Online churches

Think how mega your church could be if you were not limited by space or by the need for expensive “campuses.”  Think of a church so mega it could bring in people from around the country.  Think of a church that eliminated the barrier of making people leave their houses to go to church.  Think of a congregation whose whole existence is online. From via Church … Virtually | LeadershipJournal.net:

</blockquote>Recently a number of churches have made the leap beyond multi-site and satellite campuses. They have launched internet campuses, making every living room, dorm room, or coffeehouse with wi-fi an extension of the church.

The trend started in 2007 with a handful of churches and has grown to dozens of congregations today. Some are large and highly visible churches, such as North Point Church near Atlanta, while others are small, but the momentum will likely lead to the launch of hundreds of virtual churches in the years ahead.

Online church is not simply a streaming video of a sermon or a podcast. Worship services have scheduled times so that attendees engage simultaneously. Efforts are made to ensure the experience is more interactive and less passive than you might imagine. Brian Vasil, who oversees the internet campus of Flamingo Road Church near Miami, says the aim of their internet campus is identical to that of their physical campuses.

“We want to help people take steps toward Christ. We do not want them to just consume good teaching, but to engage and connect,” he says. “Many people hear of internet campus and think that it must be pretty passive—people sitting in their pajamas watching a video. But we have leveraged technology to provide a chat room where worshippers mingle and talk with one another and with me, their campus pastor. We also have online Bible studies and online programs for teens and kids. Through the week, our internet campus offers forums, book studies, leadership studies, and small groups. We take prayer requests online—about 150 each week.”</blockquote>

So, what do you think of this?  Does it count as assembling together?  Do congregations need the real presence of anybody?

HT: Matthew Lee Anderson at Evangel

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://wipfandstock.com/store/As_Though_It_Were_Actually_True_A_Christian_Apologetics_Primer Matt C.

    Well, they do need a USB wine spigot and bread dispenser at the very least.

    It seems ok as a bandaid (e.g. for people who cannot assemble together IRL due to weather or disability) but what reason is there to replace physical fellowship with virtual fellowship in normal circumstances? It’s a kludge at best.

  • http://wipfandstock.com/store/As_Though_It_Were_Actually_True_A_Christian_Apologetics_Primer Matt C.

    Well, they do need a USB wine spigot and bread dispenser at the very least.

    It seems ok as a bandaid (e.g. for people who cannot assemble together IRL due to weather or disability) but what reason is there to replace physical fellowship with virtual fellowship in normal circumstances? It’s a kludge at best.

  • Dan Kempin

    I think it is a wonderful use of technology in an attempt to connect with the culture. Problematic? Certainly. Fatally flawed? possibly. It certainly raises a host of issues for discussion. It is a discussion, though, that should be serious. We Missouri Lutherans were once on the cutting edge of this kind of thinking, being among the first to “preach” by means of radio. Does it count as assembling together to listen to “The Lutheran Hour?”

  • Dan Kempin

    I think it is a wonderful use of technology in an attempt to connect with the culture. Problematic? Certainly. Fatally flawed? possibly. It certainly raises a host of issues for discussion. It is a discussion, though, that should be serious. We Missouri Lutherans were once on the cutting edge of this kind of thinking, being among the first to “preach” by means of radio. Does it count as assembling together to listen to “The Lutheran Hour?”

  • Dan Kempin

    Matt C., #1,

    ” . . . what reason is there to replace physical fellowship with virtual fellowship?”

    An ironic question to be posting on a blog. I would look for the answer on facebook.

  • Dan Kempin

    Matt C., #1,

    ” . . . what reason is there to replace physical fellowship with virtual fellowship?”

    An ironic question to be posting on a blog. I would look for the answer on facebook.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    This must be a bad idea, because it appeals to me.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    This must be a bad idea, because it appeals to me.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Matt: :^) That was a “coffee-on-the-monitor” good joke.

    On a serious note, our churches are fragmented and leaderless enough without purposely eliminating fellowship from the equation……buildings can be expensive, but yeesh…

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Matt: :^) That was a “coffee-on-the-monitor” good joke.

    On a serious note, our churches are fragmented and leaderless enough without purposely eliminating fellowship from the equation……buildings can be expensive, but yeesh…

  • John Tape

    I think this is a great idea for those who are shut-in. But for everyone else, it is less than what God wants for His children. There is no substitute for sharing a tear, a smile and a nice warm hug.

  • John Tape

    I think this is a great idea for those who are shut-in. But for everyone else, it is less than what God wants for His children. There is no substitute for sharing a tear, a smile and a nice warm hug.

  • http://wipfandstock.com/store/As_Though_It_Were_Actually_True_A_Christian_Apologetics_Primer Matt C.

