Home > Uncategorized > Online community, part 1

Online community, part 1

“Love community and you will kill it. Love your brother and you will build it.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as posted at The Boars’ Head Tavern two weeks ago

Some thoughts meant to introduce a hopefully ongoing conversation:

Online community within the church has been around long enough now that at least most of the church leaders know of it and have an opinion.

This article from leadershipjournal.net gives a great overview of the church and internet ministry. Advocates like lifechurch.tv (a multi-site church with numerous campuses in the U.S. and around the world, an online campus at its website and a virtual church in Second Life) are represented. So are its critics like Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle.

But here is an angle I have not seen addressed by the proponents nor detractors:

For those who struggle to fit in socially with other people…for those whose jobs cut them off from the 9-to-5 world that many Christians seem to live and work in….for those who have been hurt by the church….is online community such a bad thing?

While the ideal may be to steer people towards a safe community they can participate within in the flesh…what do you do when the ideal isn’t practical?

What do you do for the guy who has to drive a truck 15 straight days on an interstate somewhere out West?

For the woman who has to work the night shift six days a week because that’s the only job she can find that will provide for her kids?

For the person working 80 hours a week to pay off debt or put the kids through school or pay a medical bill?

We still live in a 9 to 5 world.

Try to find a decent restaurant open at 3 a.m. that isn’t named Denny’s or Waffle House. Or, try to show up at the mall at 11:45 p.m. and see if you wait 10 hours for it to open up or if the mall cops show up to send you home.

What do you do, if you are a church leader or concerned Christian, for people whose lives don’t neatly fit into the evening and weekend slots most churches have their community groups and service activities (and services) scheduled into?

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  1. madison*bella
    June 28, 2010 at 10:29 am

    Thanks for linking to the LJ article – it was pretty interesting.

    Well, to assess such a thing one must first decide on what the purpose of “church” is, biblically — that really does have to be the launching point for any discussion like this.

    Years ago I thought church was primarily for fellowship and dissemination of biblical knowledge. To my way of thinking back then, I could see how one could easily substitute online church for brick-and-mortar church.

    I now believe a more historic view of what church is, and one of those absolutely essential components of church is that it is the place where God has ordained His sacraments to be celebrated rightly. It is impossible to take Communion/Eucharist alone; by it’s very nature it is something to be done “in communion” with other believers. I also believe the elements need to be blessed or at least prayed over by a person ordained to such a task — again, not something you can do at home with a little wafer and grape juice cup.

    It is also a place where we practice community with other Christians and bear one another’s burdens, worship together in word and song with other Christians, etc. One of the primary ways God ministers to people is through human beings. 😉 I’ve also found that one of the ways God likes to refine us is through interpersonal relationships – it is easy to be holy by ourselves; it’s when you add another person or people to the mix that true discipleship and true holy living is lived out and practiced.

    Also, God has ordained the threefold ministry of bishops, priests (pastors), and deacons to oversee His church and to be responsible for the growth of the Body. It is not possible (I don’t think) to have online virtual church on a regular basis and still operate under this threefold hierarchy of authority. A much maligned subject to be sure, but you will look in vain to find passages which contradict the clear teaching of Scripture that outline the authority church leadership has and the expected response to it (submission). People naturally chafe against authoirity, but God instituted it and called it good. How can you practice this online?

    Those are just a few quick thoughts off the top of my head…

  2. Buster
    June 28, 2010 at 11:26 am

    BrianD,
    I think home churches are a good solution for many of those who work non-standard schedules. In any sizable population center, there have to be a number of people working different shifts; this is something that some stores and restaurants are starting to realize. But like anything else, traditional churches will be slow to adapt.

    The trick is figure out how to connect with those folks so that you could start meeting together. That’s where the Internet could have an important role. I can see people getting to know one another online, and then setting up face-to-face meetings.

    It’s still harder for truckers, pilots and Alaskan fishermen, and the Internet is better than nothing.

    But I think we need that direct contact. The hugs, the smiles, the honesty that is required in face-to-face meetings. It’s good for us. Couples can be separated for a time, and they can use email and the phone to stay in touch, but it’s really not the same, and the relationship will suffer if they are apart for too long.

