A recent news story reported here on examiner.com touts the growing popularity of “online” churches. More and more people are discovering Christian services conducted online. This virtual church realm has its fair share of proponents and opponents. Those in favor argue that reaching out to people over the World Wide Web is a viable way to evangelize. Call it e-vangelization.
Is church cooler online?
The critics are concerned that replacing in person community takes away from a vital and real faith experience.
Both points are valid. The key, it would seem, is to find ways – such as using the online world, including the ever-growing social networking platforms – to introduce more people to the Christian message. But if it become just a way to interact in a surface way and the message doesn’t go deeper then there probably is little chance of any change, much less transformation, in a person’s life. And deep at the heart of a true Christian experience is transformation. Call it “dying to live”, born again or the Paschal Mystery. Embracing Christianity requires a rebirth. This new life seems to come only after a death experience to your old way of living, the one that puts you at the center of the Universe. And it doesn’t take an IT engineer to tell you that being online can easily be “all about you”.
One of the earliest online churches is the 3-D Church of Fools. It’s a virtual world and not just a social networking environment. Of course, Facebook, Twitter and other popular social media destinations are ways for people to connect and interact and it is no surprise that virtual church and faith groups are popping up there. The Church of Facebook is a recently released book where author Jesse Rice looks deeper into this phenomenon.
LifeChurch.tv is a site created by an Oklahoma megachurch. Clicking in I discovered a chat in process on the right. All the social media links are on the home page. And there was a webcast sermon front and center commanding the majority of the browser real estate. I noticed you can even join in live prayer online.
Online technology is being used here in Albuquerque by a number of churches and faith organizations. Calvary of Albuquerque has utilized their online strategy for a number of years now and they present online sermons, ministry information, podcasts and more. Sagebrush Community Church also has a robust online presence.
The Center for Action and Contemplation encourages a life of contemplation combined with action in living the Gospel message through social justice and helping others. Many of their resources are talks and books by Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and popular author, speaker and retreat leader. The conferences the CAC hosts are popular, but they’ve also begun to hold regular webcasts so that you can tune in and hear some of Rohr’s insightful talks. Online discussions and questions are encouraged. It’s more affordable and also can reduce the travel costs and logistics of Father Richard’s demanding schedule.
Is the online world the new frontier for church? I’d be cautious. I enjoy growing my spiritual understanding by going online. But I also recognize the importance of real human interaction. It can be easy to hide behind a façade online, as country star/songwriter Brad Paisley so aptly puts it in one of his hit songs – “I’m so much cooler online”.