    Dan @ 3,

    It would be ironic if I were ceasing to interact with real people in favor of posting here. Since I’m not, it’s not actually ironic. I did say “replacing” after all.

    More to the point, I agree that Lutherans should make more of an effort at using technology (rather than our usual practice of hopping on bandwagons 10 years after they go out of style). I likewise think that connecting and even worshiping with other believers over the internet can be great. However, to say that it can be good does NOT imply that it is fundamentally the same as a flesh and blood church service. Christ came in the flesh, not in a data stream. I tend to take a more sacramental view of reality, and the abstraction away from our physical selves that online interaction encourages makes this kind of online church service inferior to a physical one. It may have its legitimate uses, but as a supplement or crutch rather than an equivalent.

  • http://wipfandstock.com/store/As_Though_It_Were_Actually_True_A_Christian_Apologetics_Primer Matt C.

    Dan @ 3,

    It would be ironic if I were ceasing to interact with real people in favor of posting here. Since I’m not, it’s not actually ironic. I did say “replacing” after all.

    More to the point, I agree that Lutherans should make more of an effort at using technology (rather than our usual practice of hopping on bandwagons 10 years after they go out of style). I likewise think that connecting and even worshiping with other believers over the internet can be great. However, to say that it can be good does NOT imply that it is fundamentally the same as a flesh and blood church service. Christ came in the flesh, not in a data stream. I tend to take a more sacramental view of reality, and the abstraction away from our physical selves that online interaction encourages makes this kind of online church service inferior to a physical one. It may have its legitimate uses, but as a supplement or crutch rather than an equivalent.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    I think an online presence for a church could be a very good thing, but all along the way it needs to be saying that whatever is happening online is not church – one needs to find in the flesh faithful preaching and teaching and the administration of the sacraments according to Christ’s institution of them. What happens to your on-line congregation if the power goes out? As Matt pointed out, on-line baptisms tend to cause technical problems.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    I think an online presence for a church could be a very good thing, but all along the way it needs to be saying that whatever is happening online is not church – one needs to find in the flesh faithful preaching and teaching and the administration of the sacraments according to Christ’s institution of them. What happens to your on-line congregation if the power goes out? As Matt pointed out, on-line baptisms tend to cause technical problems.

  • http://wipfandstock.com/store/As_Though_It_Were_Actually_True_A_Christian_Apologetics_Primer Matt C.

    Amendment to my post @ 7:

    “ceasing to interact with real people” should more accurately read “ceasing to physically interact with people”. I did not mean to imply the non-reality of anyone here. :)

  • http://wipfandstock.com/store/As_Though_It_Were_Actually_True_A_Christian_Apologetics_Primer Matt C.

    Amendment to my post @ 7:

    “ceasing to interact with real people” should more accurately read “ceasing to physically interact with people”. I did not mean to imply the non-reality of anyone here. :)

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    I think that just as LH is a good tool for those who could not make it the Divine Service, the internet is also a good tool in that case. We are having trouble getting our youth together for Bible Study outside of Sunday morning so we are utilizing the web to provide audio devotionals that the can download to their mp3 players.

    However, I do know that the internet could never be an adequate substitute. There is more to getting together than listening to the preacher and singing a few praise songs. As some have already noted until they develop a way to transport the elements via the data stream we would end up ignoring one of the chief reasons to come together.

    Besides as the writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us, “Hebrews 10:23-25 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    I think that just as LH is a good tool for those who could not make it the Divine Service, the internet is also a good tool in that case. We are having trouble getting our youth together for Bible Study outside of Sunday morning so we are utilizing the web to provide audio devotionals that the can download to their mp3 players.

    However, I do know that the internet could never be an adequate substitute. There is more to getting together than listening to the preacher and singing a few praise songs. As some have already noted until they develop a way to transport the elements via the data stream we would end up ignoring one of the chief reasons to come together.

    Besides as the writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us, “Hebrews 10:23-25 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I’m sorry, but some of you are saying this is a good idea for shut ins. It most certainly is not. The last thing shut ins need is another substitute for personal interaction. What they need is a visit. Which makes me think may be I need to shut down the computer for a while and go do some visits.
    This is not quite the same thing as preaching over the radio, though even preaching over the radio failed to be a substitute for Church. And it has its draw backs.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I’m sorry, but some of you are saying this is a good idea for shut ins. It most certainly is not. The last thing shut ins need is another substitute for personal interaction. What they need is a visit. Which makes me think may be I need to shut down the computer for a while and go do some visits.
    This is not quite the same thing as preaching over the radio, though even preaching over the radio failed to be a substitute for Church. And it has its draw backs.

