Reaching The Online Generation

An Initiative of CityTeam Ministries

Common Objections to Online Spiritual Community

Posted on | August 18, 2008 |

Carlos Whittaker of Ragamuffin Soul posted this on his blog today:

Barna states by the year 2010 over FIFTY MILLION AMERICANS will get rely on the internet for their religious experience.
What does that mean for us?

Carlos is a great blogger, and I’m glad he brought this up for discussion.  His readers had some good thoughts and questions about online spiritual community.

People can be fake online.

Well, fake people attended offline churches too!  There are lots of people who duck accountability and lead whatever lives they want outside the physical walls of the church.  Truth is, you are as accountable in any community as you want to be.

You have to meet face-to-face to be in community.  You have to be able to touch them.

Once again, the face that you can see or touch someone does not mean that you are in community with them.  Community is more than sitting together in a physical room - or a chat room, for that matter.  While community may be easier when you can meet physically, physical contact doesn’t make a community.  We are going to have to really examine the elements of community and see if they can reproduced online.

What about the Sacraments?

I hope that you can agree with me that participating in the Sacraments of the church doesn’t make you Christian.  They also don’t make you magically part of a community.  Now, are they important?  Yes!  But were the Sacraments made for us or were we made for the Sacraments?

Many online communities eventually meet offline.  This may be once a year, once a month, once a week, or more.  Why can’t they celebrate the sacraments when they gather offline?  Or, why can’t they celebrate the Sacraments via webcam?  It won’t be easy to figure out what it will look like, but can it work?

Can you really build relationships online?

Yes!  People who meet online get married all the time.  Their marriages have the same chance for success that more traditional marriages do.  If you can build a relationship online that eventually results in marriage, I think you can build relationships that result in community.

What will happen to brick and mortar churchs?

Most people who go to brick and mortar churches will still go to brick and mortar churches regardless of the existence of online churches.  Online churches aren’t for everyone, or will they ever be.  You have to have different churches for different people.  That is why I see denominations as a gift from God.  I couldn’t worship as a Episcopalian, but I don’t for a moment think that invalidates the worship of Episcopalians around the world!  People are different, so we are going to have different kinds of church.

Does a physical gathering have anything to do with spiritual connection?

Not necessarily.  There are physical gatherings that are not spiritual.  Look at it this way - have you ever prayed with someone over the phone?  Did God answer your prayers?  Did you feel God’s presence in that moment?  You couldn’t touch, so did you really experience a spiritual connection?  What about the story of the Centurion?

The Faith of the Centurion

5When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6“Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.”

7Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.”

8The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

10When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

13Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour.  Matthew 8:5-13

Did the Centurion and his servant experience a spiritual connection with Jesus?

Here is the bottom line for me:  online communities exist.  Are Christians going to engage them with the Gospel and see what God does, or are we going to let them die without Christ while denying their existence?

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One Response to “Common Objections to Online Spiritual Community”

  1. Brian Vasil
    August 18th, 2008 @ 10:44 am

    Great post! Thanks for your insight and well-developed thoughts. I am the Internet Campus pastor of Flamingo Road Church in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. As such, I obviously agree with your views. I run into so many who want to shoot holes in the idea of real community online… It is my goal as an I/C Pastor to not claim the Internet as the only spiritual oasis…but certainly one viable part.


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    Who is God?' was one of the top three sentences googled in 2007, according to Google Zeitgeist. According to Alexa, the top two religious websites are Muslim, with BibleGateway coming in at a close third. The Online Generation is spiritual. They are seeking. And the church is the last place they would go to find spiritual fulfillment. This site is dedicated to those walking with The Online Generation and living lives of obedience to all the commands of Jesus Christ.
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