church communications technology

Online Church = Online Sex

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The debate over online church has been going on for years now.  In fact, I first blogged about it more than 3 years ago.  But as more and more churches launch Internet campuses, the debate continues to grow.  A few days ago John Piper shared his thoughts on the issue.

God made us with bodies. He made us to give holy kisses to one another—embraces, handshakes, eyeball-to-eyeball conversation. He made husband and wife not to have imaginary video sex through Skype. He made them to go to bed together in the same bed. He made them to raise children in the same house, with hands-on hugs and spanks on the bottom and love. And he made churches to get together to hear each other sing, and to look at each other and talk to teach other, and minister to each other and help each other die well.

In other words, Piper is saying church is to online church as sex is to online sex.

Real sex is intimate, physical, relational, interactive, and much more.  On the other hand, online sex is essentially an attempt to find fulfillment in isolation through a superficial show.  In some ways on the outside online sex may look like sex, but it has none of the attributes of genuine sexual intimacy.

Likewise church is intimate, physical, relational, and interactive.  On the other hand, online church is essentially an attempt to find spiritual fulfillment in isolation by watching a service.  In some ways on the outside online church may look like church, but it has none of the attributes of genuine Christian community.

Equal opportunity offender

If you’re the pastor of a church with an online campus or an advocate of online church and your offended by what I’ve said so far, let me be fair and offend everyone else for a moment.

The biggest problem with online church also the biggest problem with offline church.  That problem is that is that the primary focus is on the worship service.  This may shock some of you, but…

Church is not a worship service

Somehow many people have come to equate church with the Sunday worship service.  But the truth is the Sunday service is only a small part of a church.

Church is a community of believers

Scripture tells us that among other things a church, aka community of believers…

  • Develops genuine friendships
  • Shares their money and possession with each other
  • Eats together
  • Shares communion together
  • Prays together
  • Serves one another
  • Serves those outside the church

If your only involvement in your church is showing up for a worship service once a week, I don’t care if it’s online or offline, you are not being the church as God intended it.

Some of the things listed above that God intended for people to do together as a part of a church can be done by online, however many cannot.  And those that can are often, like online sex, a hollow imitation of the real thing.

Virtual relationships

Thousands of American military men and women have been serving for extended periods of time in Iraq over the last several years.  For many of them their only contact with their spouse for a year or more has been through phone calls.  Occasionally, I’ve seen TV shows where they’ve facilitated a video link between a husband and wife.  You can see from the emotion in their faces that it means a great deal for them to talk to each other and to see each other.

Do you think given the choice between a video call and an in person visit any of them would opt for the video call?

Of course not.

Do you think if they continued to be physically separated year after year with only occasional voice and video chats their relationship would continue to develop into everything their hearts long for?

Of course not.

Its obvious to everyone a video call is a hollow imitation of a physical visit.

So, isn’t online church also a hollow imitation of a physical gathering of believers?

That’s not to say that there isn’t any redeeming value in online church. It may be effective for outreach or a temporary connection for those unable to do church in person.  But that’s for a future article.

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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.


    • I think that this makes some good points. I do, however, think that online churches can reach those who would never step foot inside a church building. The key for both online churches as well as more conventional churches is not only to teach Gods Word, but to get those attending the services to become the hands and feet of Christ, not just audience members. I look forward to hearing from those who either lead or participate in online churches for their input.

    • There are churches the Supplement their vital community churches with web activities and then there are ‘Web churches” that focus on a web only or mainly group. I would not call these churches but more like an on line group, and those group can be beneficial to people, but I would not call them a church.

      The problem is accountability Who are these on line “churches” accountable to?
      Are they constantly asking for money ? Are they preying on the lonely and elderly or shut in? Flashy web churches and charismatic brick and mortar churches can both exploit the spiritually lost and needy but on line churches have a layer of anonymity that makes it possible for much abuse.

      On line churches can deliver information to church membership and assist in the good works of a church… Those of us in rural areas can do on line meetings and work sessions, especially in the winter when travel is difficult and dangerous.

      On line churches can also deliver spiritual poison with little or no accountability for the , at times, tragic consequences of poor ministerial counseling.

