Are On-line Church Communities Real?

I’m currently in Memphis, Tennessee leading a Micro-Conference for Executive Ministry Leaders.  There are some amazing leaders here, with some very sharp minds.  I love the fact that anytime I go to speak somewhere, I’m always challenged and always learn.

Last night over dinner there was a nice spirited debate over video teaching and then it moved to the fact that an Internet church or Church Online Service or Experience is not real community.  I emphatically disagreed and we debated on and on and back and forth.  It was a great discussion and I’m the kinda guy that says, “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.”  I invited them to check out church On-line.

In the past I have always made the below 9 Points About Why On-line Relationships are Real and I would think these same points apply to on-line church.  Especially if the on-line church is set up in the manner that Church Online is set up.  There is a dedication to that community that is very similar to a physical campus and the relationships and life change is real.

9 Reasons Online Community and Relationships are Real

  • 1. When someone visits/comments on your Blog, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter etc., that interaction is as meaningful as you interacting with someone at your office, the coffee shop, the gym…
  • 2. People are sometimes more authentic and vulnerable in Social Media than in person.  Sometimes you will be sitting right next to someone and not even know that they’re having a bad day.  On the other hand, that same person is blogging and twittering about the bad day they’re having.
  • 3. It’s easier to connect with people of similar interests in an online environment than in a offline environment.  Everyone is one click or one search away.
  • 4. A person has the ability to overcome interpersonal struggles, as they can be an online extrovert, even though they may be an offline introvert.
  • 5. You can evaluate individuals daily interaction, lifestream, thoughts, dreams, perceptions, struggles etc. through Social Media in a short amount of time.  It may take twice as much time to capture the same information In Person.
  • 6. Candor is acceptable and encouraged in the Social Media world and that is not always the case In Person.
  • 7. It’s much easier to overcome demographic barriers in the Social Media World.
  • 8. Online Relationships are more convenient, which is a huge benefit in our fast-paced microwave world.
  • 9. You can positively impact the lives of others daily through Social Media without ever knowing you had an impact.  Your posts, tweets, comments, blogs, chats and overall online presence truly make a difference in the lives of others.

Are On-line Church Communities Real?  Why or Why Not?

Maybe I can direct these guys to your thoughts and comments on both sides of the argument.

  • It depends on what your definition of “real” is. You and I developed community and vision together on line that would never would have happened (probably) w/o it. Thats real.

  • Justin McCullah

    I think the world and satan would want to use this topic to tear it’s church down. Anyone with a clear head and clear heart and with any knowledge and understanding of Christ would know that God can build community in anything through anything and with anything. I will pray for the closed minded individuals to have their hearts open to God and not allow them to put him in a box and surround him with rules and regulations. When we release him freely that is when true community can begin.

  • Rob

    Those are all great points and I would simply say that they all point to a greater use for social media – positive, spiritual, authentic relationships. There is so much garbage on the internet and in social media – such “church” environments shine a ray of light in to the dark world that cyber-space can be.

    And just like social media being better once you have authentic face-to-face relationships, so too can these spiritual relationships be through media like It’s a place where people can be safely introduced to things they otherwise may not find in the offline world.

  • I guess I would ask what is the definition of “real”? Do on-line communities serve a purpose and create relationship? Yes, but I am still weary of on-line communities serving as a substitute for real-life, tangible, person-to-person relationships.

    Believers should be able to experience healthy inter-personal relationships within the body off-line, before they do so on-line, in my opinion. God can move through any media–any platform–any technology. The body however, the physical gathering of the saints, I think, is where real transformation occurs.

  • I personally experience God’s work in people’s lives at church online every time I volunteer and pray for people. I’ve had people crying because God’s Spirit moved them to tears after a prayer, one rededicated his life to Christ because of a near death experience, and so much more. God brings people into our lives to bless, and my prayer everyday is to be dead to my self so God’s Spirit can move through me to bless people through whatever media He chooses. I choose to keep God and His works the topic of my conversations and the basis of my friendships. I am blessed to have seen and continue to see the work of God in the lives of so many and look forward to experiencing more of His hand at work in and through this life of a stay-at-home mom. =)

  • Scott, I couldn’t help but weigh in on this because it’s been a significant point of discussion here at Saddleback Church where we’re always trying to zero in on the best approach to online ministry.

    I agree with everything you’ve said. I like all nine points. For me, the bigger question is, can you call it a “church” if it only exists online? It’s one thing for a church to have an online “campus” acting as kind of an arm extending from the body to reach those online, but can that body of people, that only meets online, ever actually be a “church?”

    I think three questions have to be answered in order to arrive at a good conclusion about it.

    1. How do you baptize people who trust Christ via an online campus but can’t connect physically with that campus’ local body?

    2. How do you celebrate communion, “together,” when you’re in different parts of the world? (I think each person could get their own wine and bread, but it’s still a good question about togetherness.)

    3. How do you “give a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name?” In other words, how do you minister to all of the needs people have via an online tool?

    Is an online community a real community? I say, absolutely! But can it ever be a church? I’m not sure, but I’m searching for answers to that question.

  • I believe online communities can have great, beneficial and measurable impact on people and groups of people but in no way, shape or form do I believe ‘online communities’ should or are capable of replacing real community.

    Would an online relationship with your wife and kids be an adequate exchange for the real, face to face relationship you experience with them now?

    No way!

    Yes, online communication is a great tool to use during time apart (i.e. people traveling, men and women overseas, ect.) and is a great relationship starter/building block but when it comes to deep, true relationship there are just some things you just can’t imitate or substitute.

    Another concern I have is those who don’t have access to the ‘online world’. Where do they fit in?

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