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Navigating virtual challenges in the General Assembly, a creative way forward

One commissioner at the 226th General Assembly shares lessons she has learned in facilitating community online.

Photo by Jonathan Watson for Presbyterian Outlook.

Salt Lake City – Amid technical glitches that created challenges at the 226th General Assembly, one commissioner has found innovative ways to build ministry and a sense of community in a virtual environment — through the world of gamers.

Christina Greenawalt. Photo submitted.

Christina Greenawalt, a teaching elder commissioner from Central Florida, began her journey during the COVID-19 pandemic when she started watching an Instagram gamer livestream his gaming sessions on Twitch, a YouTube-like platform where people can watch and interact with gamers. Intrigued by the potential of this platform, she began interacting with other gamers on Twitch and subsequently on Discord, a messaging app used by gamers. Over time, she built a robust virtual community within the gaming world.

Greenawalt has become a chaplain to this diverse community of over 200 gamers, most of whom are in their teens, 20s and 30s. Despite most of them not being Presbyterians and many not being churched, they have come to see her as their pastor. She set up her own community gaming server in September 2023 with the goal “to create an inviting, welcoming, and supporting community of gamers … ” She has also created a league for the Rocket League game called “Cross Progression” that is explicitly Christian-themed. Creating a league provides for an even larger circle of outreach; in its first season, 30 teams joined Greenawalt’s league. Greenawalt rarely plays the games herself; instead, she uses these platforms to connect, support, and minister to her community.

Creating online community

Committee meetings for the 226th GA were held entirely online, which meant attempting to foster a sense of community among commissioners who were tasked with discerning the will of God and conducting the vital work of the church through virtual platforms.

Commissioners expressed deep lament over difficulties in communication and the lack of a tangible sense of community. In-person interactions, which can be crucial for building relationships and fostering collaboration, were sorely missed. The virtual format made it hard to replicate the camaraderie and spontaneous conversations that typically occur during in-person gatherings.

Greenawalt has created a league for the Rocket League game called “Cross Progression” that is explicitly Christian-themed.

Many commissioners found it hard to engage fully, feeling isolated despite being connected digitally, and technological issues along with the absence of face-to-face interactions made it challenging to gauge reactions, build consensus, and engage in meaningful dialogue. This experience highlighted virtual meetings’ perceived limitations in creating the spiritual and communal bonds perceived limitations of virtual meetings in creating the kind of spiritual and communal bonds that are essential for the church’s work.

Greenawalt has heard people say that there is no such thing as online community, but that’s just not true in her experience. 

“God uses technology,” she said. “God makes spaces wherever we allow God to have the power over those spaces. So God can use online spaces to bring people together so that they can be their authentic selves. They can share their stories and connect to one another in ways that are meaningful to them. I think as a denomination we have to be intentional about how we use online spaces. We set up Zoom meetings and think that is enough, but that’s not enough to intentionally facilitate online community. We have to create a robust space that provides for deeper communications.”

Greenawalt’s success in building a virtual community offers valuable lessons for future assemblies, especially as the PC(USA) looks ahead to the 227th General Assembly in Milwaukee in 2026. Her experience demonstrates that, with creativity and dedication, it is possible to foster meaningful connections and a sense of community even in an online environment.

She has some suggestions for how to facilitate online community for Christian leaders, which could be useful for digital ministry and for future virtual assemblies:

Greenawalt uses Twitch, a YouTube-like platform where people can watch and interact with gamers, to connect with and minister to gamers.

Leverage popular platforms: Using platforms like Discord and Twitch can help engage a broader audience and facilitate more interactive communication.

Foster consistent interaction: Regular and consistent interactions are key to building trust and a sense of community. Greenawalt checks in daily with her community. Scheduled virtual gatherings, discussion groups, and informal hangouts can mimic the spontaneous interactions of in-person meetings.

Create dedicated spaces: Establishing specific online spaces for different types of interactions (e.g., casual conversations, formal discussions, prayer groups) can help cater to various needs and preferences.

Embrace diverse ministries: Recognizing that ministry can take many forms and can occur in various settings, including non-traditional ones like gaming communities, can broaden the church’s reach and impact.

The 226th General Assembly of the PC(USA) may have faced unprecedented challenges, but it also highlighted opportunities for innovation and growth in virtual ministry. By learning from pioneers like Greenawalt, the church can continue to adapt and thrive in an increasingly digital world.