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.
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:
- Theology and the SimChurch [a chat with Douglas Estes] at Dan King’s blog,BibleDude
- SimChurch Blog Tour Discussion and Can a Church Exist in Cyberspace? at Chad Estes’ blog, Captain’s Blog
- Book Review of SimChurch, plus questions about WikiWorship at Eric Nygren’s blog, Returned Sheep
- SimChurch and Typical Churches at Mark Robert’s blog, MarkDRoberts.com
- Intro to Online Churches at Cynthia Ware’s blog, The Digital Sanctuary
- Discussion on the Advantages of Virtual Churches at Kent Shaffer’s blog, Church Relevance
- Book Review of SimChurch at Dave Bourgeois’ blog, Lessons from Babel
- Plus an unofficial post on the blog tour, my myth-busting In Defense of Virtual Church over at Christianity Today’s blog, Out of Ur
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?