5 Online Trends for the Future of Faith

Thank you for those who attended my Internet Strategy: What does the gospel have to do with Social Media? at CWC/09. In this session we discussed several of the trends that we need to think through with Christian distinction. I appreciated your participation, thanks Tim Challies, Cynthia Ware, Dave Bourgeois, Kevin Ring, Rhett Smith, Paul Watson, DJ Chuang amongst others for your participation!

Here are five trends that as pastors, leaders and Christians you should be aware of and determine how you will speak about these:

onlinebaptism1. Doing the Sacraments Online: Churches will begin to offer communion and baptism over the Internet. This will be done where individuals at home can dunk themselves into a bath tub (see picture) or while watching a screen joining with others to take communion (as suggested by this Cyber-Church website or this one on Receiving Online Internet Holy Communion) “In order to celebrat (sic) the Lord’s Supper you will need some wine or grape juice, and bread or some sort of cracker. If you cannot procure these, using whatever your staple foods are – such as rice and fruit juice, or even simply water, should be fine.” Here you can watch Flamingo Road Church do it’s first Internet baptism.

2. The Rapid Growth of the Internet Church: More people will opt out of showing up to church ‘physically’ and decide to attend online. At the Echo Church Media conference I called this virtual Church but was corrected by an Internet Campus pastor who said ‘virtual’ implied not real so I should call it Internet church. As people blur their sense of presence (with things like mobile apps that constantly tether you to distant places) the idea of having to be somewhere in person for it to be ‘real’ will be lost in a digital generation. Already there are fully packed online services for churches to launch their own Internet campus.

3. Rise of Online Participatory Biblical Hermeneutics: youversion With the rise of Wiki, social media and an increasingly participatory value the Bible will be read more through a communal lens. This will lead to a greater democratization of the interpretation of Scripture as an authoritative process. Often technological advances (such as YouVersion) cannot predict the consequences of these advancements. Further, there will be a deterioration of Biblical memorization and study because people with persistent technological access will be able to ‘Google the answer’ rather than feeling a need to do the hard work of ongoing study of God’s Word.

4. Gospel Inoculation through Online Evangelism Spam: Several leading ministries will become enamored with the ‘conversion successes’ of numbers. Quantity over quality will be too attractive and the message of Jesus will be so watered down that it could end up with a ‘click here’ if you want to go to heaven and not hell. The masses will be exposed to just enough (and particular bent) of Christianity to determine it’s not for them.

beammap5. Increased Persecution of Christians for their Beliefs: For those of us who live in California and experienced the voting and subsequent recourse of Proposition 8 we have only seen just the beginning. Supporters of Prop 8 were identified through their donations and boycotted, persecuted and some even had their life threatened. In the future data centers will be able to scrape the Internet to find any comments or positions you hold, match this to your business, cell phone or other identifiable postings to target you for your beliefs. If you come out in a post for or against something others disagree with, you could find your business added to mobile apps where people will be able to see your stance and boycott your business or restaurant. Your neighbors would be informed and told about your intolerance and bigotry to isolate you from the community and ostracize you for your personal beliefs because they are not in line with the agenda of these activist groups. The future of persecution will be immediate and the loss of anonymity on cultural sensitive topics will scare many to no longer stand-up for their beliefs.

  • stephy

    September 14, 2009, 11:53 am

    This all scares me very much.

  • Tim Challies

    September 14, 2009, 12:18 pm


    Thanks for your session last week; it was a great opportunity to think over these things.

    As I said the other day…if you’re doing the sacraments online, you’re not doing the sacraments at all. Eating bread and drinking wine isn’t always Lord’s Supper and getting wet isn’t always baptism…

  • D. Goodmanson

    September 14, 2009, 12:33 pm

    Tim, I think we tend to hold similar positions on several of the above points but I know many would disagree with our positions and don’t have a problem with virtualization of church practices.

  • Mark Treas

    September 14, 2009, 1:41 pm

    Your section on persecution through progressive means is intense. Persecution through commerce is a crazy concept to me, but is totally logical. Wow.

  • Tim Herd

    September 14, 2009, 1:52 pm

    Wow… I hadn’t heard about the virtual baptisms, but I guess it was just the next logical step. Virtual friends, virtual community, virtual churches… This is will be an interesting age we’re walking into with a whole new set of challenges!

  • Dan Mastrapa

    September 14, 2009, 2:04 pm

    Thank you for sharing these insights. In our zeal to embrace technological advancements we don’t always do the necessary due diligence to look at the long term implications of said techno utilization. Though internet church is here to stay, we must increasingly find ways to draw people into “real” community and not further isolation from it.

