The Internet Church

Posted on April 12, 2018


You knew it was coming, right? The Internet covers the whole of life. So why not “The Internet Church?”

Outreach Magazine (the online version of course) recently featured the Internet Church, with the thoughtful question: “Is the Internet Church Really the Church?” I hadn’t really thought much about it. If early Christians worshiped in homes and some in grottoes and caves beneath cities (like the catacombs of Rome), why not the Internet? Digital worship services? Virtual worship services? Worship services with only you and your iPad? Or, even better, your HD big screen where the pastor is bigger than life, thus, perhaps, lending more importance to his message?

Somehow the Internet seems to miss the point of joining with other Christians to worship, and sing, and listen to Scripture together. The key is together, like in contact physically with each other, not virtually or digitally seeing and hearing each other on some visual device or on a gigantic screen, or multiple screens, in a large area with thousands of other viewers. The image reminds me of the first 3D movies of the 1950s, viewers sitting in theaters, all wearing special glasses like so many penguins, clone-like staring at the images jumping out at them in three dimensions.

In fact, virtual reality has replaced reality for some of us to the point where we find it hard to distinguish the virtual world from the real world.
You are impaired by the march of technology, the YouTube and Instagram of this new world where your grandchildren and children romp and play, or worship, with little regard for the normal inputs of sights and sounds and smells coming to you through your senses in real time, real space. If I had written “real time” or “real space” when I was growing up, it would have been nonsense, a typographical error. What on earth is he writing about?

Many churches have gone up-to-date “streaming” their worship services live to anyone with a device. Church members just attend church “virtually,” rather than going to church in person where they would be physically present. How do you count the numbers of your congregation if you have five sitting in church, and 500 at home watching you on their devices?

And what about this, for you bean counters. Churches with increasing virtual attenders are also reporting a decline in per capita giving.

Perhaps it is a generational thing. Gen Z and Millennials tend to see virtual communities as real communities. Here we come back to: what is real? It’s becoming as slippery a rascal as “what is truth?”

The Internet church is a reality, just like those soaring spires and steeples that marked the magnificent cathedrals built by Europeans hundreds of years ago. They were built to worship God in a structure that captured God’s awesome nature in stained glass windows and soaring naves. Somehow, lifting your eyes to the heavens, or at least to the cherubim, angels, apostles and other heroes of the Church portrayed in statues and paintings, also lifted your heart and mind higher up, to God, rather than just shambling along down here on the roadways and byways of life. And if your eyes weren’t filled with the wonder of God in your favorite Cathedral, then the heavenly voices of the choirs could work your spirit in the right mood.

The message of the Cathedrals was “God is awesome,” and one needed to prepare in mind and heart for the worship service.

Looking and listening quietly, and alone often, at your iPad worship service isn’t quite the same mood the Christians who built the Cathedrals were aiming for. But perhaps the Internet church, so personal, so mobile, so accessible may just be better for you than one Sunday morning in church, and the other six weekday mornings of no church.

That’s something to ponder on. You’ll excuse me for now. I must listen to my Daily Audio Bible (DAB), a bible reading and sermonette available to me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on my computer.

I listen to my DAB in Spanish, the language of my mother, but no matter if you listen to it in Chinese, English, or even Arabic, it’s the word of God—available in dozens of languages and versions or translations–at your fingertips. Ear buds help to focus.

My DAB is not quite as moving as, let’s say the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, but, shoot, I can listen online to them too after my daily dose of Scripture from my DAB. Selah.

Published as “Does ‘virtual’ church miss the point?” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday Feb. 11, 2018.