I remember one of my professors at Dallas Seminary talking about the future of “doing” church. He said that we had better get ready for virtual churches and decide whether or not we felt that these could constitute legitimate churches. My thoughts were that this would never happen. How can people “do” church online?
Well, it is happening. Many churches are beginning to hold services online. While the majority of churches now post the MP3’s of their sermons online, others are taking virtual prayer requests, and some are actually holding online services. How? Some open up virtual chatrooms where the sermon is streamed through a live feed. In these rooms, congregation members can chat with one another about the sermon, give prayer requests, and even be lead by an “online pastor” (a new pastoral position that many churches are now hiring for!).
Even more intriguing are those churches who are renting out space on the popular virtual reality animated program called “Second Life.” Second Life offers people a whole new world of virtual existence. In this animated world, you choose how you want to look, what clothes you want to wear (if any at all), and where you want to live. You can build a home, start a business, or simply a get away with beach-front property. Real money is exchanged as people buy the latest Levi’s for their animated self or purchase an admission ticket for a night club. This truly offers one a second life. The problem is often that this second life becomes a breeding ground for anonymous virtual infidelity (you can use your imagination).
LifeChurch.tv, rated the most technologically innovative church in America, has seized what they believe to be an opportunity. They have purchased land and built a church on Life-Space. While many eyebrows are raised by traditional church goers, LifeChurch believes this to be an opportunity to share the Gospel of Christ in a unique way that is semper reformanda with technology.
Here are some screen shots:
I am all for the church’s utilization of technology to spread the Gospel, build relationships, and engage a fallen world. Just take one look at Reclaiming the Mind Ministries and you will see! I am also all for placing yourself in the most depraved of environments as this is where the Gospel is needed most. But virtual church? Maybe a virtual Gospel presentation, but I have trouble seeing how church can be done virtually.
Here are my questions. They have various levels of seriousness, but even those which are meant to be funny, sometimes have an implied straight face behind them.
1. If Church is about real relationships, can real relationship be created in such an environment?
2. If church involves real accountability, can real accountability be sustained online?
3. Is the webmaster still called the facilities manager?
4. What about giving? Do you pass a virtual plate around with a PayPal button in it?
5. Since virtual churches presuppose that the lesson/sermon is the center of the service, what do other high liturgical traditions such as Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, and Eastern Orthodox do?
6. Catholics: can you hold mass online? Does this take a special order for priests to turn the elements into the body and blood of Christ virtually?
7. Baptists: Do you use virtual hands to account for new converts (”Yes, I see that hand”)? Do people still have to keep their virtual eyes closed when you call for hands?
8. Orthodox: Do you use the arrow up button to experience the gandeur of the virtual building to sense the presence of God?
9. Bible churches: Do you still build lame buildings that look like Walmarts?
10: With regards to baptism, maybe those who sprinkle can get by with an old hair spray bottle connected to the computer where the web cam normally fastens, but what do Baptists do? It would seem that to continue to hold to a theology of immersion would be both expensive and dangerous. What kind of liability insurance would the church have to have to prepare for the unfortunate possibility that the pastor forgets to tell them to unplug their computer before going under?
11. Are there elders? How are they elected?
12. Would the church send us money to go get coffee and donuts or do we have to get them ourselves? I, for one, am not paying for them. What about creamer? That gets expensive.
13. While the adults are in “Big church” where do the kids go? Webkins.com?
14. What does a building campaign look like (on second thought . . . let’s not go there)
15. Charismatics: If you want to allow your people to raise their hands during worship, how do you do this? Create a charismatic plug-in where you click in “raise hands” and a slider pops up to allow you to adjust the height?
16. How do smug people smirk when they believe someone is being super-spiritual in that they are the only one in the congregation who is raising their hands? Add a “smirk” option?
17. Do you ask everyone to move the the center when the sanctuary becomes too crowded?
18. What happens when your husband falls asleep during service? Do you have a virtual bubble that illustrates this with “zzzzz” when the computer has been inactive for too long? Can you slap him? How hard?
19. If you have to go to the bathroom, do you quietly move your virtual character to a virtual bathroom? If not, is this not deceitful?
20. Arminians: Can you still steal a pew Bible? If not, where is freedom of the will? This begs the question: Can there even be an Arminian virtual church?
21. Calvinists: Did God elect the virtual person, the person behind the virtual person, or both. Or could it be that the virtual person’s existence, and therefore election, is dependent upon the person who created him or her? If so, is the virtual person conditionally elect?
22. Theologian: Did Christ have to become a virtual person in order to redeem humanity? If not, what hope does the virtual person have?
23. Michael Patton: What does a “Historic Evangelical” virtual church look like?
For me, in all seriousness, the proposition of doing church virtually raises many questions that I don’t have an answer to, but I am willing to watch, learn, and listen. I do, however, admire Life Church and others who are exploring these areas, even if, in the end, they will not be as fully functional as the name “Virtual Church” implies.