  • Joe

    As a Church body that confesses that Christ comes to his flock through Means of Grace – I think this is not an adequate replacement for physically gathering for Mass/Divine Service.

    Also, have two or three gathered in Christs name over the internet? I don’t know maybe, possibly, why push it.

    It can be a usefull tool, like a radio program,for shut ins – but it may also give the pastor a very lousy excuss to not visit the shut ins.

  • Joe

    As a Church body that confesses that Christ comes to his flock through Means of Grace – I think this is not an adequate replacement for physically gathering for Mass/Divine Service.

    Also, have two or three gathered in Christs name over the internet? I don’t know maybe, possibly, why push it.

    It can be a usefull tool, like a radio program,for shut ins – but it may also give the pastor a very lousy excuss to not visit the shut ins.

  • Mel Ancthon

    “Do congregations need the real presence of anybody?”

    Prescient use of the word “presence” there. “Presence” might be more correct.

  • Mel Ancthon

    “Do congregations need the real presence of anybody?”

    Prescient use of the word “presence” there. “Presence” might be more correct.

  • Dan Kempin

    I think it is a false dichotomy to use the term “substitute.”

    True, if interpersonal contact and worship was abolished in favor of virtual contact, that would be a grave concern. There is no restraining order that prohibits people from participating in church and worship, though. A person who is well connected and worshiping in the church can be further blessed by listening to the Lutheran Hour or, say, posting on a blog. Many people today are more meaningfully connected to their facebook friends than they are to the people they stand around with for 15 minutes after church. Why should we not bring the fellowship and proclamation outward to include their virtual lives rather than imply that what they do outside the building is not a part of the Church?

    And Bror, your comment on the shut ins is right on target.

  • Dan Kempin

    I think it is a false dichotomy to use the term “substitute.”

    True, if interpersonal contact and worship was abolished in favor of virtual contact, that would be a grave concern. There is no restraining order that prohibits people from participating in church and worship, though. A person who is well connected and worshiping in the church can be further blessed by listening to the Lutheran Hour or, say, posting on a blog. Many people today are more meaningfully connected to their facebook friends than they are to the people they stand around with for 15 minutes after church. Why should we not bring the fellowship and proclamation outward to include their virtual lives rather than imply that what they do outside the building is not a part of the Church?

    And Bror, your comment on the shut ins is right on target.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Dan,
    I’m still here as an illustration of the problem. I don’t know but I think it is a problem when we are more connected with virtural friends, then the people we stand around with for 15 minutes at church. I would rather that this not be offered as an addition to church fellowship for fear that it will inevitably be used as a substitute. Even as Radio sermons are and have been. Believe me, I know.
    And it isn’t that what they do outside “the building,” which by the way is not the same as the Walmart warehouse, is not church. But perhaps this is about learning to live with each other in a community warts and all, growing together. I think Bonhoeffer wrote a good book about that, and it is a stretch for me to say he wrote a good book. This virtual community b.s. is just that.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Dan,
    I’m still here as an illustration of the problem. I don’t know but I think it is a problem when we are more connected with virtural friends, then the people we stand around with for 15 minutes at church. I would rather that this not be offered as an addition to church fellowship for fear that it will inevitably be used as a substitute. Even as Radio sermons are and have been. Believe me, I know.
    And it isn’t that what they do outside “the building,” which by the way is not the same as the Walmart warehouse, is not church. But perhaps this is about learning to live with each other in a community warts and all, growing together. I think Bonhoeffer wrote a good book about that, and it is a stretch for me to say he wrote a good book. This virtual community b.s. is just that.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    The internet offers the illusion of connection via social networking. There is no substitute to being in physical proximity. While on the internet we lose many social cues. And lets face it, people who can hide behind a keyboard are not necessarily the same person when you meet face to face.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    The internet offers the illusion of connection via social networking. There is no substitute to being in physical proximity. While on the internet we lose many social cues. And lets face it, people who can hide behind a keyboard are not necessarily the same person when you meet face to face.

  • JonSLC

    Personal interaction is sometimes one of the crosses Jesus gives us. To be connected to people and love them from the heart hurts sometimes. I think that’s a cross that can be borne to an extent in a virtual world. But there’s no substitute for personal contact. So, online church: good, useful, a gift of God to be used to his glory, but… let’s be wary of the temptation to find an easier way to love. I need to take Bror’s advice and get face-to-face with fellow Christians more. Especially when my flesh says, “Find a more comfortable way.”