    It’s also essential for prayer. Now, most of our prayer meetings today are just each of us taking turns offering individual prayers, we just happen to all be in the same room. But when you’re together, and it can become a conversation with God, and there is a spiritual connection between the participants. That’s much harder to achieve when the people are physically separated.

    Then there’s the issue of service. We really learn, bond and learn to use our spiritual gifts when we’re doing something together. Whenever we have the opportunity to declare, “the Kingdom of God is doing something here, now,” is when we can shine, and God pours out his blessings.

    Of course, none of these things typically happen in the traditional church service, except for some superficial fellowship.

    The Lord’s Supper is to be remembered “as often as we meet together… to show the Lord’s death.” It’s the basis for our unity with each other, and we are acknowledging the source. You can’t really eat from the same loaf at a distance.

  3. BrianD
    June 28, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    I want to get back to you guys but not at the moment…I’m trying to write tomorrow’s article.

  4. June 28, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    Im in Javascript class right now so ill be brief. Wherever two or more gather in My name, there am I in the midst of them…The interwebs don’t stop Christ from meeting us whether we meet in Binary or in 3d. He promised He would be there, and there were many times at 3am on the PP where He showed He was there in the midst of us, as someone came rushing in needing prayer

  5. BrianD
    June 28, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    “It is impossible to take Communion/Eucharist alone; by it’s very nature it is something to be done “in communion” with other believers.”

    Driscoll made the same argument, Madison, and it helped me in working through the ‘is the online church a real church’ mentality.

    I do think you can fellowship and debate online (that is what we are doing here). But I also have the conviction that at some point, you need to anchor yourself in some kind of local, offline church – be it high church, house church, megachurch, CC church, Baptist church….

    “I’ve also found that one of the ways God likes to refine us is through interpersonal relationships – it is easy to be holy by ourselves; it’s when you add another person or people to the mix that true discipleship and true holy living is lived out and practiced. ”

    One of many reasons that you cannot do the Christian life, long term, by yourself nor is it supposed to work that way…

  6. BrianD
    June 28, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    “But I think we need that direct contact. The hugs, the smiles, the honesty that is required in face-to-face meetings. It’s good for us. ” Totally agreed, Buster.

    And all the things you mentioned that should happen in the church, “none of these things typically happen in the traditional church service, except for some superficial fellowship.” Totally agreed on that, as well. The workaround for that, where I go to church and in most other churches I’m aware of, is to plug people into community groups/small groups where they meet during the week, serve together during the week and ideally get to know one another and become family to one another during the week. It becomes the church to someone, especially when you’re talking about church services in 8,000-seat auditoriums.

    Like any human endeavor, the ideals aren’t always reached and problems present themselves that the leadership has to come up with practical solutions for.

  7. London
    June 28, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    One of the solutions our group does is to have what we call “Denny’s church”. Basically, it’s a bunch of folks who get together at the Denny’s across the street from a major hospital at midnight.
    They do some sort of Bible study, talk things over, pray for each other and the folks at the resturant sometimes.
    It is one of those things that sometimes quite a few people show up, sometimes not…the idea is a really good one, the execution is a little off cause of the kids involved in leading it. But…the get an A for effort

    They’ve done some stuff like going to the tables in the section and asking folks if there’s anything that they can pray about for them, praying for the waiter, befriending him and giving him a gift card or money (can’t remember) when there was a crisis in his family….

    They’ve had some positive reactions from the folks that are eating there that late.

    They came up with their own solution to the problem which I think is awesome!

  8. BrianD
    June 28, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    London…I really like that idea.

    I’m very surprised more churches haven’t done anything like this…I believe because of an enduring byproduct of the 9-to-5 lifestyle almost all Americans used to live.

  9. London
    June 28, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    It’s cause more churches aren’t “homeless” at midnight.

    If you don’t have a building to go to, you get creative.

  10. BrianD
    June 28, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    Exactly…still surprised, given how much America has changed socially over the years.

  11. London
    June 28, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    This whole “is online church really church” discussion is one I live all the time.

