Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Virtual Church on the Rise

If you snooze you lose, and you may feel the heat sooner rather than later.

For example, have you been attending church online of late? What, you didn't know you could attend church, or synagogue, or the mosque on line? Well yes, you can, sort of. Now, I am not talking about a web link to a live worship service in a real church. No, I am talking about websites where you can go to pray, to network, to join others in studying the Bible, to exchange pictures, and so on, and no they are not just glorified chat rooms.

Consider for example, this recent article from the NY Times about holy space on the internet--

For example, have you checked out and or How about ?

One thing these sites have in common is that they are strictly monitored, prayer is encouraged , foul language is banned and good things happen. One of the reasons for the rise of such sites is to provide an alternative to the My Space site which sometimes has racy adds and other content and participants offensive to many Christians. If you think I am being overly cautious when it comes to MySpace, the Times article drops this little bomb--

"Last month, MySpace agreed to hand over the names, addresses and online profiles of convicted sex offenders after attorneys general from eight states demanded that the site, which is owned by Fox Interactive Media, do so. MySpace also deleted the profiles of 7,000 convicted sex offenders." There are wolves and other predators out there you know.

If you'd like to try something fun and Jewish try, though you might want to sift it a bit before you let your children loose on it.

In my view, there is no real danger of this phenomenon replacing the real church, or even the church newsletter, but it certainly reveals that Christian people are looking for contact with unknown but like minded Christian folks. And there is nothing inherently wrong with that. We used to write pen pal letters. Now people go to websites and make friends from around the world and have their faith nurtured.

Several things about my own teaching online have made me think of Gal. 3.28 where Paul tells us something of what the church ought to look like-- a place where ethnic, social, and gender differences should not be allowed to determine how we are viewed, or for that matter what roles we play in church. In some ways, it is easier to accomplish Gal. 3.28 online.

What I have discovered is that online, and without picture IDs you have only minds-- there are no handicaps, no race, no gender, no social impairs, no elites-- just minds. Various sorts of folks who would not normally speak up in a real class are often the most vocal online because their negative inhibiting factors are gone. Check out the websites and see what you think-- in the meantime look at the picture above again and remember---

You've got to be flexible to get near to the heat and action without getting burned.


Carrie Ann said...

I had no idea that these websites existed! I have to agree with you on this issue. I am wondering what age group is attracted to these type of websites. These could be a useful tool in reaching college students and other young adults.

Glen Alan Woods said...

I run a large Christian IRC network. We have regular Bible studies, discipleship classes, prayer times, and so on. We have a large demographic range of users. The oldest user I have seen is 76. There is a wide range beyond that from teen through middle-aged adults. Having done this for almost nine years, I am aware and cautious of the downsides, yet thankful for the upside of web-based communities.


Glen Woods

Kurt Beard said...

In the pre-social social networking days Ship of Fools ( or) came out with the Church of Fools ( now renamed St. Pixels ( and run by the Methodist Church of Great Britain. I checked it out when it was first around on; it was more of a virtual church with scheduled services and sermons. I�m not sure what it is like now but then it was an interesting idea which seemed ahead of it�s time. Currently there are scheduled services, prayer times, bible studies. It seems like more of a church in that sense then a social network, though there is plenty of that.
Coming from a Lutheran background I worry about where these forms substituting for local churches and the lack of the sacraments within the virtual churches.

zefiriel said...

Uh, interesting.

But should I assume that you're not encouraging the thoughts of leaving an "offline" church for an online one right?

Ben Witherington said...

Indeed, there is no substitute for real meetings with real people in the flesh. The exhortation from Hebrews applies-- do not neglect the gather of yourselves together in one place.


LGM#3 said...

Hi Ben:

Thank u for ur email. It really does help when people pray for me. I 'll give u more info in an email tomorrow, but i'm literally a walking miracle.


Unknown said...

I have been hammered over the head with that Hebrews verse before. How do you interpret "forsaking the assembly"? Missing on Sunday? What frequency of attendance is expected before this verse is relevant? Is two or three gathered relevant here?