Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts


A Case for Virtual Church

posted by Mark D. Roberts

Part 4 of series: The Challenge and Opportunity of Virtual Church
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series
In my last two posts I explained that virtual church, in my opinion, is “real” in many ways that count. Therefore it’s not crazy to consider the possibility that virtual church is something worth doing, at least by some folks who might be called to it. In this post I want to begin to make a case for virtual church.
This case rests on recognition of the extraordinary power of the Internet, both now and especially in the future. I expect that most of my blog readers would grant this premise, given the fact that you are reading these words because of the Internet. But, frankly, I think it’s easy for us to underestimate how the Internet is changing and will change our world, especially if you’re not heavily involved in social networking or virtual reality gaming.
Let me cite some of the claims made by Douglas Estes in SimChurch. These seem right to me, and I am inclined, at any rate, to trust Estes’ scholarship:

In 2007, the number of internet users passed one billion for the first time. While this is only a little more than 20 percent of the world’s population, at no other time in history since the time of Genesis has more than 20 percent of the world’s population been in direct communication with each other. (p. 18)
E-commerce has also kept up with the internet population boom; more than two trillion dollars changed hands over the internet in 2007. (p. 18)
To grasp the magnitude of what is happening, it is vital that we see the internet not as a technological tool but as a paradigm shift in the way the world interacts on a fundamental level. (p. 19)
[T]he internet is causing a paradigm shift a hundred times greater than that of the mobile phone. (p. 19). [MDR note: Mobile phones connected to the Internet are now stretching its reach and, for many, becoming the principal way they connect online. Photo: a cell phone from the 1980s. Times have changed.]
The future of the internet lies not in its being a tool for emailing others but in its being an immersive world where many people will spend as much time as they do in the real world. In the next few decades, the virtual world will equal or surpass the real world in its reach into and positioning in many aspects of our lives. For many people, the virtual world will be the world where they carry on more interactions and conduct more transactions than in the real world. It will be the place where they find love, soothe their feelings, make deals, and worship. (p. 20)
Of the one billion people online, an estimated seventy million are already regular participants in virtual worlds, and that number continues to grow dramatically. . . . And the sobering statistic: while no one knows exactly how much time residents spend in virtual worlds, a large percentage spend twenty or more hours per week, and many spend much, much more. (p. 20) [MDR note: At the moment, I don’t want to get bogged down in whether this is good or bad. I want simply to acknowledge that it is.]
For a growing number of people, especially individuals in the Millennial generation and beyond [born 1980 and after], virtual-world interactions can be far more authentic and less awkward than real-world relationships, and for many younger people, interacting in the virtual world is the preferred method for social networking. (p. 27)
The Christian church is engaging far less than 1 percent of the seventy million people who are active in the virtual world. This means the virtual world is by far the largest unreached people group on planet earth. (p. 29). [MDR note: This assumes that the church is not reaching these seventy million offline, an assumption that is surely not quite true.]

I’m not an expert in the sociology of technology, so I can’t demonstrate that what Estes has written is true. But from what I have read and from what I have observed, I think he basically correct. And this presents the church with a major challenge and opportunity: How are we going to reach the seventy million virtual earth-dwellers with the Gospel? How are we going to reach the multiple millions who will join the virtual world in the future?
Perhaps the most obvious answer to these questions is that the church, broadly defined, needs to be present in the virtual worlds. We Christians need to be with the people who spend so much of their lives there.
Now, I suppose one could object that virtual reality itself is so full of sin that no Christian should rightly go there. This would be like an argument against going to strip clubs to reach people who frequent them. Surely we need to reach the folks who spend a chunk of their lives in strip clubs, but, for the most part, we should do this in other venues. I would be surprised if many Christians would make the argument that we should have strip club churches to reach strip club patrons. But I would also be surprised if many Christians would make the argument that online virtual worlds are so much like strip clubs that Christians should simply avoid them.
From my perspective, by far the most powerful case for virtual church points to its evangelistic potential. Though Jesus probably didn’t imagine that the “all nations” of which Christians are to make disciples would someday include online virtual worlds, the inner logic of the Great Commission compels us to seriously consider how to reach potential disciples who “live” substantially in these worlds.



  • http://agenuinefaith.blogspot.com Rodney Reeves

    So far, it seems to me, the presumption is Christians will enter the virtual church for their spiritual formation. (In other words, they are a part of or come from a “flesh and blood” church.) I’m wondering whether the viability of the virtual church will be seen from the start, i.e., a christian gets online, communicates with persons he or she doesn’t know, evangelizes them, organizes a virtual church, and the members of that church are completely satisfied–never wanting to become part of a flesh and blood church.
    It seems to me that most social networking online either starts with flesh and blood interaction (facebook) or ends up as a flesh and blood relationship (online dating). Could the virtual church be the exception? I don’t think so.

  • http://jkfhuskersverizon.net J.Falconer

    Rev. Roberts & Rodney Reeves, We especially enjoyed Rodney Reeves compassion & logic with the virtual church. I assume young people 30’s & under age group would be adept at the many uses & functions of all the high tech. Thanks Rev. Roberts for your website for the challenges you’re readers are in & the times we’re in. Peace j & family

  • Steve

    Christianity is essentially incarnational. The Church is “the body of Christ.” There is nothing virtual about the church. If the church is go be the Church it must be real, it must be incarnate, therefore, it requires living, breathing, physical human beings to gather together in the same space at the same time. There is, and never will be, anything in “virtual” world that will replace or supersede the need for Christians to be physically present with and to one another.
    Virtual “church” is by definition, therefore incomplete, inadequate, and false. Anything that is virtual cannot be genuinely the body of Christ because Christ’s body is not, and never has been, virtual. Christ’s body is real.
    I will grant the the internet is, and will only grow as a valuable tool for communication, teaching, and even, to a degree, a tool for evangelism. But it will never be more than that.

  • http://www.r4-karte.ch/ r4 firmware

    Whole Church is one of those books that a reader might respond to with,”This makes so much sense…I’m surprised no one captured this before!”

Previous Posts

More blogs to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Mark D. Roberts. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!  

posted 2:09:11pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? Conclusions
In this series on the death of Jesus, I have presented four different perspectives on why Jesus had to die: Roman, Jewish, Jesus’, and Early Christian. I believe that each of these points of view has merit, and that we cannot fully understand the necessity of Jesus’ death without taking them all

posted 2:47:39am Apr. 11, 2011 | read full post »

Sunday Inspiration from the High Calling
Can We Find God in the City? Psalm 48:1-14 Go, inspect the city of Jerusalem. Walk around and count the many towers. Take note of the fortified walls, and tour all the citadels, that you may describe them to future generations. For that is what God is like. He is our God forever and ever,

posted 2:05:51am Apr. 10, 2011 | read full post »

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? The Perspective of the First Christians, Part 3
An Act and Symbol of Love Perhaps one of the most startling of the early Christian interpretations of the cross was that it was all about love. It’s easy in our day, when crosses are religious symbols, attractive ornaments, and trendy jewelry to associate the cross with love. But, in the first

posted 2:41:47am Apr. 08, 2011 | read full post »

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? The Perspective of the First Christians, Part 2
The Means of Reconciliation In my last post, I examined one of the very earliest Christian statements of the purpose of Jesus’ death. According to the tradition encapsulated in 1 Corinthians 15, Jesus died “for our sins in accordance with the scriptures” (15:3). Yet this text doesn’t expl

posted 2:30:03am Apr. 07, 2011 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.