LAKE FOREST, Calif. (BP)–Churches need to stop building bigger buildings and start relying more on the Internet, two leading pastors in the church growth movement said. David Yonggi Cho, pastor of the 750,000-member Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea, and Rick Warren, pastor of the 15,000-member Saddleback Valley Community Church in Southern California said the Internet is a “next generation strategy” that will connect decentralized home groups to the larger church body.
The two met recently in California to discuss church growth strategies for the 21st century, and their conclusion was: Stop building buildings and use that money for world missions. The interview appears in the July 25 issue of Rick Warren’s Ministry Toolbox, a free e-mail newsletter available from the website www.pastors.com.
With 20,000 new converts a year, Cho said there is no way his church can match buildings to membership and so he’s encouraging younger converts to worship in home groups through the Internet.
“We are so jammed that we have no way to keep growing except by going to cyberspace,” Cho said.
He said he tells young people, “Don’t come to church, just stay home and get your teaching through the Internet.” These long-distance members give regular feedback on the sermons and services, and they can give their tithe through the Internet and they stay physically connected to the larger body and study Scripture through their home groups.
Warren, author of “The Purpose Driven Church,” added, “Even if we had all the buildings we needed, one question is whether or not the next generation wants to worship in huge buildings.” He said Saddleback is experimenting with live Internet services on the weekends and has already set up a GroupNet to help small groups stay connected to each other.
Cho’s church offers live services over the Internet, including Sunday and Wednesday. “But also, when I want to give special instructions or teaching to the cell groups,” Cho said, “then I will teach it through the Internet to the cells and apartments.”
“It is silly to build larger and larger church buildings,” Cho said. “It is silly to spend more money on branch church buildings! You’ll never have enough. I really believe this, and I have already announced to my people and ministers that the next step is to go into total cyberspace ministry because it is a real waste of money to build larger buildings.”
Warren added, “No matter how much land you have, it eventually fills up. Besides, just think of that money and how it could be used for missions. Our goal is to decentralize — to send our church members out for ministry into their neighborhoods.”
Regarding the traditional need for buildings, Warren cited Saddleback’s legacy: “We wanted to prove to the world that you don’t have to have a building to grow a church. We were running over 10,000 in attendance before we built our first building. So we know how to grow and minister without buildings. What we’re trying to learn now is how to do it through the Internet — into the homes.”
Cho said this strategy does not mean you completely abandon a central church building. “We need both ministries together — a strong, young church and a very powerful Internet service,” he said.
Cho said this helps the local church to minister worldwide. “There are many American-Koreans participating in our church’s ministry through the Internet,” he said. “Through the Internet, we can have worldwide fellowship and worldwide services!”
Two years ago, Cho was invited to preach in Dubai, Saudi Arabia. During the services, the Islamic police came to tell him, “If you ever move out of the British Embassy, you will be arrested.” Yet, about 3,000 Islamic young people kept coming to Cho’s services.
Cho asked them how they even knew there were services, since the police were trying to squelch the meetings.
They said, “Through your Internet services! In Saudi Arabia, we have no church and we can’t own a Bible, but we can still read the Internet. We are watching your Internet service and you announced that you were coming to Dubai — so we took our vacations and came out.”
The full text of this discussion between Cho and Warren can be found at www.pastors.com.