Is Online Community real Community? Questions about the Virtual Church

Lately this question seems to be popping up more and more so I thought I’d post some initial thoughts. For example, while at the Echo Media Conference I have met several ‘Internet Campus Pastors’. Including a church planter who has planted an online (only) church. In a question I used the term ‘virtual church’ and he corrected me saying virtual implies ‘not real’ so therefore it is an online church. As I’ve reflected on the question, I feel like we are asking the wrong question. Let me explain:

The question of whether online community is ‘real’ is one that the entire culture is going to ask. It is in the realm of sociology, philosophy, etc. I believe people do have ‘community’ online. I can meet, get-to-know and develop real relationships with people online. The questions we as Christians should be asking is:

What are we called to be as a Biblical community? And can this be done with technology?

Our question is not just one of whether ‘community’ is happening but of definitions of what life/community looks like for the people of God. One place to examine is the ‘one-anothering’ passages:

John 15:12 – Love one another
Romans 5:13 – Don’t pass judgment on one another
Romans 12:5 – Be members of one another
Romans 12:10 – Honor one another
Romans 12:16 – Live in harmony with one another
Romans 14:19 – Build up one another
Romans 15:5 – Be like-minded toward one another
Romans 15:7 – Accept one another
1 Corinthians 12:25 – Care for one another
Galatians 5:13 – Serve one another in love
Galatians 5:26 – Don’t provoke or envy one another
Galatians 6:2 – Bear one another’s burdens
Ephesians 4:32 – Be kind to one another
Colossians 3:13 – Bear with each other and forgive one another
1 Thessalonians 3:12 – Abound in love toward one another
1 Thessalonians 4:18 – Comfort one another
Titus 3:3 – Don’t hate one another
Hebrews 3:13 – Encourage one another
Hebrews 10:24 – Stir up one another to love and good deeds
James 4:11 – Don’t slander one another
James 5:9 – Don’t bear grudges against one another
James 5:16 – Confess your sins to one another
1 Peter 4:9 – Offer hospitality to one another
1 Peter 5:14 – Greet one another
1 John 1:7 – Fellowship with one another
1 John 3:11 – Love one another
Ephesians 5:21- submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Now maybe you think you can add ‘online’ to each of these so that “Love one another online” seems to fulfill these. But since we are the only community not formed for ourselves but we are gathered as a people for God and others there is no way with the current state of technology that we can go to the depths of this type of one-anothering community. Quite frankly most of churches that do meet throughout the week will struggle with this type of intense call of communal life.

Instead of asking, “Is virtual community real community?” Let’s spend more time considering “What is Biblical community?” Which leads us to consider “How can technology assist the life of a Biblical community?”
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