  • JonSLC

    Personal interaction is sometimes one of the crosses Jesus gives us. To be connected to people and love them from the heart hurts sometimes. I think that’s a cross that can be borne to an extent in a virtual world. But there’s no substitute for personal contact. So, online church: good, useful, a gift of God to be used to his glory, but… let’s be wary of the temptation to find an easier way to love. I need to take Bror’s advice and get face-to-face with fellow Christians more. Especially when my flesh says, “Find a more comfortable way.”

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    Part of the mission of the early church was to break down the racial, sexual, and economic boudaries(Gal. 3:28) by actually meeting together and being seen together in public. Our communion in church and sacrement is the truth of our relationship in Christ. I am afraid the iChurch would subvert this issue by replacing real world-breaking fellowship with the easy to assume false identity of the avatar. The internet can make everyone homogenious, and the precious lesson of freedom and equality in Christ is lost.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    Part of the mission of the early church was to break down the racial, sexual, and economic boudaries(Gal. 3:28) by actually meeting together and being seen together in public. Our communion in church and sacrement is the truth of our relationship in Christ. I am afraid the iChurch would subvert this issue by replacing real world-breaking fellowship with the easy to assume false identity of the avatar. The internet can make everyone homogenious, and the precious lesson of freedom and equality in Christ is lost.

  • Dan Kempin

    Some good, thoughtful discussion here. There are undoubtedly serious concerns–the biggest one in my mind being the virtual potential of “falseness.” Many people become ‘someone else’ online, and even the perception of falseness would be in direct conflict with the witness of the church.

    Still, I must take issue with some of the premises. Physical proximity does not automatically denote a higher level of connection. I have been lied to and ignored to my face. I have had awkward conversations and been in intimidating social situations. I have also learned some things about friends on a text message that I probably wouldn’t have learned in a verbal conversation–and I really haven’t texted very much. I chatted with a serviceman regarding a broken treadmill in IM. The conversation was much more precise and helpful than most conversations I have had with an in store service rep. This blog often carries on meaningful debates that would be quite impossible in person, if you consider the time of day that everyone posts.

    Al of which is to say that the medium isn’t the problem. The best solution, as per usual, is found with good theology and clear thinking.

    I’m going to visit some shut ins, Bror, but I may check in as I pass by later.

    and Re: #16
    ” . . . people who hide behind a keyboard are not necessarily the same person when you meet face to face.”

    You mean you’re not really Dr. Luther?

  • Dan Kempin

    Some good, thoughtful discussion here. There are undoubtedly serious concerns–the biggest one in my mind being the virtual potential of “falseness.” Many people become ‘someone else’ online, and even the perception of falseness would be in direct conflict with the witness of the church.

    Still, I must take issue with some of the premises. Physical proximity does not automatically denote a higher level of connection. I have been lied to and ignored to my face. I have had awkward conversations and been in intimidating social situations. I have also learned some things about friends on a text message that I probably wouldn’t have learned in a verbal conversation–and I really haven’t texted very much. I chatted with a serviceman regarding a broken treadmill in IM. The conversation was much more precise and helpful than most conversations I have had with an in store service rep. This blog often carries on meaningful debates that would be quite impossible in person, if you consider the time of day that everyone posts.

    Al of which is to say that the medium isn’t the problem. The best solution, as per usual, is found with good theology and clear thinking.

    I’m going to visit some shut ins, Bror, but I may check in as I pass by later.

    and Re: #16
    ” . . . people who hide behind a keyboard are not necessarily the same person when you meet face to face.”

    You mean you’re not really Dr. Luther?

  • Kelly

    There’s also the fact that those who are most internet-savvy tend to assume that everyone else is, too… at least the people they want to connect with. Most of the shut-ins at our church don’t have or frequently use computers at all. And what about small children? People with really slow connections? Is this a means of gathering only a particular, privileged subset of the body of Christ?

  • Kelly

    There’s also the fact that those who are most internet-savvy tend to assume that everyone else is, too… at least the people they want to connect with. Most of the shut-ins at our church don’t have or frequently use computers at all. And what about small children? People with really slow connections? Is this a means of gathering only a particular, privileged subset of the body of Christ?

  • DonS

    This is a great thread. Note to self — look up “kludge” :-)

    I scanned the longish linked article, but did not see where any of the discussed “virtual” churches is truly virtual. They all have one or more physical campuses, and this ministry seems to be an extension of those campuses. Certainly, it is a nice thing, if you are sick or out of town, to be able to link in with your home church via Internet. Though, when I am out of town, I enjoy visiting other churches. But I wonder a) how much the effort involved in an intensive ministry of this type detracts from other pastoral ministries in those churches (like visitation), and b) how urgently these ministries are attempting to encourage “virtual” congregants to graduate to the physical campus. We need the physical presence of fellow believers, to serve, to serve with, to worship with, and to hold us accountable.

