church technology

Online Church Part 1: What is a Biblical Church?

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As mentioned yesterday, we’re kicking off an in-depth conversation about online church.  Over the next several weeks, we’re going to “focus on specific issues and aspects of online church one at a time.  The objective is not to definitively prove whether virtual churches are legitimate churches or not, but to help the church become better by discussing where virtual churches have unique the potential to advance the kingdom of God and where they face challenges to becoming healthy, fully functional churches.”

I think the place to start this conversation is by looking at what specifically an organization must be and do to be a “real,” biblical church whether online or offline.

In his book SimChurch (affiliate link), Douglas Estes explores several definitions of church:

Estes starts by defining a church as “a localized assembly of he people of God dwelling in  meaningful community with the task of building the kingdom.”

He quotes Martin Luther who defined a church as “the gathering of believers, in which the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered n accord with the gospels.”

John Calvin added to Luther’s definition saying a church must include correct church government and discipline.

In his book Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren defined a church as having 5 specific purposes: evangelism, worship, discipleship, fellowship, and ministry.

So, which of these do you believe is necessary for a church to be a biblical church?  And why?

  • Evangelism
  • Worship
  • Discipleship
  • Fellowship
  • Ministry (Serving those within the church)
  • Missions (Serving those outside the church)
  • Sacraments
  • Authority (Established/overseen by a denomination or similar organization)
  • Government (A charter or bylaws establishing organizational structure within the church & membership process/rules)
  • Discipline (correcting members who behave in appropriately and rooting out false doctrine)
  • Gathering together on a regular basis
  • Preaching by an ordained minister
  • Sunday school or small groups
  • Nifty Fifties
  • Motorcycle ministry
  • Others?

Please help spread the word about this discussion specifically to those involved in the development and pastoring of online churches.  We’d want as many people and perspectives involved as possible.  And don’t forget to vote in the poll in the right sidebar.


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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 would suspect Rick Warren is right with his 5 purposes stated however you like. But really a church is a group of people who are zealously in love with God and with others (both inside and outside the group).

      The 5 purposes are tools to express that love, by giving us opportunity to connect with God and connect with others both inside and outside the local church.

      The only other thing I would add is probably obvious but worth stating anyway: a biblical church will hold the Bible as its authority.

      • Hi everyone! I have been a a Christain for only about five years and it has been a struggle due to “Todays Church”. like Jesus said to
        many, men choose to follow in mans traditions and not Gods(my paraphasing)This is a real turn off to new Christains it also states in the bible that there the church is the body of Christ each individual has their own strength and all together make up the body of Christ. It was layed on my heart to “seek ye the truth” and I have it is all in the bible to understand some of the bible on must look into history and use the bible to put it together. Take for example( and remember I do not follow any denomination I follow what the bible says) the sabbath the so called church teaches the sabbath has changed “it has not!!!” it is a commandment jesus explains that the limmimits man has established for the Sabbath are nil and void NOT THE SABBATH. People say the sabbath was given to the Jews, IT WAS NOT! it was given to the 12 tribes called isrealites, jew are from Judea. I have been told We as Christains changed it yes we as Christains changed it in fact the Catholic church changed it go look up the 29th cannon for the Catholic church. What makes man think they can change stuff in the bible.
        Let me tell you an amazing true story My husband has been a Christain for about 3 years now and just recently he made the decision to get baptized, his mother asked her preacher if he would baptize him and he said ” I don’t think it will do any good because he is not part of this church” Hello The preachers and the church need to start teaching the truth and not mans traditions if this were to happen more people would come to God because the truth is “CHRIST” our FATHER.

        • Please remember that those of us who claim Christ as our Savior are still human and make mistakes. That has been true for the entire history of the church. Many verses in the New Testament are there because correction was needed in how even the Early Church was doing things. Don’t let your frustrations with man or a particular pastor’s opinions on how sacraments should be performed or their purpose hurt your relationship with God.

