Can Church Really Exist Online?

by Zack DeBerry

Part of my role at Journey is to steward our Online Campus, which is basically the expression of Journey Church online.  I’ll often search the web for resources or articles for doing church online, and I am often left with a nagging question:

Can church exist in an online space?€

Then I consider that if a church is a body of believers on mission together for Community, Service, and Growth, then I feel that Online Church has more than a chance at being a real Church.

Community is a group of people sharing a common understanding who reveal themselves by using the same language, manners, tradition and law. When you look at community in these terms, it is easy to see that the online community is can be a viable option if executed properly and thoughtfully.

When we gather in community in the physical sense we find ourselves being bound together by language, interests, etc. The same thing can occur in an online space. As we engage in church online we have the opportunity to connect with people who share our language, interests, and questions in life. I propose that many times it may be easier to engage relationally in an online environment for many folks.

However, I don’t think that online church will ever replace a physical meeting, but I think the online space offers an additional place to connect and interact with other believers.

A church, or body of believers is not just about connecting with others, but it is also about engaging in acts of service to the body. Serving is an essential part of being an active member of a church body.

In a physical space there are many opportunities to serve. Areas like parking, greeting, technical and creative arts provide ways for people to serve in the local church. How does this translate in an online environment? While some may disagree with me on this point, I feel that the online space offers a place to serve for people who are uniquely gifted that may be otherwise left out.

It takes a special skill set to communicate the gospel message through the medium of social media and online platforms. The people with these skills are more than likely being underutilized in the traditional church model. An online presence, in my opinion, offers a place for people to serve that have unique gifts.

Church provides community and a place to serve, but it must also have the goal of discipleship and spiritual growth at it’s core. The great commission of Jesus was to go and make disciples. Since the early days of the church in Acts this commission is the driving focus of the gathered church.

For an online church to be a functioning body of believers they can not afford to just gather in community and provide a place to use unique gifts, but they must provide a place for people to experience spiritual growth. Until recent technological advances this has been the hardest part of the online church model.

With options like Facebook groups and Google+ Hangouts the opportunity for online discipleship has never been more available and accessible than it is now. If used properly the online church could produce a real and valid discipleship model.

Community, Service, and Discipleship are three primary purposes for gathering with other believer in physical church buildings. These things not only exist in an online church model, but that they can thrive and serve the church local and global as we seek to fulfill the great commission to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth.

What are your thoughts about online churches versus physical churches?

Feel free to add your comments or tweet me @zackdeberry.

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