  • DonS

    This is a great thread. Note to self — look up “kludge” :-)

    I scanned the longish linked article, but did not see where any of the discussed “virtual” churches is truly virtual. They all have one or more physical campuses, and this ministry seems to be an extension of those campuses. Certainly, it is a nice thing, if you are sick or out of town, to be able to link in with your home church via Internet. Though, when I am out of town, I enjoy visiting other churches. But I wonder a) how much the effort involved in an intensive ministry of this type detracts from other pastoral ministries in those churches (like visitation), and b) how urgently these ministries are attempting to encourage “virtual” congregants to graduate to the physical campus. We need the physical presence of fellow believers, to serve, to serve with, to worship with, and to hold us accountable.

  • http://www.turnonthelight-bowie.org Al Goff

    The virtues of a virtual church over a physical church is not the issue. I agree with most of you that an Internet church should not be a substitute, but rather a supplement. It is an issue reaching out and influencing a cross section of the culture that may feel rejected and marginalized by a traditional church community. In the late 70s, after being away from church for several years, Christian radio reached out and helped to bring me back. Is it a question of making a mega-church, or reaching the technically-savvy lost?

  • http://www.turnonthelight-bowie.org Al Goff

    The virtues of a virtual church over a physical church is not the issue. I agree with most of you that an Internet church should not be a substitute, but rather a supplement. It is an issue reaching out and influencing a cross section of the culture that may feel rejected and marginalized by a traditional church community. In the late 70s, after being away from church for several years, Christian radio reached out and helped to bring me back. Is it a question of making a mega-church, or reaching the technically-savvy lost?

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Yes Al G., reach to the technical savvy lost, but get them back to an inter-generational cross-centered church where they have to really deal with and love one another. I agree with Bror and JonSLC, this is a terrible idea for shut-ins. The church needs to re-learn what it means to love the other and online church is not going to teach this at all. The action itself speaks louder than any useful words. Boy I feel guilty typing this. I better go.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Yes Al G., reach to the technical savvy lost, but get them back to an inter-generational cross-centered church where they have to really deal with and love one another. I agree with Bror and JonSLC, this is a terrible idea for shut-ins. The church needs to re-learn what it means to love the other and online church is not going to teach this at all. The action itself speaks louder than any useful words. Boy I feel guilty typing this. I better go.

  • Joe

    Don and Dan – If you look at the article this is based out of a Church that has a couple of physical locations but the Virtual Church is defined as its own campus – its own congregation. It is pretty clear from the article that this is not intended to be a handy thing when you just can’t make it – this is to be your Chruch.
    Most troubling is this:

    “Seacoast Church in Charleston, South Carolina, also tries to make all aspects of physical worship services available to online congregants. Brad Singleton directs the ministry. He says Seacoast’s online worshippers can light a candle, write a note of confession or prayer and nail it to a virtual cross, pray with Brad in a private chat room, tithe, and even take Communion. He admits that last one is a bit difficult.

    “No, we don’t have digital juice. We just point out that Communion is a meaningful way to respond in worship and encourage people to find a way to take the elements if they choose.”

    The impact of virtual church? Vasil says Flamingo Road Church is seeing the same signs of life change among online churchgoers as those at their physical campuses—confession, prayer, commitments to Christ, and even baptism.

    “Most of the people who accept Christ through the internet campus travel to our main campus for baptism,” reports Vasil. But on a few occasions they have conducted online baptism. “We ask the person being baptized to find a believer who will serve as my hands for the service,” says Vasil. “I say the words via the web as the believer baptizes the person in a pool or jacuzzi. It’s very meaningful and we take it seriously. We’ve even sent video crews to film the baptism so the whole online community can bear witness.”

    me again:

    I am probably not living up to my 8th commandment obligations here, but doesn’t this just seem like a way for a particular congregation/church to boost its numbers. Why wouldn’t this church use this technology explain the need for becoming a member of a church and to point people to a local church that has a doctrine they agree with.

  • Joe

    Don and Dan – If you look at the article this is based out of a Church that has a couple of physical locations but the Virtual Church is defined as its own campus – its own congregation. It is pretty clear from the article that this is not intended to be a handy thing when you just can’t make it – this is to be your Chruch.
    Most troubling is this:

    “Seacoast Church in Charleston, South Carolina, also tries to make all aspects of physical worship services available to online congregants. Brad Singleton directs the ministry. He says Seacoast’s online worshippers can light a candle, write a note of confession or prayer and nail it to a virtual cross, pray with Brad in a private chat room, tithe, and even take Communion. He admits that last one is a bit difficult.