          I know that some denominations are touchy about the sacraments. Some are worse than others, sad to say. I believe that most A/G pastors will baptize anyone who wants to be baptized who profess an acceptance of Christ as their Savior. About the most they will ask is that the person attend a short teaching time at some point near the time of the baptism to be sure they understand what is going on. I assume some other denominations have similar open policies. On the other hand, the denomination I’m a part of doesn’t do infant baptisms since we don’t feel that is clearly taught in the Bible. That puts us at odds with some other groups.

          A particular church may only do a baptism service when enough people show interest, but if you’ll give them a heads up most will try to let you know when a baptism is planned.

          That still doesn’t negate the value of attending church in general and I hope you’ll pray about where God wants you to attend and try again. As each church in each town is different, I wouldn’t presume to suggest a particular church or denomination (even my own). God knows what is best for you at this point in your life and for your own particular background. He knows whether there are people there you will be able to make friends with and all the other bits and pieces that make a certain church the best fit for you. None of us do it perfectly (considering either individuals, churches or denominations takes on the proper interpretation of the Bible), but it is better to get involved with a group and try to work from the inside to move them closer to the Bible than to simply rail from the outside.

          Best wishes and may God guide your search.

    • I think we have to go farther than "a church is a group of people who are zealously in love with God and with others". This definition allows for a lazy faith: I could just get together with my friends once in a while for coffee and call it church. I know this is not what you meant, but if we are going to build our discussion around the definition of church, we need more.

      I think it is instructive to look at the Acts 2 model of a church to get some insights into what a church is. I know that Doug Estes in SimChurch does not agree, but it is the only real model of a church we can clearly find in scripture. I do agree with Doug that we cannot hope to completely emulate this early church, but we can still strive to imitate it in many ways. This church met regularly, taught scripture, prayed together, shared material possessions, evangelized, and performed baptisms and communion. It seems that our church today should strive to do these as well.

      Using that as a guide, I would add to Brian's definition something like this:

      "A church is a group of people who are zealously in love with Christ that meet regularly to love, encourage, rebuke, and edify each other as commanded in the Word of God."

      This is probably still not enough, but to me it gets us closer. I look forward to additional dialog on this topic.


    • Brian, thanks for your comment. So, are you saying evangelism, worship, discipleship, fellowship, and ministry and the 5 things a church must do to be a "real" church?

    • Dave, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I tend to agree… ultimately a church is a community of believers that loves God and others, but I do think it's important that we define how healthy biblical churches live out that love for God and others.

    • First off, a Church is not the building, it is the members of those followers of Christ. I do agree that there has to be structure within the body of members. Christ as the Head, the Pastor as the Shepard, the members are the workers. We need to realize that not everyone can get out of their homes to attend a physical structured building to attend what we tend to call church. When people understand that in all actuality we Christian Members are all Ministers. We are called according to our God Given Gifts to perform different tasks. Prior to my Ordination, I was the church clerk, then I moved up to Pastors Secretary then to Treasurer over the Financial Board. Then I went to Seminary School, then I helped start a Ministry to address issues in our Community, that the (so-called Churchs) failed to address. One issue is still ongoing, because some do not think that (Church)can be performed online. I know that it can, since I contribute to the overseeing of such an endeavor. The people meet via chatrooms with telephone access. I have met one on one with everyone who is involved in the Structure and yes, everyone is held accountable, and yes they attend an hours worth of Sunday School type of classes. 57% of our members are now persuing higher Theological Studies online, since they are not physically able to attend an outside building. So, yes I support the online church assembly, and no I do not foresake the physical assembling of the members.

      Rev. Fisher

    • There is a common tendency towards "either / or". In this discussion the online church can seem to some as an "un-church". I like the closing statement from Rev. Fisher "yes I support the online church assembly, and no I do not forsake the physical assembling of the members."

      Rick Warren is a regular blessing to pastors on Twitter with his personal sound bites and ministry insights. I largely agree with his list of five essentials.

      I understand the fear, concern or resistance to new and atypical ministry methods. Jesus and later the disciples in Acts met such reaction from the organized "religious leaders" as Moody, Finney and certainly more recent men & women of God have encountered.

