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.


    • Ace – Wow, I can’t tell you how excited I am to have someone in China joining this conversation! My kids are learning about Christians being persecuted around the world. Each day we pray for Christians in a different country and yesterday we prayed for China. My kids will be thrilled to read your comment.

      I share your appreciation for churches that put their teachings and other materials online for others to use. What’s great is that you are not doing this on your own, but you are meeting face-to-face with other believers for prayer, worship, and Bible study. You are serving and encouraging one another.

      Blessings to you and the fellow believers in your community. Stay strong in the Lord!

    • Thanks for the prayers.Maybe i’m out of track because what we actually see is the online service going on my sending church.Do mean that online church is that the Pastor is Preaching in front of a computer while his members???????? are listening watching in there respective houses 5 meters 2-3 miles away?? What a lazy members?


    • Ace, what I referring to by “online church” is churches that videocast their services over the Internet to people who never meet in person with any other believers. The pastor could be preaching in a church building to a congregation of people or just to a camera. The people could be 1 mile or 10,000 miles away.

    • This article criticising online church is somewhat contradictory since it is relying on an online audience. Real Church, as a Roman Catholic, is also about praying for people you do not necessarily see personally, like prisoners of conscience or persecuted Christians in Pakistan or China. Through prayer, through Holy Communion and through a sense of God, whether at home or at Church or in a prayer group, you are uniting yourself in spirit with people you are not physically present with. Of course, this extends to praying for the dead and praying with the saints.

      God bless.

    • Francis, I wasn’t saying churches shouldn’t be online at all. I was saying I believe churches that are entirely online, where participants never have any physical contact with one another at all, lack essential elements of what God intended a church to be.

    • WOW! This has been awesome to read. The benefits of broadcasting services online just as they are on television are unmeasureable. But this MUST be at the Holy Spirits direction, because all the finances are his, and must be used with wisdom. The internet is just another way for the Good News to reach the lost and hurting. Ace I have been to China 7 times to bring the Good News and let me say this, the faith that my brothers, sisters there have is so awesome. Each of you are an example that every American shoudld follow. In the mist of all your persecution we have never been asked to pray for it to end but rather that your faith would prevail and that our Father would continue to meet all of our needs. I’m sorry to say that to many christians here pray for the hard times to stop, instead of growing stronger and going further with Jesus through it. We have a Bro. in prison now just for printing bibles. May God continue to provide ways for all the people to hear his word no matter where they are. Now this may bother some it may sound trivial to others but its is not trivial to God. I say this because I can from God. The term online church, offline church etc is not biblical. Some have already said it but I will take it a little further. There is no such thing! The CHURCH is God’s people plainly stated and this is the only church. There are many congregations of believers, places of worship etc. Let us remember what the word of God says, we must guard our tongue for in it is the power of life and death. To label a building as the church is derogatory. And my brothers and sisters are correct in saying that the church is to be LIVING so that others will see Jesus in us and then desire Him. The buildings, or even the internet is only a place, method to be encouraged, strenghtened, to again go out and be the CHURCH. We are to be the manifestation of Jesus to those that don’t know him and those that will not step into a building. Let us be the living, breathing, touching, talking, hugging, caring, supporting, teaching, comforting, listening body Jesus wants us to be, THE CHURCH. If you ever hear someone say to you that they want to go to church say here it is. Our family in China and other closed nations have the closest thing on earth to the real church. They do not need a building or even AC, they just gather together and give it all to God. I love each of you and hope you have heard my heart as I have heard yours.

    • First off, want to say “Hi” to all you great folk!
      David Nason, I want to applaud you for your definition of “Church…” it is God’s people and, the buildings and the Internet are indeed ways to enable us to reach people with the Gospel and to encourage, support and strengthen each other.
      I’m reading Floyd McClung’s book “You see bones, I see an army” about doing simple Church and I do think we have been so fixated on Church being a building that we have lost the real essence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to spread the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
      Whilst it’s true that he was writing to a Church, look at how Paul did Church. He had the first prison ministry – from the inside out!
      David, I pray for your brother in Prison and I ENVY your simple Church structure!