    “No, we don’t have digital juice. We just point out that Communion is a meaningful way to respond in worship and encourage people to find a way to take the elements if they choose.”

    The impact of virtual church? Vasil says Flamingo Road Church is seeing the same signs of life change among online churchgoers as those at their physical campuses—confession, prayer, commitments to Christ, and even baptism.

    “Most of the people who accept Christ through the internet campus travel to our main campus for baptism,” reports Vasil. But on a few occasions they have conducted online baptism. “We ask the person being baptized to find a believer who will serve as my hands for the service,” says Vasil. “I say the words via the web as the believer baptizes the person in a pool or jacuzzi. It’s very meaningful and we take it seriously. We’ve even sent video crews to film the baptism so the whole online community can bear witness.”

    me again:

    I am probably not living up to my 8th commandment obligations here, but doesn’t this just seem like a way for a particular congregation/church to boost its numbers. Why wouldn’t this church use this technology explain the need for becoming a member of a church and to point people to a local church that has a doctrine they agree with.

  • http://wipfandstock.com/store/As_Though_It_Were_Actually_True_A_Christian_Apologetics_Primer Matt C.

    Dan @ 19,

    “Still, I must take issue with some of the premises. Physical proximity does not automatically denote a higher level of connection.”

    I think there is an unspoken assumption of “all other things being equal” in this thread (at least in my posts). Sure the best possible online interaction might be better than the worst possible physical interaction. Also, as you note, certain activities may (all other things being equal) be better online. (It’s interesting to note that both of your examples have mostly to do with information transfer, though.) However, it does not follow from these points that the medium is neutral.

    As you say, “The best solution is found with good theology and clear thinking,” but these things must also be applied to the medium itself.

  • http://wipfandstock.com/store/As_Though_It_Were_Actually_True_A_Christian_Apologetics_Primer Matt C.

    Dan @ 19,

    “Still, I must take issue with some of the premises. Physical proximity does not automatically denote a higher level of connection.”

    I think there is an unspoken assumption of “all other things being equal” in this thread (at least in my posts). Sure the best possible online interaction might be better than the worst possible physical interaction. Also, as you note, certain activities may (all other things being equal) be better online. (It’s interesting to note that both of your examples have mostly to do with information transfer, though.) However, it does not follow from these points that the medium is neutral.

    As you say, “The best solution is found with good theology and clear thinking,” but these things must also be applied to the medium itself.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    There’s a lot of good discussion here. To me, that’s a pretty good answer to whether or not the Internet can be used for, oh, I don’t know, discussion of spiritual topics. :)

    Of course, several other people here are correct in noting that church is not merely for the purpose of discussing of spiritual things. Many have noted the lack of sacraments (probably not a problem with churches that reject sacraments, who I imagine to be embracing this virtual church concept).

    What I want to know is: are the people jacked-in in the dorm rooms and coffeehouses also singing along to the hymns? Because I’d love to see a video of that guy, wearing headphones plugged into his laptop, perhaps waving his hands in the air, singing “Shall We Gather at the River? (OK/Cancel).” Maybe in these churches, the congregants don’t sing so much?

    I also wonder if the altar call takes the form of a dialog box: “Pastor Jim has asked you to come to the front of the e-altar. [Accept] [Reject] [Ignore]” ;)

    But I disagree that face-to-face interactions are the only “true” or meaningful kind of interactions. People put on airs, disguises, and so on when talking face-to-face just as much as they might online. How many conversations do you have after church that boil down to, “How are you?” and “Fine.”? Now, how many times (outside of church and Sunday school, with your fellow congregants) have you had in-depth spiritual discussions, as often happens on this very blog? Maybe it’s just me or my church, but my answer is: not so often. Sometimes I’m pretty open in talking to people, sometimes I just want to get lunch. And sometimes online, I’m pretty frank. So it goes.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    There’s a lot of good discussion here. To me, that’s a pretty good answer to whether or not the Internet can be used for, oh, I don’t know, discussion of spiritual topics. :)

    Of course, several other people here are correct in noting that church is not merely for the purpose of discussing of spiritual things. Many have noted the lack of sacraments (probably not a problem with churches that reject sacraments, who I imagine to be embracing this virtual church concept).

    What I want to know is: are the people jacked-in in the dorm rooms and coffeehouses also singing along to the hymns? Because I’d love to see a video of that guy, wearing headphones plugged into his laptop, perhaps waving his hands in the air, singing “Shall We Gather at the River? (OK/Cancel).” Maybe in these churches, the congregants don’t sing so much?

