Casting the net on the net

The Church’s presence on the internet is varied and growing. Church-on-the-net is a new internet church site that targets people who not in the Church in a gentle but clearly evangelistic approach. David Walker in his blog, Cartoon Church, interviews Nicola, one of the founders of Church-on-the-net. She says:

We’ve seen a lot of models of online services/worship/community/even ‘church’, but not much particularly evangelistic. Some sites which purport to be evangelistic ask you to sign a statement of faith before you enter! How many ‘bricks’ churches do this? Some ask for donations right up-front (very very common!) and on one I saw, when you click on the question ‘What if I don’t believe in this stuff?’, you get a web page with scary music and the following text in a fiery font: ‘You will most likely go to hell.’ Encouraging!

As for Christian communities online attracting existing churchgoers, both St Pixels and i-church are made up of predominantly Christian members, although I hear i-church is going to be launching a renewed and more evangelistic site soon.

In this country, many congregations are using the internet to extend their reach, most notably but not certainly not limited to Trinity Church, New York, and Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, and Mission St. Clare has become a kind of daily chapel for many Episcopalians. The news blog epiScope and this i-magazine The Episcopal Cafe have their own followings. Certainly Barbara Crafton’s Geranium Farm is a varied and interesting internet community, especially anchored by her gentle wisdom and appreciation for the daily foibles of the average parish, cat and garden.

There are even churches in the virtual world Second Life.

Walker concludes in his post:

One thing that I sometimes wonder is whether there are places online that function as ‘church’ even though they do not carry that name and probably did not set out to become such a thing. Communities of blogs, bulletin boards and even the comments sections of individual blogs come to mind. I have to say that that has sometimes been my experience. That said I still remain a fan of the old fashioned style ‘bricks and mortar’ real life church. You should go along one time – you might like it.

Which raises an interesting question. For all the variety of resources and experiences that the Church offers on-line, is an internet Church really a community? Back when virtual churches happened mainly over the television airwaves, a Church Ad Project ad once asked a question that is still relevant today. “With all due respect to tele-evangelists,” the banner headline read. “Have you ever seen a Sony give Communion?”

What do you think? How much community is a virtual community? How do brick-and-mortar churches and i-churches relate to one another?

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