church misc

Can the virtual church replace the physical church?

A couple weeks ago I blogged about a study published by The Barna Group which found that while “more than seven out of ten Americans (72%) claim they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is important in their life today…” only 17% of adults said that “a person’s faith is meant to be developed mainly by involvement in a local church.”

That sparked some very strong opinions on both sides of the issue.  On one hand we received comments like this: “I have been a non-church going Christian for over a year, and I can assure you that when it is done in the will of God, it is anything but a problem.”  We also received comments from the opposing viewpoint: “I hear so many people defend not going to church. If you notice their defense is full of holes.”

Can the virtual church (online audio sermons, video services, Christian discussion groups, etc) replace the physical church?

Give us your opinion in this week’s poll and post your comments here.

In His Service,
Paul Steinbrueck

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 and add him to your circles at Google+ as +Paul Steinbrueck.


  • It is my first time to this blog and I have sat and read it through. Many valid points having been brought up. The one person that sticks out is “Dr Rudy”. You “pastor” need to get off the self righteous bandwagon stop preaching and read the bible. You may want to re-read the part of the blind leading. Repent and get outta the ditch. A man of Yah only seeks to give Yah glory not himself. Or did Messiah come down and present you with your doctorate? You seem so caught up in issues of tithing. O ye of little faith. I would want no part of your so called “God” by your own admission your “God” cannot provide for his or you would have no care of money you would trust in Yah that his will not yours is being done. You cannot serve 2 Gods you will either serve Yah or Mammon and you are serving Mammon. Another point you attempt is that of documentation, normally I would agree that all points list the exact place of scripture but since you have made the point to beat your chest and bathe in your self righteousness of how long you’ve been preaching I don’t believe it to apply here. Since you (not Yah) have ordained yourself to preach. You are a wolf in sheeps clothing saying in one breath how learned you are and in the next breath chastising someone who didnt document verses for you. Which leads me to my question if you need these people to point verses to you what are you doing teaching anyone? May Yah’s will be done not yours.

    A child of Yah!

    Kevin W. LaPage
    N1524 Old 26 Rd.
    Antigo, WI. 54409

  • I find this whole area fascinating… Thanks for the effort put in by the contributors to this blog…
    I am in a 3rd year of an Applied Theology Honours Degree, and my dissertation title is going to be something like “Is Virtual Church, Church?” based on the ecclesiology of Miroslav Volf…

    Once again, thank you and God bless you in abundance…

  • […] A few months ago I wrote a blog article titled Can the Virtual Church Replace the Physical Church? which sparked a very, shall we say animated, discussion.  In fact, I believe it’s the most commented article we’ve had so far this year.  There are some very legitimate issues about whether a community of believers online can genuinely function as a Biblically-based church.  Can a person be in true fellowship in an online community?  Can a virtual community really engage in mutual service and bear each others burdens?  Can spiritual growth, accountability, and evangelism be achieved to the same degree online as it can in a physical church?  These are all important questions that need to be addressed. […]