      Rev. Alexander

    • We can get extreme about many things, but I think the important part of having a website that shares Jesus is where your heart is when you have one. We have had prayer requests and shared in praise reports as a result of those prayers with brothers and sisters all over the world that we would have never met let alone prayed with in a building. Our website is an outreach to many people that would never even think of going to church in a building. Back in the mid nineties we had a church exclusively online called The Keys To The Kingdom. We met in a chatroom on aol every Saturday evening at 8:00pm. It was an awesome experience because people from all over our country came. There were words of songs typed up in the chat room, the pastor of the church would type up a sermon (of course we would pray) then have fellowship afterword. There were homebound people that would attend and more importantly lost people would pop in and several of us led many to Jesus via an instant message! We sent out weekly devotionals, prayer requests and praise reports! Many gave their hearts to Jesus, many were healed, set free from drugs, alcohol! If the Holy Spirit is actively moving in a ministry how can man say it is wrong. So you asked for a reply and received a book!

    • Jack, thanks for the comment. I appreciate the first hand account of your online church. Sounds like God was at work.

      Just to be clear, I think there is great value in using the Internet to help connect people with an offline church and great value in using the Internet to enhance communication and relationships among those who are in an offline church together. That’s the whole reason OurChurch.Com exists. My concern is for churches that exist exclusively online, where the people never meet in person.

      I’m curious… how long did the online church last? Are you still in fellowship with any of the other participants? Do you know how any of them are doing spiritually today?

      • That church (Keys To The Kingdom) lasted from 1996 – 2003, Yes I am close to several that were involved. I am located in Cleveland Tennessee and one person in particular is from New Yorkwas a drug addict and an alcoholic and Jesus used me to lead her to Him in the beginning of 1996. Today she is still walking with Jesus and we are dear friends. After the Keys to the Kingdom. We were blessed to come together with funds for non perishable items that we would mail to people in need. Jesus led me into a jail ministry. I created a website (thru the guidance of the Holy Spirit) and posted prayer requests. Many of those people from Keys to the Kingdom began ministering to the inmates via letters and such. Actually I had the opportunity to meet several of them and there was a gathering in Indiana where many met each other. It was a blessing and a good experience that had enhanced the growth in my relationship with Jesus.

        • P.S. In the existence of Keys To The Kingdom, never once did we ask for money, though people used their money to purchase food items and mailed them to those in need

    • shame you lumped all online churches together, there is a difference between viewing an online message and a ONLINE CHURCH. I am the Pastor of a “ONLINE CHURCH” We have Bible Study and Sunday Services in live chat rooms, where we type it all, we have a interactive forum, what a shame to be compared to online sex…
      The people at COCSF have commented several times on the FACT of how close we are to each other, far more “connected” than those in the disfunctional, hypocritical churches you find now. I belong to a church of over 500 people, when my hubby recently had surgery, you know who sent cards, flowers and well wishes, it wasnt the big church we attend, it was the online family we love and cherish…now what does that tell you.
      Have you ever considered, what are the people to do that cant get out? Is the church gonna come pick them up in their wheel chair, oh yea maybe a few times then after that its a burden and it stops, what a bout the person to sick to go out the house? What about my sister that is bed ridden battling cancer? Are there pastors that are gonna come to her home and talk to her, share the word with her, oh they do a few times and then when she didnt spring back right away (its been a 18 mo battle) they slowly disappeared. I have stuck to that woman like glue…
      Personally you need to re think what you wrote, you obviously are mis/un-informed and frankly have hurt my feelings. I have never been compared to online sex and that offends me…
      I am praying the Lord will change your heart and that you will investigate before you write a bunch of untruths again.
      FYI it is the policy of the ONLINE CHURCH I minister at, we no where on the web, forum, or chat ask for a dime, EVER…this ministry is run 100% by me, my funds, I live on SSI and I pay the cost of the website and all the free materials we give away each month, oh yes, each month we send out CD’s and Books and RBC booklets and Gospel of John free of charge no strings attached and dont want there money…

    • Wow, I haven’t really thought about a totally on-line church before, but having said that, there was a period of my life when it was particularly difficult for me to get to my home church (about 14 years ago) and I actually ended up going to a small church just up the road. I was brought up with parents who said that it did not matter which church you went to, just so long as it was Christ-centered and Bible-based, so at least there was some growth!

      I’ve read all the comments and I agree with them all:- Yes, I strongly agree that God intended the church to function as a “physical” body and I can testify to the fact that the growth and maturity in my life would NOT have come about without being rooted/serving within a “physical” body.
      Having said that, I also understand that there are those who are unable to reach a “physical” church and that God is big enough to do it on-line, as we’ve heard testified to. BUT, having also said that, I also believe that “the church” seriously needs to “pull its socks up” and not centre on being a “worship service” and amass numbers but RATHER function to its capacity in all areas of serving – including to those that are unable to leave their homes for whatever reason, including the widows, as we are clearly instructed in the Bible.