    Sometimes it absolutely sucks to be connected to folks that far away, but at the same time, it sometimes absolutely sucks to be connected to folks in your own hometown.

    There’s no one right way to do this stuff in this day and age.

    I get frustrated that the group I hang out with online isn’t, ironically enough, more internet saavy. We have so much potential for how to use technology to communicate and to reach folks around the world, but there’s a techno-phobia in the group in general. It’s the weirdest dang thing I’ve ever seen…

    At the same time, they are really creative, inventive and enjoy cutting edge applications of technologies. We’re just about to try our own brand of “multi campus” services I think…so, basically, we’ll have music streamed out from Albuquerque let’s say and then a sermon from California and then prayer corprately but led by someone in Ukraine or wherever using streaming enabled smart phones and laptops.
    Haven’t worked out the how or when…but, it’ll happen within the next 6 months to a year I’m sure.

    The thing I know for certain…is when that groups prays, and I’m participating either in person over over the web, I feel like God’s there and I feel connected with that community in a way I rarely do with people sitting in the same room as I am. Dunno what that is if it’s not “church”

  12. London
    June 28, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    That getting out into the community and having church at Denny’s, Starbucks, the community center, someone’s back yard etc is happening all over America.

    There’s all kinds of “organic” or “simple” churches springing up all over the place. The thing is the news about them tends to spread word of mouth, so maybe folks just don’t know about them.

    We have one in the cafeteria of some research center place in Washington DC and one that’s starting up in a women’s transitional living house where women go between prision and the “real world” too. That stuff just happens, there’s not planning involved really…

  13. BrianD
    June 28, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    “The thing is the news about them tends to spread word of mouth, so maybe folks just don’t know about them.”

    You’re right. We don’t. They’re not covered in the traditional Christian media or by the well-known and highest-read Christian bloggers.

  14. madison*bella
    June 28, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    London, that’s a neat idea …. but probably for people in their 20’s/30’s and without children. Maybe I am just getting VERY old, but at midnight, I am most likely in bed, not driving to church. 😉 I have to get up at 4:30 am every day, and pulling late nighters would kill me.

  15. London
    June 28, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    It’s not based on age. It’s based on being next to a hospital where workers get off at odd hours and they head over to Denny’s to unwind. One of the guys that leads it is an ER nurse and he thought of that.

    I think that you just made Brian’s point for him though. You’re thinking like a person that has to live in the 9-5 world. There’s a whole world of people that work shift work that are up at midnight either just headed to work, or just getting off.

  16. London
    June 28, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    Brian, I think if you look around, you’ll see there’s plenty of bloggers and media covering the organic or simple church “movement”. Who is not typically writing about them, are pasotrs that write blogs and depend on having churches for their own income. Not that that’s a bad thing, but no, those guys aren’t going to be encouraging folks to go start their own small church at Denny’s.

    What’s different for our guy (and plenty like him) is that he’s got a “regular” job so he’s not dependant on the income. He actually gets frustrated that there’s not more folks starting up home churches or groups at work etc…totally different mindset from what I’ve heard before.

    Even the guys in his own denomination think he’s weird 🙂

  17. Buster
    June 28, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    “I feel like God’s there and I feel connected with that community…”

    It could be I just haven’t gotten used to it yet. It still feels awkward for me to pray with someone over the phone.

    Could also be that I’m used to multitasking when I’m on the phone or internet that I have trouble staying focused on prayer.

    I know Dusty has no trouble praying with people on the phone, so it’s probably just me…

  18. Buster
    June 28, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    “…those guys aren’t going to be encouraging folks to go start their own small church at Denny’s.”

    Got that right. That’s like the traditional media giving credit to Internet information sources. All you’ll get from them is how unreliable bloggers and wikipedia are.

    We’ll be getting more sermons against independent home churches as time goes on, but right now they’re still in the unaware or denial stages.

  19. London
    June 28, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    I’m not on the phone. We tried that once with skype and I think the pastor dude was ready to reach through the wire and kill me because the line kept dropping and I kept calling back. That’s has been “banned” until he calms down (that was about 4 months ago btw) hahahaha

    We use Ustream which has a “chat” feature. I type really, really, really fast so I just type out what I have to say and someone reads it off. Or…I’ll have talked to the pastor dude about what’s going on prior to the night and he’ll speak on my behalf. Not always pretty…but it is what it is at the moment.

