In January 2020 Monticello United Methodist Church decided to livestream their worship service. They could not have anticipated the way this foundation would prepare them for eighteen months later when they launched a fresh expression called “The Couch,” which is an online church campus of Monticello UMC.
Pastor Justin Cason is The Couch’s campus pastor. While ministry online has boomed with the COVID-19 pandemic out of necessity, Justin is not a stranger to building digital relationships. He has witnessed firsthand how relationships can form and flourish as a former professional online gamer and gaming coach. When the pandemic occurred and the church’s online congregation included those who had moved away, lapsed attenders, and even new attenders, they started to wonder if God was up to something new in this digital mission field.
Justin said, “ We thought that maybe God was trying to show us that there’s an area no one was reaching.”
Online live–streaming worship services has been around for years, and some have critiqued the digital space as making consumers out of worshippers. Monticello UMC was conscious of this challenge, but part of their DNA is being a community-centered church. Rather than make The Couch a church plant, they chose to make it a campus so that this DNA could be replicated. Thus, The Couch first started by building community rather than a service to attend.
They launched a Facebook group in August 2021 which has grown to over 400 people. One of the main focuses of the group is prayer. Justin has been moved by the way the fledgling online congregation has rallied around one another, bearing each other’s burdens and rejoicing in celebration. If a person posts a prayer request, they can expect to receive multiple messages following up.
The Couch also has weekly groups that meet such as social groups, study groups, and connect groups where discipleship and life transformation are happening. Each group is unique to its members in terms of platform. Some are video-chat, while others are text-based on a group message board. Some members who live in proximity to one another are even exploring the possibility of meeting in person eventually.
In late October, The Couch launched its weekly worship service at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday nights. It is 30 minutes with prayer, musical worship, scripture, and preaching. Throughout the service congregants engage with questions, which often has a way of shaping the sermon in the moment, shared Justin.
In early January, Justin testified to the ways God is at work in and through this new church: “Last Wednesday, we had a prayer concern come in from one of our online only people asking for me to call her. She was with a loved one that didn’t have much time left. I prayed on the phone with her and her unchurched family and received word the next day that the loved one had passed in the night. They were so thankful that even though the family had never met me that I was willing to pray with and for them. There is no distance in the kingdom of God.”
Distance is indeed being bridged as this new church campus seeks to minister to those beyond their geographical space and make disciples for the transformation of the world. Perhaps if Jesus were to give His commission in Acts 1:8 to present day disciples, it may sound like this: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth—even online.”