Yesterday, I received a link to the first issue of Inspiren, the newsletter of the Christian Web Conference.Â It contained an article by Matt Anderson with an argument against online church. “What!” you may say, “the Christian Web Conference is against using the Internet for church?” No, the conference is not against online church. But the conference DOES want to promote discussion about the appropriate uses of the Internet (and technology) for ministry, with one of the highlights being a debate between Matt Anderson and Andrew Jones on the ability of online church to build community.
As many of you know, I have been somewhat critical of online church. You can see my posts here and here and here on that.Â A summary of my arguments, which Matt alludes to, is that there are some components of “church” that cannot be fully accomplished online and that it is important that Christians understand the value of physical contact and face-to-face interaction.Â However, in Matt’s article, he brings up a different argument that I am not sure I can fully support. Matt’s main point is that putting church online automatically excludes a large segment of those to whom we should be trying to reach. From the article:
It is important for the church to minister to the poor as the churchÂ¸ and to bring the poor into the church community. Some missionary agencies, for example, proclaim the gospel through and after meeting the physical needs of the impoverished, a strategy I think most effective. At best, it seems counterintuitive to include the absence of a computer and reliable internet connection as one of those physical needs.
While I do see this as a consideration against online church, to me this is not a primary argument. Be sure you read his full article here.
Let me take the other side and give some reasons in favor of online church. Though I fully believe that those who exclusively attend church online are shortchanging themselves and are not fully obeying the commandment to fellowship, there are still reasons for churches and ministries to be developing ways to use the Internet for church.
- First, to address Matt’s argument, as with any new technology, it is going to be those with means who will first embrace it and integrate it into their lives. This is a large segment of American society (not to mention many other countries) and is a large enough group to make this an extremely large mission field.
- Christians need to be on the forefront of technology. We cannot afford to not understand how to best utilize technology. For this reason, we must constantly be pushing the cutting edge and understanding the best way to communicate the message of Christ. I applaud lifechurch.tv and others for their work in this area.
- The adoption of mobile technology is moving quickly and is already the primary communication technology for a vast majority of the world, including those without means.Â The next big evolution in online church is mobile church, and we must be ready to communicate Christ in new, innovative ways.
There are many other arguments in favor of online church, but these jump to mind after reading Matt’s article. Again, let me point out, I am firmly in the camp that church cannot be fully realized online and will be supporting a lot of what Matt has to say in the debate.Â To me, it is acceptable to put some parts of church online, but the online service should always be accompanied by a strong encouragement for those participating online to find a local body to join.