    We’ve had people from the US and Netherlands just “drift” past during the prayer times and stay with us to pray. They type out what they have to say too. Every single one of them has commented about how they can “feel” the Spirit in that place. Every one of them…

    I multi-task too when the service is going on. I mute the music most of the times cause I don’t like the music choices 🙂 or I just want to do my own thing. I chat away with whomever will chat back during the sermon (drives some of the folks in the room CRAZY that we’re “chattering” but it’s the way the internet works) Not sure why it bothers them, they can’t see it…think it’s a control issue with one person in particular, but oh well…but for the prayer time, I’m almost always focused just cause it seems like there’s a “connection” at that time that requires it.

    Dunno…

  20. madison*bella
    June 28, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    London said,

    “It’s not based on age. It’s based on being next to a hospital where workers get off at odd hours and they head over to Denny’s to unwind. One of the guys that leads it is an ER nurse and he thought of that.

    I think that you just made Brian’s point for him though. You’re thinking like a person that has to live in the 9-5 world. There’s a whole world of people that work shift work that are up at midnight either just headed to work, or just getting off.”

    Yes, I can see what you mean now. That’s a perfect set-up for someone like that…thanks for elaborating.

  21. DeadManWalking
    June 28, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    Online fellowship is incomplete no matter what reason you may present as to why you think it to be so.

    But there os one growing group not mentioned here. The church neglects for the most part shut ins and the elderly who perhaps have lost their drivers listened.

    Being that I have been dependant on volunteers for a long time, here’s a few thoughts. All volunteers disappear from Thanksgiving till after New Years, so you can count on not getting out at all for that time. Getting help on weekends is all but impossible, and Sunday is the day when everyone you know is busy with “The Ministry” so cross Sundays off. So how are the people who depend on the kindness and compassion of others suppose to ask for One Too Many Things that they fear might just be the breaking point where the volunteer quits helping altogether. The answer is you don’t ask. You sit home alone through the holidays and you spend endless hours waiting for the season the pass so you can get helpers again.

    In these time when individual attendance is not a discipline, but an option and people will attend for a few months then go to a different church, many people will have a pattern of attending for a few months, then not show up for a while, it makes people feel like they are busy bodies if they notice someone has not been to church for a few weeks and they call them. and If you call them and they are going to another church — well it is awkward at the very least, and as a result many who become to infirm or for what ever reason cannot get to church just drop off the radar and become invisible to the church today.

    Sadly at this point in time many of them do not know how to use a computer, but more and more my generation is going to join the invisible out of sight out of mind group, so for some of us our contact with the outside world is very limited and the internet while it is incomplete, is at least something.

    So community is a very hard thing to see in the physical church in these times, in fact any true sense of community is all but lost to our whole society, we have become a nation of isolated families, who for the most part are even cut off from extended family by distance and a schedule that is to full. So there is going to be in increasing need for internet fellowship.

  22. DeadManWalking
    June 28, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    The word bedridden comes from the phrase A Bed Rider. Mark 2: 3* Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men.

    I can’t even imagine finding four people who would be free and willing to come at the same time to take my wife to church, but this guy had four friends. Four very committed friends.

    It’s not anyone’s fault it’s the Times we live in.

  23. DeadManWalking
    June 28, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    Before you say why don’t THEY — remember YOU are THEY — there seems to have been a lot more of They around in the time of Christ. Read how many times THEY brought to Him —

    Mt 4:24* Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them.
    Mt 8:16* When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick,
    Mt 9:2* Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.”
    Mt 9:32* As they went out, behold, they brought to Him a man, mute and demon-possessed.
    Mr 1:32* At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed.
    Mr 7:32* Then they brought to Him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, and they begged Him to put His hand on him.

  24. BrianD
    June 28, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    “You’re thinking like a person that has to live in the 9-5 world. There’s a whole world of people that work shift work that are up at midnight either just headed to work, or just getting off.”