  • sdesocio

    September 14, 2009, 6:40 pm

    This sounds like your manifesto…but whats the response?

  • Thomas Carter

    September 15, 2009, 2:59 am

    Please lead us where you need us, reJoice in Jesus.

    In HIs grip…

  • D. Goodmanson

    September 15, 2009, 10:08 am

    I saw a few others re-post these. Just to make it clear, I’m reporting these trends, I’m not endorsing them.

  • Jon

    September 15, 2009, 11:34 am

    If I’m going to participate in virtual baptism and virtual communion with my virtual community do I actually need to use real water or real bread and wine?

    Since I’m only a part of the virtual (not real) body of Christ, the symbols of his real body and real death burial and resurrection become virtually irrelevant!

    Can’t I just click a button to say that I’m virtually baptized and virtually eat and drink? Or maybe it only counts if my second life avatar virtually does it for me. Once we eliminate real community from things virtually anything becomes acceptable!

  • Mark Brooks

    September 15, 2009, 12:05 pm

    Dude, Save this and read it in 10 years. I remember telling Mike Huckabee once with regards to using television that just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be done. I can order pizza online but I still pick up the telephone to dial it in. I do fear that your last point might well become a reality sooner rather than later.

  • Force of 12

    September 16, 2009, 3:01 pm

    Theese trends are quite unsettling to me. I mean the whole idea of connecting seems to be lost if we go to virtual everything! I do not understand how many feel that you can replace physical church with the human / spiritual connection that happens when more than one gather. I started my site to get outside the walls and be the church but definitely never try to replace it.

  • Dave Hackett

    September 17, 2009, 1:07 pm

    Drew, thanks for helping us get into the thick of the points that need to be talked about. It’s not so easy a conclusion as we might think – and it’s very good to be prompting reflection on these matters now rather than later.


  • Paul D. Watson

    September 17, 2009, 3:22 pm

    Hi Drew,

    I enjoyed your session. I think it’s good for us to wrestle with these things. Thanks to your links to the posts I wrote as I wrestled with them. I have a lot of posts in the works that are the fruit of the Christian Web Conference.

    Hope you see you again soon.


  • D. Goodmanson

    September 18, 2009, 12:09 pm

    Another helpful discussion from Mere Orthodoxy: http://mereorthodoxy.com/?p=1967 Thought his clarifying posts on what is the ‘online church’ is helpful for the conversation as well:

    Additionally, there is the problem of identifying what we mean by ‘church online.’ There are, I think, four schools of thought: (1) some advocates argue that church online is meant strictly to enhance and extend traditional, bodily church experience and mission. In unique cases, like invalids or those travelling, it may function as a replacement for normal fellowship. Broadly, the internet is a meeting place where the Church can engage the world and so extend itself ‘online.’ (2) The second slot on the spectrum belongs to those who think the online experience of corporate worship is and can be normative, and that the goal of such online communities is to encourage and culminate in offline interaction, either on a regular basis or occasionally. Here “church online” seems to mean the corporate gathering of small communities in diverse geographical regions, and is in some cases a temporary arrangement. Communion in this case often remains a physical and social act that occurs in small group gatherings. (3) Third, some argue that both corporate worship and weekly fellowship exist online—with the hope, but not the requirement, of meeting locally, and with the caveat that baptism and communion will be done bodily, but not necessarily while gathered in the same physical location. (4) There are a few extreme advocates of online church who argue that the offline interaction is never going to be necessary, and that communion and baptism can both occur in some disembodied, virtual form.

  • David Zook

    September 24, 2009, 12:48 pm

    Number 5 is the most far-reaching of the five. Technology can be used for good and bad.

  • Vince

    September 28, 2009, 3:12 pm

    #3 encourages me. I think it will help the Church to move from being consumed by studying to living out the story of the Gospel.

    #5 is also encouraging because maybe we will see the social bomb throwers that have the money and the platform finally lose their voice.

  • Josh

    March 21, 2010, 12:52 pm

    Hey Everyone,

    Let’s not try to get to scared about this. Change comes and goes. What was once “crazy revolution” becomes normal after a while.

    In the book of Acts, the followers of Christ waited in the upper room for the Holy Spirit to fall. This was a departure from doing your spiritual business at a synagogue.

    If you consider that Christianity was illegal the first few hundred years, the early church most likely met in people’s homes. That would mean that the model of meeting in a central location once a week was a departure from the norm.

    Heck, we practice the “Sabbath” on Sundays, the Jews always did it on Saturdays. Yet another departure.

    God is bigger than any change in format. He moves and intervenes in things when there appears to be no way to do so.