    I also wonder if the altar call takes the form of a dialog box: “Pastor Jim has asked you to come to the front of the e-altar. [Accept] [Reject] [Ignore]” ;)

    But I disagree that face-to-face interactions are the only “true” or meaningful kind of interactions. People put on airs, disguises, and so on when talking face-to-face just as much as they might online. How many conversations do you have after church that boil down to, “How are you?” and “Fine.”? Now, how many times (outside of church and Sunday school, with your fellow congregants) have you had in-depth spiritual discussions, as often happens on this very blog? Maybe it’s just me or my church, but my answer is: not so often. Sometimes I’m pretty open in talking to people, sometimes I just want to get lunch. And sometimes online, I’m pretty frank. So it goes.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    And, now reading through earlier replies, I see that Dan (@19) had said much of the same things I wrote, but I had initially skipped over his reply in a rush to write my own.

    Make of this what you will in terms of evidence for or against your position on this matter. :)

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    And, now reading through earlier replies, I see that Dan (@19) had said much of the same things I wrote, but I had initially skipped over his reply in a rush to write my own.

    Make of this what you will in terms of evidence for or against your position on this matter. :)

  • Peter Leavitt

    The issue is whether one wants to live in a virtual reality or in reality. Whether in church, community, or business relations, it pays to deal with people eye to eye in the spirit and flesh. The computer is merely a binary tool, helpful but quite limited.

    Virtual churches are rather like pornography, a pale imitation of the real thing.

  • Peter Leavitt

    The issue is whether one wants to live in a virtual reality or in reality. Whether in church, community, or business relations, it pays to deal with people eye to eye in the spirit and flesh. The computer is merely a binary tool, helpful but quite limited.

    Virtual churches are rather like pornography, a pale imitation of the real thing.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Peter (@28), why don’t you say that to my face?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Peter (@28), why don’t you say that to my face?

  • Jon

    Peter, DonS, etc.
    [See Vieth's post on the following]
    What about the 1,960 Iraqi Christians who’ve been killed since the great US invasion of that country in ’03? Didn’t we need their presence among us in order to be held accountable?

  • Jon

    Peter, DonS, etc.
    [See Vieth's post on the following]
    What about the 1,960 Iraqi Christians who’ve been killed since the great US invasion of that country in ’03? Didn’t we need their presence among us in order to be held accountable?

  • Economist Doug

    If Christians living on separate hilltops attempted a service using semaphore would that qualify as “Church”?

    Is that much different than using the internet to bridge distances?

  • Economist Doug

    If Christians living on separate hilltops attempted a service using semaphore would that qualify as “Church”?

    Is that much different than using the internet to bridge distances?

  • John K

    What’s next? Virtual baptism? Virtual Lord’s Supper?

    Of course, a virtual congregation doesn’t have to worry about fixing a crumbling parking lot or leaking roof.

    A virtual congregation doesn’t have to go through the drudgery of electing officers and such.

    A member of a virtual church doesn’t have to worry about making any kind of commitment.

    How does a virtual congregation call its virtual pastor?

    How does a member of a virtual congregation contribute his virtual offering?

    In the event that I become a shut-in, I want my pastor to visit me, counsel with me and bring me the Lord’s Supper. I do not wish a visit by webcam.

    How would a virtual congregation show the ‘marks’ of the Church?

  • John K

    What’s next? Virtual baptism? Virtual Lord’s Supper?

    Of course, a virtual congregation doesn’t have to worry about fixing a crumbling parking lot or leaking roof.

    A virtual congregation doesn’t have to go through the drudgery of electing officers and such.

    A member of a virtual church doesn’t have to worry about making any kind of commitment.

    How does a virtual congregation call its virtual pastor?

    How does a member of a virtual congregation contribute his virtual offering?

    In the event that I become a shut-in, I want my pastor to visit me, counsel with me and bring me the Lord’s Supper. I do not wish a visit by webcam.

    How would a virtual congregation show the ‘marks’ of the Church?

  • Dan Kempin

    John K, #32,

    I believe the Word of God rightly proclaimed is one of the marks of the church.

    And, just so that it is said, it should not surprise anybody that churches who get the sacraments wrong in their physical worship would also get them wrong in their thinking of ‘virtual’ church.

    No one here that I have heard is proposing to supplant meeting together. The salient fact is that technology has changed the way we relate and communicate as a culture. None of you (I am presuming) remember the culture of communication before the telephone, but it certainly changed with the advent of that technology. We don’t walk over to someone’s house to share information anymore. We just don’t. In fact, if we want to walk over to their house for a little face to face time, we call first. That is considered polite. My previous congregation had a phone tree machine. They used it to stay connected about important things, not only using a device that is just as disembodied and distant as the internet, but even (gasp) a recorded voice! It never even crossed my mind to question whether this was a valid exercise of “church” or whether the phone should be banished from ministry.