    Exactly what I was thinking…

  25. BrianD
    June 28, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    “We’ll be getting more sermons against independent home churches as time goes on, but right now they’re still in the unaware or denial stages.”

    I don’t disagree, Buster…

  26. BrianD
    June 28, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    DMW…thank you for reminding us of what the elderly and shut ins go through.

    “So community is a very hard thing to see in the physical church in these times, in fact any true sense of community is all but lost to our whole society, we have become a nation of isolated families, who for the most part are even cut off from extended family by distance and a schedule that is to full. So there is going to be in increasing need for internet fellowship.”

    DMW, I know of churches that are trying to combat the isolationism and consumerism in our culture that leads to joining church after church and bailing out at a whim, and of doing the Christian thing by yourself. Acts29 and IX Marks come to mind, but I know there are others.

    But how do you respond then to an Acts29 or a IX Marks guy who says ‘our churches need to man up and go after all of the old people and shut ins so they have ‘community’ in our churches and don’t have to worry about so-called internet ‘community” ?

  27. BrianD
    June 28, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    “remember YOU are THEY”

    Good admonition. We’re such selfish people…

    I’ll be honest. I’m in a church with an active mercy ministry, that goes out and does some of the things that THEY in the verses you listed did. And it intimidates me.

    I ought to cut and paste what you just said, print it off, put it on my door and kick myself in the rear every time I question what you said or try to come up with excuses as to why I can’t do it or someone else could. It’s yet another thing to talk about with my pastor this week.

  28. BrianD
    June 28, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    “So there is going to be in increasing need for internet fellowship.”

    I guess a question here, perhaps, is what role it should play in the Christian’s life.

    Can it be the church to you…or should you be plugged into an offline church, rooted in that body…with online fellowship as a supplement?

  29. London
    June 28, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    You tell them to “man up”, sit down and quit berating everyone that doesn’t do things the way they do. 😉

  30. BrianD
    June 28, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    But that’s the pastor’s job! 🙂

  31. June 28, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    “But that’s the pastor’s job! ” I always thought the Pastors job was to deliver the means of Grace, and love the flock

  32. Buster
    June 28, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    Sobering words, DMW. I had been thinking and praying about what our home group could do… for the poor, the homeless, for kids, disaster victims, whatever, but I had to admit that the home-bound weren’t on my radar. I will be bringing that up to them at our next meeting.

  33. BrianD
    June 28, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    “I always thought the Pastors job was to deliver the means of Grace, and love the flock”

    Depends on who you talk to, Eric 😉

  34. Nene
    June 28, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    “remember YOU are THEY”

    Once again, great words DMW…thank you.

    Oh BrianD, I imagine I have told you this before but I’ll say it again.. 🙂
    If I had a nickel for all the years I was blasted for working Sun, and odd hours..ugh! The majority of my years had been working odd hours. It was almost scandalous here when some churches started Sat night services back in the 80’s. I was called on the carpet many, many times for working Sundays.
    Just had to relive an old rant. 🙂 🙂

  35. JoeBradford
    June 28, 2010 at 11:42 pm

    Brian, there you go asking what’s right about something, instead of what’s wrong about it…are you sure you’re a Christian?
    😀
    GREAT BLOGGING, AMIGO!!

  36. BrianD
    June 28, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    I think I remember that rant nene!

  37. BrianD
    June 28, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    Thank you Joe, and welcome!

  38. Em
    June 29, 2010 at 10:01 am

    It seems to me that what is being called community is better described as ‘venue.’ Would it be correct to say that for 2/3 of Church history the only “church” you knew was the one you could walk to. People were very limited and dependent upon the teacher and the teaching available (geography had a great deal to do with the development of denominations). But the Church continued on…

    I acknowledge that we need to be taught in order to grow. We need teachers, but defining the legitimate church community by any ‘traditional’ physical or denominational box is to miss the point – IMO. We’re followers of Christ, blood-bought, spiritually born and Spirit sustained. We are a living organism. We should reflect the time and place in which we are functioning. There are an incredible number of opportunities (venues) in that regard today.

    and Brian, i’m in agreement with #35

  39. BrianD
    June 29, 2010 at 10:24 am

    Thanks, Em!

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