      If we're honest and transparent in this discussion, we must admit the church has become very adept at masks. Some people attend for decades and never let anyone know the real them or the real issues they struggle with. The online church is getting behind masks the brick & mortar establishments don't even admit exist.

      Christians have become comfortable using the phone for a prayer tool, but the computer is proving itself an effective real-time tool as well. What is different though is the perceived safety of the delete or disconnect button. People are contacting online ministries and rather quickly dropping the masks and finding help for their real issues because they don't fear the personal rejection. Like the directory map in the shopping mall, the arrow "you are here" is key. We can't get to where we want to go until we first find/admit where we really are.

      I have had the blessing of pastoring a couple churches, and currently am assembling a team for a new ministry plant that will begin online with the hope of an eventual brick & mortar ministry as well. I am discovering genuine online relationship and networking that excels what used to take many years to develop.

      I don't believe this has to be an either/or option, any more than some of what is commonly practiced as church typical these days has clear roots in scripture rather than the traditions of men. The methods will change, like it or not. Be zealous for the message not the methods. Franklyn Graham is walking in waters he admits he isn't totally enjoying, but he greatly enjoys seeing the young people come to Jesus just as the fruit his father saw from completely different methods.

    • Marilyn, Paul, and Nancylee, thanks for your comments. All good stuff relevant to the conversation about online church.

      But before we get to far along into discussing the ways in which online church is good or the challenges it faces (there will be plenty of opportunity for that with future posts in this series) I would be interested to know which of the things listed above you believe are necessary for a church to be a healthy, biblical church.

      Evangelism? Worship? Discipleship? Fellowship? Ministry? Missions? Sacraments? Authority? Government? Discipline? Other?

      I really believe we have to start by looking at what a church has to do/be to be a healthy biblical church AND THEN we can discuss which of those areas online churches may excel or struggle.

    • The Biblical Church needs to have Worship, Evangelism,Discipleship,Sacraments,Authority,Government,Discipline,Fellowship(assembly of like minded),Ministry and Missions. The Church needs to have structure and guidience through sound expositional biblical preaching, it must be organized under Qualified Leaders,for sound preaching of the Bible, it must have bylaws which are based upon the Pricipals and Doctrines of the BIBLE. They must observe the Sacraments of Baptism & Communon, they must provide proper training of Disciples to go out and spread the word, to both the lost and the falsely taught people. (This is not everything that is needed, it is just part of the list.) The main thing is that the Assembly of Members all confess Jesus as Lord, and that all are unified by the Spirit.

      Rev. Fisher

    • Thank You David:

      I have to agree with the above Marilyn Fisher.
      Our little on line church, has grown in the last four years, in attendance.
      There are so many people that join us that are disabled, or shut-in’s, including my self, that cannot get out to Church.
      This has brought so many together in fellowship and prayer.
      So many have said to me how this has turned them around in their beliefs.
      I feel this is just another way of us all joining in Our Love of Our Father above.
      I wish you all the Love and Blessings from Our Father.

    • Hello,

      Since GOD (Christ Jesus and The Father) are Spirits, as well as their words are spirit, and GOD is love, as long as we follow the Spirit of HIS love, in HIS way and HIS truth, does it matter to HIM where we go about it? (the place we are in)

      Since HIS body is a temple, and we are HIS body, therefore our bodies are temples, are we not in line with HIM who do as HE does?

      "He who obeyeth the commandments, it is he whom loveth the LORD."

      Is it not the things of HIS which should be honored and looked at first? (HIS love) "Judge not by appearance"

      Is not perception first and foremost in order to discern through HIS eyes, the things which are Holy and True, good and acceptable, in our walk with HIM as we walk into and within the "Kingdom of God"

      HE would not have told us "seek ye first the Kingdom of God,

      and His righteousness" if it were not to be found on earth.

      Therefore is not "The Kingdom of God is within you" correct and true when one looks unto HIS righteousness as the way the truth and the life? Is this not HIS spiritual perception?

      Are not all other matters secondary?

      Thank you all for your support at