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10 Things I Learned from the Online Church Blog Series

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We’ve spent the last month engaged in an in-depth conversation about online churches.  We started by asking the question, “What is a biblical church?” and then looked at the opportunities and barriers to online churches fulfilling the various things God has called the local church to do.

To review or continue those discussions, here’s a list:

  1. What is a Biblical Church?
  2. Worship & the Theology of Presence
  3. Are Online Sacraments Legit?
  4. How Can Online Churches Serve One Another?
  5. Is Genuine Community Possible?
  6. Putting the Smackdown on Heresy and Naughty Church Members
  7. Evangelism Opportunities Abound
  8. Can Disciples Be Made Online?

It’s been an awesome ride.  I’ve enjoyed the conversation, meeting some folks that commented here for the first time, and hearing from so many different perspectives.  I’ve learned a few things and it’s challenged some of my thoughts about online church.

Here are 10 things I’ve learned about online church from this blog series.

1) Online churches are unproven. Online churches are so new that they don’t really know how effective they are.  Sure, they can cite numbers of unique visitors and things like that, but are these people with no offline church who are truly connecting and growing spiritually?  I haven’t seen any objective data showing one way or the other.

2) Many people’s opinions are based on limited experience. Because there’s no objective evidence one way or the other, a lot of people seem to jump to conclusions based on their own person experience.  If they have never developed a meaningful relationship or never had a meaningful worship experience online, they conclude that meaningful relationships or worship is not possible for anyone online.

3) Many people’s opinions are based on ideals. On the other hand, there are also those who base their opinions of online church on what they hope is true.  They really want to see online churches succeed, so even if they have not seen any success or very limited success so far they continue to believe online church will work.

4) Relatively few people are actually discussing issues facing online churches. As much as I enjoyed the discussion with those who participated, I feel like it could have been so much more, particularly if we had had the more participation from those who are involved with and leading online churches.  I’ve found the discussion of these issues to be lacking on other blogs and forums as well, which was the whole reason for doing this series.  Maybe it’s the time of year or my ability to facilitate the conversation. Perhaps some are reading and not commenting.  Perhaps some are tired of the barbs from nay-sayers.  All are probably very busy.  The good thing is that the conversations on these posts can continue indefinitely.  It’s never too late to post a comment and add some new insight.

5) An online church is better than nothing. There are many people who are simply unable to gather with a local, physical church.  Millions of people are physically unable to leave their home or they live in a country where Christians are barred from worshiping together.  Being a part of an online church has to be better than nothing.

6) An online church is not ideal. There are still many things online churches can’t do that offline churches can.  Online churches have significant problems with worship, sacraments, serving one another, and discipleship.  At this point, it’s my opinion that most people who are a part of an online church will not grow spiritually in that environment to the degree they would being a part of an offline church.  God created us as physical beings.  The physical contact and proximity in an offline church provide for a richer, more complete community experience and allow people to serve and encourage one another better.

7) Online churches should encourage people to go offline.
If online church is not ideal, as I believe, then it would be best for those leading online churches to challenge the people who participate in their churches to find offline churches if possible.

8 ) Offline churches can learn a lot from online churches.
There are definitely some things online churches can do better than offline churches can.  They can reach people offline churches can’t reach.  They can facilitate interaction, community, learning, and collaboration between physical gatherings.  Offline churches see what online churches are doing well, and what functions of the church an be done better online, and incorporate many of those things into their own ministries.

9) We should support online churches. Online churches are still in their infancy.  They’re still figuring things out.  They will continue to get better.  Rather than bashing them, individuals, churches, and denominations should support them, encourage them, and fund them.

10) The ideal church is an offline/online hybrid. For all the reasons stated above, I believe the best solution is for people to gather together physically on a regular basis to worship God, participate in baptism & communion, serve one another, disciple each other, and serve those in the community who don’t yet know Christ.  I believe it’s also best that in between those gatherings for people to continually communicate with each other online, encouraging one another, praying for one another, sharing inspirational material, and engaging people online who don’t yet know Christ.

What do you think about these learning points?  What have you learned through the course of this discussion of online church?

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    About the author

    Paul Steinbrueck

    Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck.