andrew muzychuk

Leadership, family, theology and world events

Cyber Church. Fears, Reality and Future.

cyber church

Why should I go to church if I can watch it online? Can the physical presence be substituted for an online one? Do online web services cause people to stay home? What is the future of “brick & mortar” churches?

Today’s reality

According to greymatterresearch research group.

More than 17 million non-churchgoers visited the website of a local church in the past 12 months.

Almost half of online Americans use the Internet for religious purposes.

57% percent of online adults under age 35 use the Internet for religion, compared 31% who are 65 or older.

 One of the examples:

LifeChurch was listed in June 2012 as the largest church in the United States with an attendance of 46,000

An Oklahoma megachurch named LifeChurch.tv in a nod to its use of technology is considered the pioneer of the form. The congregation had already expanded to physical sites in several cities when in 2006, pastors launched what they now call Church Online.

LifeChurch.tv now broadcasts more than 25 online services each week and plans more. The services collectively draw up to 60,000 unique views weekly from more than 140 countries.

 The ways in which churches employ Internet are different:

  1. Traditional churches that have some minimal online presence (e.g. a church website or Facebook account).
  2. Traditional churches that have online extensions (e.g. a church with both a physical campus and an online campus).
  3. Churches that are entirely online with no physical campus.

Second and third types are using the Internet in an interactive way. People can ask questions, post responds, interact both with the online pastor and other participants.

Supporters of online churches have a common response to their skeptics: Try it before you criticize.

I think the growing popularity of online churches is due to many reasons.

Benefits and experiences of online churches can be surprising. It is not just an excuse to stay home and watch on your own terms and address your current needs. But also, a chance to be heard, ask questions, and a lack of need to pretend to be someone else since no body knows you. It is a place where you can really drop your guards. Not to say, it is easier to bring unchurched people to online interactive service than to physical location. So, it would be fair to say that often online churches offer more Bible base experiences than brick and mortar mega churches, where people don’t have interaction with church leaders and other members. After all it is easier to ask for friendship or to join group online than in person.

The problem is that most of the time our preferences guide our judgments.

Things to thing about

Three things are needed to take into consideration in this debate.

1.Bible teaching on this topic.

What is the New Testament church model?

The word church, from New Testament Greek ekklsia, means gathering or assembly. So we people don’t go to church, but rather we the church go to physical places, such as a building for a corporate worship.

The importance of gathering is undeniable: “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” Matthew 18:20 Does it apply to online gathering? Some people argue that online interactive service is more “together” than physical with thousands people that you don’t know and you will never talk to.

But what about the direct command to not forsake our own assembly? Is it worth looking up the whole passage. “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. Hebrew 10:24-25 This passage draws a very vivid picture of a community of people that do life together, serve each other, stimulate and encourage each other to practice love and good deeds.  Not just meet in a physical location on Sunday morning.

It resonates with the church in Acts 2 “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God”. It was the church that was doing life together, not just separate people who “were going to church” once a week.

2.The people’s needs

The need of people is the same, even if form has changed. Peoples needs are to have interaction, corporate worship with people that they know and do life with, being able to contribute not just with money but their service, ideas, and spiritual gifts. Also, people need help with today’s issue, and “one size fits all” model, thinking that Sunday’s message will address the current state of 25,000 people is unrealistic. If church doesn’t offer this kind of experience than…well, we know the answer.

3.Also, this debate cannot be separated of a wider argument over social interaction in virtual environments versus the physical world.

The reason of the popularity of social media corresponds with God’s given human need to interact. People don’t want to only to listen, but to discuss, post, tweet and YouTube. They want others to reply to their worries, joy or concerns.

 Solution.

I am not a proponent of online church, but I am trying to have an honest examination of what church often is missing. Even people who are leaders of online churches are admitting that the online experience is not a final goal. Bobby Gruenewald, a pastor who oversees the online efforts at LifeChurch.tv, said the goal is to move people into some in-person Christian experience, in church, a small Bible group or even a group that watches online services together.

The New Testament church model is an interactive, serving and mission driven church. And that is what we should be building. Church should utilize technology to gather information and the common needs and questions of the members and be able to answer them in teaching from the pulpit, small group/class/home group setting, and in one on one pastoral ministry. Instead of going in war with technologies, offer a meaningful interactive small group experience. Create places and circumstances where all members can use their “natural” and spiritual gifts.

Conclusion

Can the “church experience” be moved online? Depends what church experience means. If it is reduced just to a listening to a preacher, than I believe, yes. But, if you’re talking about corporate worship, authentic fellowship, and simply doing life together, i.e. helping each other, serving others, and sharing Gospel, it is not realistic today and I believe shouldn’t and never will be done completely online.

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This entry was posted on December 24, 2013 by in Christian Living, Church's leadership, social issues, worship.
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