I wanted to address one of the newest manifestations of evangelicalism to appear in the church: internet campuses.
Basically, instead of going to church, you stay home and watch church online. The worship and sermon are streamed to your web browser, and with many of these churches you have the option to chat with other users in a “lobby” or one-on-one.
The granddaddy of Internet church, of course, is LifeChurch, a megachurch based in Edmond, Oklahoma with off-line campuses throughout Oklahoma and in several other states.
Other churches have followed its lead, the most recent being Central Christian Church in Las Vegas, Nevada (NewSpring in South Carolina plans to open an internet campus in early 2009). Leadership Network links to several churches’ internet campuses.
And you have to think that other churches will jump on the bandwagon, if this sort of thing takes off.
I once jumped on the bandwagon, myself. I had seen how well online fellowship could work, and so at a time when I wasn’t going to church at all and disgusted in my own way with the evangelical circus, I participated for a few months in one of those internet campuses.
I do not doubt the leaders’ hearts and intentions in starting and maintaining their church’s internet campus and desire to use it as a tool to reach people for Jesus. That’s why I’m reluctant to criticize them.
But my experience is that, as a church, I found it to be very limited. I could watch a sermon, listen to the worship music and do so without having to get dressed up.
There was something else I was looking for in a church, besides solid theology and resolve to honor Jesus Christ, and that is pure, deep fellowship.
Perhaps it was because I already had fellowship online elsewhere, but it just wasn’t happening at this internet campus. I did the small groups, talked with people in the lobby, but nothing seemed to rise above a superficial, polite level.
So, I eventually left the internet campus in frustration and, perhaps without realizing it, chalked up the internet campus experience to be another part of the evangelical circus.
My thinking on internet campuses has changed since then, and is now similar to what Mark Driscoll says about them (the original video can be viewed at Mars Hill Church’s website, or at this site; scroll down on the transcript next to the video, down to Play Here 1:05:34 and watch Driscoll give his take on internet church).
I don’t know yet whether or not to consider internet church part of the evangelical circus. It really depends on what the churches and their leaders do with the concept.
It can become a place for lazy people to watch church and give money without giving commitment.
It can become a waste of bandwidth, as fewer and fewer people decide they don’t want to watch the ‘cool’ pastor and faux-CCM worship music.
Or perhaps it can become a tool to reach hurting, disaffected people with great needs, including with some the need to receive Jesus as Savior and Lord of their lives.