I guess there are a few different ways in which one could understand the term “Virtual Church”:
- A community that exists as face to face as-well-as having a minor or major online component.
- A community that exists solely online.
- A space that is provided online for people to do church-type-stuff.
- A community that is task/interest oriented.
I’ve been a participant in each of these types of “Church” so I guess I’m a virtual community junky, (addictive personalities are either a blessing or a curse).
Here are some random thoughts that come from the experiences:
“Time is different in a virtual community/church”
a) Church happens on a Sunday, we might have a study or meal somewhere in between, but it’s primarily an activity that happens in our time. Virtual church however happens all the time, there is no “real time” involved in the life of the community. On e-communities like TOLLS (tollsonline.org) there are people interstate and overseas who are a part of the community. People participate whenever and in whatever way they can. People share experiences, prayers, stories, support at any time. On TOLLS for example the people in America will be typing away and participating in the community when we Aussies are asleep (most of the time).
E-communities run on a different time line to that of other communities, there is no “off” time as well as there being no real “off” time. For those of us who like living in a community 24/7 this type of community might just suck us in, especially if our Church community is very much the “Sunday worship and bible study on Wednesday” type model.
b) People seem to share more and deeper online, the experience is much more intense. I worked for a City church for a year, none of the young people lived locally, I once spent an entire day driving on a “progressive meal(s)” activity, we had to start at 8am and finish after tea. I found it increasingly hard to find times where all or any of the young people were available, many of them went to school a fair way from home or were involved in sports, or worked…
But all of them had ICQ or MSN or used IRC.
What we did was arrange times later in the evening when I could catch up with them online, using the chat mediums we were able to catch up on each others lives, either one on one or as a group in a room or multiple person chat.
What I found was the level of sharing was a lot deeper than what I had ever experienced with anyone. We shared about everything, boyfriends, sex, school, parents, friends, world issues… This was an extremely weird and exciting time. What I realised was that since we were talking online there were very little “distractions” that in normal circumstances would change our discussions dramatically.
We didn’t go out for a meal, talk about the food we were eating or the drink we would be ordering.
We didn’t go to a movie, waste 2.4 hours in the cinema and then sit around and talk about the movie.
We didn’t meet at the church and have the feeling that we should be doing “churchy” stuff.
Instead we were 100% fully involved in conversation.
That, whilst combined with the safety of not having the person physically “there” meant that the time it took to get into a deep conversation was remarkably quick.
“Virtual church is boundary-less”
There are some churches still coming to grip with the idea that people actually will drive past their church to go to another one 30 minutes away. There are also others who are realising their mission as a “regional church” because the members come from a radius of up to 80kms to participate in their community.
How does the “virtual church” live as a faith community where there are no longer ANY geographical boundaries that matter… for that matter there is no time boundary either (see above)
How does an online community come to grasp that it’s mission-base is the internet and its mission is the world?
“Tool verses way of life”
A while back I heard someone explain the difference between how his generation uses the Internet and how the next generation uses the internet.
His explanation was that he, and his peers used the Internet as a tool. The Internet was something they used to do things, to find resources, to perform a task and walk away.
While the next generation and those after them were using the Internet as a way of life. This is a massive difference from using it as a tool.
They would use it to communicate, to read the news, to find out information about movies, to entertain themselves, to find community, to chat, to…
When we’re talking about Virtual Church I fear that people are still seeing it as a tool, not as a way of life. The difference is that we don’t need to use the internet to get people to church, perhaps the Internet can become church…
“Church is a community of faith, not something that meets between four walls”
We’ve said that so many times, sometimes I’ve said it until I was blue in the face. Why then do people jump up when there’s a community of Faith that doesn’t “meet” that doesn’t have “four walls” that doesn’t “exist in normal time” that doesn’t “exist in normal space”?
One of the most powerful things that was said to me when I decided to move from Adelaide to Canberra (a decision that has moved me over 14 hours drive from any of my family) was an email I received via the TOLLS e-community from Paul Turley. Paul’s in the States at the moment and hasn’t been in Australia for a long time. Yet his prayer of support and words of encouragement were able to speak to me from where he was and where I was…
Whilst the support and prayers I received from my local community was fairly minimal, I was able to receive prayers and encouragement from WA, the USA, the UK as well as the other side of Adelaide through our online community.
The real question for Virtual Church is how do we continue to pray and support, encourage and send out the people we have a connection to within this community… and “how do we minister to the wider community when the wider community is the WORLD?”
“Is it Sustainable?”
Does it really matter? Every project, community, friendship…. I’ve been a part of has never truly been sustainable. Every youth project is only sustainable if the vision of the project is owned by the funding body or by the community in which its being coordinated. Every church service has only been sustainable if the community attending owned its mission and were involved…
Nothing in this world is truly sustainable anymore… perhaps the word “sustainable” is a church/institutional-type theory that gives them the excuse to not try something because they don’t see it happening for a long time, don’t see it being sustainable…
Vurch.com will only exist for as long as the people running it are supported and get energy from being a part of it. Youthandmultimedia@yahoogroups.com will only exist for as long as we as a community keep emailing. Is it sustainable? Who knows? Does it really matter?
This article was written by Darren Wright in 2004…