Is the Virtual Church a REAL Church?
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The State of Faith-Based Online Communities

I am meandering through English countryside on a wifi-equipped train, hoping to arrive in Edinburgh where the rest of my family waits at a caravan park.

The Cyberchurch Symposium went really well yesterday but it might have been a bit grueling for the Americans who had flown in that morning or the night before. Especially the long walk along the London riverside.

Some observations on the state of faith-based online communities, in particular those cyberchurch types that meet regularly in mediated, virtual, synthetic environments or 3D game-based platforms:

1. As it was 60 years ago, when radio was the new media opening up new possibilities for virtual church, the Americans remain focused on the evangelistic potential of the new media and the Brits are focused on the pastoral potential. Americans want to reach the lost and Brits want to shepherd their extended flock. A generality, perhaps, but its seems to fit.

2. There is, at least among the participants yesterday and other conferences I have been a part of, a wonderful, generous spirit of self-giving and serving that pervades these new efforts as well as a complete lack of competition. I wish it were the same with physical location churches.

3. The cyberchurch experiments are still somewhat experimental, still taking baby steps, still learning, still shy to publish their findings and best practices. Some books coming out this year will put some of these experiments on the map but that does not mean that they have all the answers.

4. People are people, whether off-line or on-line. Whatever problematic issues a bricks-and-mortar church have will not be immune from their online recapitulations.

5. Because people are people, those who prefer a high-church experience will end up creating high-church liturgical icon-rich services on the web. And those low-church people who have preferred the more organic, house church or 3rd space emerging church environments in the physical realm will most likely end up in non-service based web communities that are just as complex and simplex as their physical rivals.

6. Offline church people connect with each other through internet technology during the week as part of their church life. Online church people connect with each other (although sometimes little or never due to geographical distance) physically when possible to complete their church life experience. Both groups are online and offline. That line will get fuzzier as web technologies become more ubiquitous.

7. Its an exciting time to be alive. Thanks God for letting me be a part of it.

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