    I don’t know. Maybe it should. Some of the arguments being made here would certainly support that.

  • Dan Kempin

    John K, #32,

    I believe the Word of God rightly proclaimed is one of the marks of the church.

    And, just so that it is said, it should not surprise anybody that churches who get the sacraments wrong in their physical worship would also get them wrong in their thinking of ‘virtual’ church.

    No one here that I have heard is proposing to supplant meeting together. The salient fact is that technology has changed the way we relate and communicate as a culture. None of you (I am presuming) remember the culture of communication before the telephone, but it certainly changed with the advent of that technology. We don’t walk over to someone’s house to share information anymore. We just don’t. In fact, if we want to walk over to their house for a little face to face time, we call first. That is considered polite. My previous congregation had a phone tree machine. They used it to stay connected about important things, not only using a device that is just as disembodied and distant as the internet, but even (gasp) a recorded voice! It never even crossed my mind to question whether this was a valid exercise of “church” or whether the phone should be banished from ministry.

    I don’t know. Maybe it should. Some of the arguments being made here would certainly support that.

  • Dan Kempin

    Only the first line of #32 was a response to John K, but my denotation did not show up.

  • Dan Kempin

    Only the first line of #32 was a response to John K, but my denotation did not show up.

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    Hebrew 10:25 seems, to me, to speak against the notion of “virtual church.” The Greek term: ἐπισυναγωγὴν refers to gathering together in one place, not people scattered across the Internet all hooking into a web site.

    Everytime this discussion takes place everyone throws up all the “what ifs” and “buts” . . .

    We can’t established good rules based on exceptions.

    Pastor Bror put matters well when he spoke about shut-ins. Anyone who has ministered to those who physically can not attend church learns very quickly how important it is for these dear saints to be physically, and personally, visited and how much they long for the “assembling together” of the local congregation.

    I think “virtual church” is for lazy people. There, I said it.

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    Hebrew 10:25 seems, to me, to speak against the notion of “virtual church.” The Greek term: ἐπισυναγωγὴν refers to gathering together in one place, not people scattered across the Internet all hooking into a web site.

    Everytime this discussion takes place everyone throws up all the “what ifs” and “buts” . . .

    We can’t established good rules based on exceptions.

    Pastor Bror put matters well when he spoke about shut-ins. Anyone who has ministered to those who physically can not attend church learns very quickly how important it is for these dear saints to be physically, and personally, visited and how much they long for the “assembling together” of the local congregation.

    I think “virtual church” is for lazy people. There, I said it.

  • Dan Kempin

    Rev. Paul,

    Good thing there are no lazy people in the church. Or in the clergy.

  • Dan Kempin

    Rev. Paul,

    Good thing there are no lazy people in the church. Or in the clergy.

  • John K

    To Dan Kempin, re: John K #32:

    I should have noted in my post that it was merely the random thoughts of an unlearned person to the subject of virtual church.

    P.S. We met at the Auto Show. I am Tony L’s friend Jack.

  • John K

    To Dan Kempin, re: John K #32:

    I should have noted in my post that it was merely the random thoughts of an unlearned person to the subject of virtual church.

    P.S. We met at the Auto Show. I am Tony L’s friend Jack.

  • Dan Kempin

    Ha! Way cool, Jack! Who’d have thought we would bump in to each other here? Hope all is well with you, and say hi to the “L’s” for me! (Sorry to everyone else for the personal note.)

    Your thoughts are not random and unlearned. You raise the central and vital issue of the whole debate, in my opinion. I just wanted to make the point that the Word is still the Word.

    Well, I suppose I could respond to one other point: The “virtual offering” is not a problem . . .

    We could just use “Pray Pal.”

  • Dan Kempin

    Ha! Way cool, Jack! Who’d have thought we would bump in to each other here? Hope all is well with you, and say hi to the “L’s” for me! (Sorry to everyone else for the personal note.)

    Your thoughts are not random and unlearned. You raise the central and vital issue of the whole debate, in my opinion. I just wanted to make the point that the Word is still the Word.

    Well, I suppose I could respond to one other point: The “virtual offering” is not a problem . . .

    We could just use “Pray Pal.”

  • http://cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    Dan, God forgives your sins of laziness. Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven.

    Now get to a real church where there is a real gathering around the real body and blood Christ in the Eucharist.

    God bless.

  • http://cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    Dan, God forgives your sins of laziness. Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven.

    Now get to a real church where there is a real gathering around the real body and blood Christ in the Eucharist.

    God bless.


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