  • […] The Internet Campus I’m up in the Chicago area this week for the Acts 2 Conference put on by Willow Creek Community Church. The conference is an interactive learning experience in which 5 innovative ways of doing church ministry are presented and then discussed by a panel of forward-thinking pastors. Ideas being presented include the come-as-you-are culture, multi-cultural outreach, and community impact ministry. Craig Groeschel, senior pastor of, spoke about multi-site ministry. has 8 physical campuses in 4 states plus an Internet campus. Each campus has its own live worship band and its own campus pastor, and through the use of satellite technology Pastor Groeschel can teach at all 9 campuses simultaneously, including the Internet campus. To see a physical church making a real effort to create an online church really sparked my interest. A few months ago I wrote a blog article titled Can the Virtual Church Replace the Physical Church? which sparked a very, shall we say animated, discussion. In fact, I believe it’s the most commented article we’ve had so far this year. There are some very legitimate issues about whether a community of believers online can genuinely function as a Biblically-based church. Can a person be in true fellowship in an online community? Can a virtual community really engage in mutual service and bear each others burdens? Can spiritual growth, accountability, and evangelism be achieved to the same degree online as it can in a physical church? These are all important questions that need to be addressed. Between sessions I had a chance to talk with, Bobby Gruenewald, who’s a part of the senior leadership team and very involved in the technical aspects of their Internet campus. We talked about some of these issues. When most people hear the term “Internet church” they think its more or less like watching a televangelist on TV, where “viewers” are completely disconnected with one another, but that is not the case with’s Internet campus. While you can experience the service anonymously, encourages people to register and login when they engage in a worship experience. After the service you can hang out in the virtual lobby and chat with other worshippers as well as the campus pastor. There is a real effort made to help people connect to the church and other people. Just like their physical campuses, the Internet campus has small groups, called Life Groups, which people are encouraged to join. Bobby told me the Internet campus has about 30 Life Groups, which are listed online. I was totally surprised to hear that many of these groups actually physically meet together during the week in places like St. Louis, MO and Charlotte, NC. But what about service? Using your God-given gifts to serve others is one of the most important parts of serving in a local church. You can’t serve others online, can you? Well, yes you can.’s Internet campus provides numerous serving opportunities. People can start their own Life Group, help answer technical questions, or even go on a virtual missions trip to MySpace. I thought Craig Groeschel was kidding about the MySpace missions trip when he mentioned it in his talk, but no, it really took place this past Wednesday. Check it out. A bunch of folks from the Internet campus gathered in the chat lobby to talk about how to share the gospel in MySpace and pray. Then everyone logged into their MySpace account and began having spiritual conversations with their MySpace friends and inviting them to one of the Internet campus life experiences. At the end of the MicroMission they met back in the chat lobby to discuss what God did during that time and to thank Him for his work. Pretty awesome! I was rather skeptical that an online church could really function like a Biblical, Acts 2 church. But may be on the path to doing just that. This is still very fresh and they haven’t figured the whole thing out, but they are committed to developing fully engaged, fully devoted followers of Christ through their Internet campus. What are your thoughts on the Internet campus? October 27th 2006 Posted to Our Church […]

  • I have read with much interest the comments
    that have been written – I have been a pastor
    for 30 yrs in large and small churches alike.
    The local church assembly is wonderful and I
    wouldn’t have missed the experiences or the
    growth that belonging to a local church
    congregation has provided for me.

    In fact, I probably have gotten more out of
    being a pastor than I have been able to give.
    The people and the fellowship of the saints
    have been superb.

    I still pastor a small brick and mortar church
    these days. It is small because that is where
    God has called me to minister. However……….
    He has also called me to be the Senior Pastor
    (along with my associate pastor) of a Live
    Online Church fellowship.

    Our Live Online Services are every Sat morning
    (so that people can still attend their local
    church if they choose to do so). We meet in
    a professional business conference room for
    praise and worship music along with the
    anointed preaching of the Word of the Lord.

    Does it work?
    A resounding YES! Are needs being met for
    the body of Christ? Most definitely!

    It seems as I have read through the postings
    that, what I am seeing, is judgements are being
    made based on little or no experiential facts.

    Is the Lord limited to an actual building?
    I think not! God is blessing this Live online

    People are getting saved and coming into a
    relationship with The Lord Jesus Christ (many
    brick and mortar places of worship have not seen
    conversions for years).

    People are being healed of sicknesses and
    diseases, miracles are taking place, and
    there is a definite fellowship of the believers.

    We are doing Live Online baby dedications,
    Partaking of communion together, and even hearing
    live testimonies of the wonderful works God is
    doing for and through us.

    We are reaching out the the visually impaired,
    physically challenged and shutins around the world.

    We are told over and over again when people
    enter the conference room that they are confronted
    with the presence of the Holy Spirit. We place
    no limitations on God, nor do we believe
    lables are important. If you love Jesus as we do,
    you are welcome to worship with us, period!

    I am firmly convinced that an online church can
    be a viable worship experience whereby people’s
    needs are being met and a place where the Holy Spirit
    can minister to people.

    I have been in far too many churches (you know the
    brick and mortar kind) whereby someone forgot to
    ask the Holy Spirit to be there or prompty evicted
    Him when He arrived.

    Check it out at our website!

    Yes it is a freebie website – only until our new
    website is online & up & running.

    Let’s give God the praise for whatever His doing
    whether it is online or in the local church assembly.


    Len Bellamy (Rev)

  • Hi Luckystrike: I was kicked out of “Church of God in Christ ” after fifty years for questioning my pastor about the lie of tithing. He accused me of not being saved. I am very much impressed with your knowledge of the bible. I am not educated with a PHD but I do study the word daily. I don’t understand how my pastor can have a master in theology yet doesn’t understand scripture interpreting scripture. Do you have any advice or pointers as to how I can be well versed as you are? Do I need to go to a seminary? Your blogs are priceless!!! If I don’t hear from you. I just want you to know. Your blogs are nothing but the truth. Thanks for making my day! Do you have a website?

