Can an Online Gathering of Christians Be Classified as a Church?

JASPERYUE / FLICKR
JASPERYUE / FLICKR

Come on—it’s 2014.

Every church should have an online presence.

Your church people and your community are there, so you should be as well. But that is different than referring to something that happens via your website as a “church.”

Can an online gathering of Christians be classified as a church? Let’s think through this by asking five questions.

Should Churches be Online?
If a church is not online, then it is not actually engaging the culture. A church needs to be where the people gather and they are online and on social media sites.

Pew Research found that 72 percent of online adults use social media. Every age group continues to experience growth, particularly those over 65 who have tripled their usage in the last four years—from 13 percent in 2009 to 43 percent this year.

Despite the overwhelming trends in social media usage, LifeWay Research discovered that less than half of all churches are engaged on Facebook. A full 40 percent are not using any social networking tools. I think that’s just bad stewardship.

I’ve said before, only half jokingly, that pastors who are not on Twitter are in sin. Social media is a valid ministry of the church. Online community can enhance the physical community.

What is an Online Church?
Every Internet broadcast of worship gatherings is not necessarily meant to be an online church. Some churches have an online ministry that is a part of their physical gathering.

An online church, however, is often intended to be an alternative way to be a part of the church, similar to another geographic campus. An online church of this type is a church that defines itself by being online—the online experience is intended to be just as appropriate as the physical gathering. And, I don’t think that’s helpful in most cases.

Yet, as I see it, a church (among other things) is a gathering of believers under the Lordship of Jesus Christ that practices two ordinances, seeks to advance His kingdom, and holds each other accountable in covenant.

I don’t think an only online church can do that. (Yes, I am aware of online baptisms and the Lord’s Supper, but we are discussing whether you should do that, not whether it is physically possible.)

Participants of online church may cite avoiding traffic or other rationale as their motivation, and there are times when this approach may be necessary for exceptional reasons. However, I think that they may simply be avoiding (intentionally or unintentionally) real community.

Churches that have an online presence can avoid that tendency by explaining that the online option is not the full experience or intent of church. Church takes feet and faces, not just electrons and avatars.

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: Christianity Today
Ed Stetzer

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