see" in a relatively anonymous setting. It's often only after they have been fed and strengthened considerably that they feel enabled to take that next important step: of finding a real-life community for sharing in the experience of being together in the body of Christ.

For online evangelists, it's also not very likely that someone who comes to Christ, or expresses interest in learning more about God, will immediately take the next step of finding a church. It may happen (I've seen it happen), but I think this is a rather rare occurrence. Such a person might be able to be encouraged to take part in an online group, because of the relatively low psychological threshold in doing so - especially if encouraged a few times - or if you go together. We must keep in mind the very small percentage of people who come forward at evangelism crusades that actually become active members of church communities, when no follow-up or further discipleship takes place. We must make sure that the bonds of community are created from the very beginning - and, if we ourselves aren't able to welcome them into our own faith communities, we must find ways of welcoming them personally into other communities where they are likely to take part.

At the moment there is no comprehensive list of Bible studies occurring in Second Life, or a list of Bible studies that occur online.

This is where is such an excellent resource. They have, at the moment, nine separate Bible studies going on. Whenever you meet someone who is unlikely to take the steps of finding, and actually going to a "real life" small group, you can invite them to consider taking part in an online small group. Lifechurch, as of this writing, has nine online studies going on. You can consult the list here.

At the current moment, these studies, except one, are happening somewhere between 5AM and 7AM GMT, with the exception of one, which is at 10AM GMT. So they're all evening time in the US, but at a time that most UK people and Europeans are at their jobs. A pity for us in Europe and the UK - but a tremendous opportunity for us to help people in the US to get connected, and grow spiritually until they are ready to take that next step. There's currently only one Lifegroup inside Second Life - this meets at 4PM SLT - so also not at a time UK & Europeans are likely to join.

If you meet someone who does wish to learn more about God, or grow in faith - and can not welcome him or her into your own faith community, why not see if any of these lifegroups would be appropriate? You can even e-mail the leaders of the lifegroups, telling them about your friend, and it's more likely that that person will get in touch with them via a personal e-mail, taking the first steps of contacting them, telling them a bit about the group, and welcoming them into the group. It's not "live" face-to-face contact, but a warm, personally-written e-mail can go a very long way in establishing an initial bond of community, making your friend feel welcome, and increasing the chances that he or she will actually join the group, and take part fruitfully.

Lifechurch also has, of course, their stream-broadcasted services, which are accompanied by a chat box to the right of the service video. This of course doesn't yet approximate the deeper kind of community one experiences with sustained interaction in Bible study and prayer. But it is an opportunity for the people at Lifechurch to reach out to visitors in chat and invite them, a bit personally, to take part in one of the studies. Their page for the streamed services is here. There are also some services in the evening for European & UK people.

Remember the Lifechurch online Bible studies and don't miss out on an opportunity to connect someone, and help them in their first few steps in Christian fellowship.

A hint to Lifechurch people: this is such an excellent opportunity to connect people - but you don't show up on the first few pages for "online Bible study" in Google. Some SEO work could help you out a lot.

For your friends who are ready to take that next step and find a real life small group - is a Bible study locator with the largest number of studies I've been able to find on the net. Here's the big surprise: it seems to be operated by a Catholic press (it's not clear whether this is just a list of Bible studies using their materials, or Bible studies, tout court). Notice how many Bible studies there are in the great lakes region of the United States - interesting to say the least - I wonder if this has to do with how they've promoted the site, or is actually some kind of indicator of where Bible studies are happening in the U.S.. Again, for the United States only - no countries outside of the US are given.