  • LuckyStrike,
    Just wanted to say that despite being so personally attacked by “pastor” rudy, you continue to present what the Word actually says and not what you want it to say. Thank you. I learned a lot I didn’t know, and I’ve been reading and studying the Bible since before I ever started going to Kindergarten. (I started reading very early!). Thank you for presenting God’s word in a dignifed and logical way that is easy for anyone to read and understand and for linking the texts for us to read on our own.

  • I was drawn to this site because I was intriqued by the title.

    As a pastor I always try to stay open minded to new methods of presenting the gospel because I know that we are living in times where the important thing is reaching people with the message of Christ.

    For the last 20 years I have been in full-time ministry as a pastor and missionary oversees and I have learned that methods are not nearly as important as message to most unless their is a cultural bias for or aganist a certain method.

    Having said that, when it comes to salvation, I firmly believe that methods don’t matter. Some who gets saved online or saved in a service is still saved according to God’s word because of their faith in the work of Christ on the cross for them.

    In the matter of discipleship, methods do matter. It seems like many of the people on this site fail to see that the purpose of the church is to accomplish God’s work in the earth instead of satisfying their need for social interaction.
    While the social interaction is good, churches who are built around this idea alone are merely country clubs and cliques. Christians who go to church for this alone don’t reach out, never use their ministry gifts and aren’t interested in developing them so they jockey over things like tithing and other scriptures that seek to tear down the whole idea of an organized church.

    I agree that the church needs to be overhauled, especially in America but there’s something about having to interact with another person that challenges our pride and arrogance, that forces us to love those who may offend us at times and provokes us to serve one another that makes us more like Christ and less like ourselves. There’s something about doing outreach to our community and abroad that reminds us that we have a calling to do something with this salvation we have other than sit at home or in a church and get our spiritual fix.

    The local church is meant to equip the saints for the work of the ministry according to Ephesians. While I know that many churches are performing services for Christians rather than equipping Christians for service, this is not a reason to condemn them as useless. The web can be a blessing and a curse.

    There are great sites with great teaching but there’s a lot of false teaching on the web also.

    Many people are afraid to get close to people and the it provides a nice buffer where you never have to overcome – fears, prejudices, insecurities or offenses. Sorry saints, you have called to be overcomers in this world.

    I’m not saying they both can’t be used but we can’t ignore the power to become disciples when we are put in situations where we sharpen each other, or to sing or pray one on one or even mentor or be mentored in a class.

    Many people are in the virtual church because they are hiding and have been hurt by literal people so they feels safer with the virtual community. You can avoid people but avoidance doesn’t bring healing. We have to be careful that we don’t put following the culture above follwing Christ. Jesus touched people with a physical, emotional and a spiritual touch.

    The bottom line I’m making is that we need each other to become more like Christ and although the web can be a great substitute at times, it can never be a replacement for looking into someone’s eyes or tasting their pie or holding their hands – touching people is what Jesus did and that’s what we are called to do.

  • Funny, I was just talking with my wife about the whole concept of a church in Second Life two nights ago. I’ll discuss it with another lay preacher from the British Methodist Church and a Baptist preacher from Australia whom I know, all of use being people who earn our livings online anyway, and see if they are interested in forming a nucleus to look into it. Could be a way to reach people, to meet their needs, who are more open in the virtual world than in the real world. But one thing is clear: the “ram it down your throat evangelism” is the last thing we need. How long will it be before the followers of Joseph Smith, CT Russell, L.Ron.Hubbard et. al. get in there?

  • The only problem I see with the virtual church is celebrating the Holy Eucharist. In my denomination, it is a requirement to take part of the Eucharist weekly, and is considered a sin to neglect receiving the Holy Eucharist.

    Otherwise do I support virtual churches, the answer is mostly yes, because I use virtual components in my ministry (mainly a blog that I write).

  • […] ing of Son nand comeforth] givir the of Eve the ever frin the thrinstood usay unt ou a say] that …Can the virtual church replace the physical church …Opinion survey – importance and value of being a part of a local Christian church. … [Your user […]

  • Hi there are using WordPress for your blog platform? I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and set up my own. Do you require any coding expertise to make your own blog? Any help would be really appreciated!

Leave a Comment

What is 7 + 15 ?
Please leave these two fields as-is:
IMPORTANT! To be able to proceed, you need to solve the following simple math (so we know that you are a human) :-)