Discussions Continue About SimChurch

My friend, DJ Chuang, posted an article entitled “Can the online church really be the church?” Here it is:

This new book by Douglas Estes, SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World, tackles the brewing questions surrounding the legitimacy of an online church. Many church leaders are discerning and discussing the “what is the church?” question that’s been going for years, and now, growing numbers of church leaders are asking it in the context of online worship experiences and forming relationships and communities virtually.Simchurch

The book’s official website poses the question as: “Church on the Internet? Seriously?” This is the question many people are asking as more and more people chose to congregate online, and more and more churches look to launch internet campuses. But are these internet churches real? Are they healthy? Are they productive for faith? This is a conversation you can’t afford to miss as together we ask, “What does it mean to be the church in the virtual world?”

The official website links to a number of commentaries, including these positive ones: Internet Campuses from A Multi-Site Church Roadtrip, Responses to concerns about online church by Tony Steward, and A lesson from history for doubters by John Saddington; and negative ones:There is no virtual church by Bob Hyatt, Is Online Community real Community? Questions about the Virtual Church by Drew Goodmanson, Limitations of online church by Bobby Gruenewald.

As I’ve started reading through the book, I appreciated the author not taking a cautionary posture, throwing up warnings and fears of how technology could be misused. Estes digs behind the assumptions and cultural lens we have about being present with one another in inter-personal relationships. This is excerpted from page 60-61,

“If we want community to flourish in the virtual world, we’ll need to scrutinize our learned understanding of presence. Most people raised and educated in the Western world think of presence or being present as a physical act… Though defining presence simply as the location of our bodies is one of the foundational bricks of modern Western understanding of the world, itis not a God-given or biblical idea.” [emphasis added]

I think the book makes a compelling case for how relationships can occur through telepresence, and that a biblical community and a biblical church is not limited by the geography of a physical location.

And, last week, a SimChurch blog tour connected bloggers with reviews, commentaries, and interviews:

While I’m not so sure the discussions and reviews will change a lot of minds at this stage of the dialogue, I do think this book is one to be reckoned with. Where are you at with your thinking about the church in the virtual world?

Should You Start An Internet Campus?

I blogged about the known internet campuses last week and received emails from many people that are beginning or considering starting an internet campus. I’m afraid by listing the churches that have taken the leap that it appears that I’m suggesting that all churches should move in this direction.

I want to be very clear about my personal opinion on this. I’ve shared this with friends in person, but never written publically about it. My two cents: just like there are bad Christian movies and bad Christian television, I think there are and can be bad internet campuses.

Just because you have a video camera and use uStream or LiveStream doesn’t mean you’re called to launch an internet campus. There are numerous things to consider including staff, volunteers, budget, philosophy of ministry, equipment, etc. Here’s the thing about the internet – it’s Global! Once you broadcast (good, bad or ugly), you are out there for the world to see.

Honestly, if I started a church plant and I wanted to offer an online campus experience, I would just link to LifeChurch.tv’s or Seacoast’s internet campus from my church’s homepage –  UNLESS I absolutely felt called by God to start our own internet campus experience and I thought we had something special, unique and life-giving to offer the world.

Another thing to consider is timing. The best internet campuses worked long and hard on their Sunday live experience. It was years before they considered reaching out beyond their live worship times. Unfortunately, what I see lately are churches that haven’t put enough time, effort, innovation, creativity and life into their main Sunday services and now want to take on another huge undertaking like an internet campus. I’ve always been a voice for less is more and I think this applies here, too.

Please don’t take on something new until you’ve got your live services jumping with life and excellence. Again, if you need a second opinion on this and want an outside set of eyes to give you feedback on your worship service, talk to me about coming as a secret shopper. Read HERE for more info on that.

Wrapping up: if you feel God is absolutely calling you to start an internet campus then forget what I said and be obedient to God. IF you’re just getting caught up in the craze and buzz of all the chatter in Church leadership circles, please put your plans on hold and don’t consider it until you feel truly led by God and know you can do it with excellence. We don’t need anymore bad Christian examples for people to point to. Your thoughts?