      I recently heard of a church in the USA (someone might be able to identify it!), where they apparently are a home-based church, apparently meeting in their homes in small groups (thus serving one another, up close and personal, and knowing of each others needs). I understood that they had no large premises, but meet once very few months (don’t know of precise period) and hire a large place and have a massive outreach/combined worship/healing service. Personally, my heart and spirit leapt when I heard this, because as having been brought up in a Christian home and becoming a believer at a young age and now in my 40’s, I have already seen too much of God’s finances going to run a large church premises, when it appears to me from His Word that God’s heartbeat is that He wants us “out there,” being the “Good Samaritan,” meeting the “woman at the well” and meeting His lost children right where they are at and financially being able to do so!

      Recently for our own church body, we actually went through a bit of a division over this very factor – whereby there was a group that was wanting to continue along the “contemporary” DNA style of church and the rest of us who had been so stirred in these last 18 months of God’s heartbeat wanted a fully functioning, people-serving, Christ-centred, Bible-teaching based body.

      I think it is like all things, if His people and church does not function in the way He intends it to do, the Holy Spirit WILL make a way – if it means that it’s through technology, then its through technology! Having also said that, I believe that as “shepherds,” we are responsible and accountable for our flocks, no matter whether they are on-line or off-line. Jeremiah 23 vs 1-4 states a very clear warning to ALL shepherds and I think not sufficient shepherds read this passage in fear of our Lord and daily form it into a prayer in their own lives!!!

      If the flock is on-line, I believe it is the responsibility of that shepherd who is guiding that flock to ensure that somehow, some way each person does become plugged into a healthy physical body! I know that even though our website is only a “baby” compared to many of yours out there, but I believe that it is our responsibility to ensure that any one that contacts us for prayer etc is either already connected or encourage them to be connected, or take it even further – to make the effort to locate a healthy “physical” body for them. If they cannot attend, then ensure that the relevant local leadership understands that and do what they can to get them “plugged in”.

      For many years, my husband and I have had a saying, “It all starts in the home!” This stemmed out of our marriage becoming broken, whilst we were fully serving within the church, divorced and restored – to God be all the glory! But we had heavily laid on our hearts that the only way we could maintain and protect our relationship was to ensure that “…every comes out of the home.” I think that is the reason why my heart leapt when I heard of that church body which was totally home-based and met corporately regularly, but not every week – that way if someone can’t attend, let them have church in their home!

      Apologies this has ended up longer than expected!!

      Yours in Christ
      – The Watenes

    • We are living in China and we are not allowed to start a Church.Yes we are meeting before and have Bible reading and sharing and offering also.I thank God that my sending Church have online streaming they broadcast their services live online now we are joining them.We rather have the service together with them than me preaching in whisper voice we collect our offering and we are also supporting Missions out side China.I know that this is not a forever thing but while it is still closed I think this is the best option.We hear bombastic , energetic and encouraging sermons.One time i did the closing prayer for the service for the Church thousand miles away from us.
      Let us not limit our self of what we can do for the Lord high technology or what ever.Satan is more advance…


    • How would the woman who had blood issue and touch Jesus be ever saved if there is no touch. From another point of view, the centurion who has so much faith that just want to listen to Jesus commandment and it shall be done. No touch at all and in modern days, the voice can be through multimedia.

      I wonder how washing of feet can be done through internet.
      For me, it is not possible to be done by internet

    • Pastor Jackson, thanks for your comment. I’m glad you are finding value in your online church, but I wonder if you’re still not settling for less than God intended for you.

      It’s sad that no one in your offline church cared enough to support you and your husband after his surgery, and I’m glad your online church sent cards and flowers, but wouldn’t you have appreciated it even more if people had visited with you in the hospital, prayed with you hand in hand, and given you big hugs?

      Call me an idealist, but yes, I do think when a church is truly being the church as God intended, they go get people who are in wheel chairs and visit those who are too sick for that. I think you believe that’s how church should be too, otherwise it wouldn’t bother you so much when they fall short.

      I think what you’re doing is good and beneficial, but you’re only able to go so far because of the limits of the medium. Don’t you just long to sit around a table with the people in your online church?