Online Church = Online Sex

The debate over online church has been going on for years now.  In fact, I first blogged about it more than 3 years ago.  But as more and more churches launch Internet campuses, the debate continues to grow.  A few days ago John Piper shared his thoughts on the issue.

God made us with bodies. He made us to give holy kisses to one another—embraces, handshakes, eyeball-to-eyeball conversation. He made husband and wife not to have imaginary video sex through Skype. He made them to go to bed together in the same bed. He made them to raise children in the same house, with hands-on hugs and spanks on the bottom and love. And he made churches to get together to hear each other sing, and to look at each other and talk to teach other, and minister to each other and help each other die well.

In other words, Piper is saying church is to online church as sex is to online sex.

alone-onlineReal sex is intimate, physical, relational, interactive, and much more.  On the other hand, online sex is essentially an attempt to find fulfillment in isolation through a superficial show.  In some ways on the outside online sex may look like sex, but it has none of the attributes of genuine sexual intimacy.

Likewise church is intimate, physical, relational, and interactive.  On the other hand, online church is essentially an attempt to find spiritual fulfillment in isolation by watching a service.  In some ways on the outside online church may look like church, but it has none of the attributes of genuine Christian community.

Equal opportunity offender

If you’re the pastor of a church with an online campus or an advocate of online church and your offended by what I’ve said so far, let me be fair and offend everyone else for a moment.

The biggest problem with online church also the biggest problem with offline church.  That problem is that is that the primary focus is on the worship service.  This may shock some of you, but…

Church is not a worship service

Somehow many people have come to equate church with the Sunday worship service.  But the truth is the Sunday service is only a small part of a church.

Church is a community of believers

Scripture tells us that among other things a church, aka community of believers…

  • Develops genuine friendships
  • Shares their money and possession with each other
  • Eats together
  • Shares communion together
  • Prays together
  • Serves one another
  • Serves those outside the church

If your only involvement in your church is showing up for a worship service once a week, I don’t care if it’s online or offline, you are not being the church as God intended it.

Some of the things listed above that God intended for people to do together as a part of a church can be done by online, however many cannot.  And those that can are often, like online sex, a hollow imitation of the real thing.

Virtual relationships

Thousands of American military men and women have been serving for extended periods of time in Iraq over the last several years.  For many of them their only contact with their spouse for a year or more has been through phone calls.  Occasionally, I’ve seen TV shows where they’ve facilitated a video link between a husband and wife.  You can see from the emotion in their faces that it means a great deal for them to talk to each other and to see each other.

Do you think given the choice between a video call and an in person visit any of them would opt for the video call?

Of course not.

Do you think if they continued to be physically separated year after year with only occasional voice and video chats their relationship would continue to develop into everything their hearts long for?

Of course not.

Its obvious to everyone a video call is a hollow imitation of a physical visit.

So, isn’t online church also a hollow imitation of a physical gathering of believers?

That’s not to say that there isn’t any redeeming value in online church. It may be effective for outreach or a temporary connection for those unable to do church in person.  But that’s for a future article.

[images by therefore, abcharliee, newbirth]

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, elder of CypressMeadows.org, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as +Paul Steinbrueck.

27 Responses to “Online Church = Online Sex”

  1. Mark Steinbrueck Jul 8, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    I think that this makes some good points. I do, however, think that online churches can reach those who would never step foot inside a church building. The key for both online churches as well as more conventional churches is not only to teach Gods Word, but to get those attending the services to become the hands and feet of Christ, not just audience members. I look forward to hearing from those who either lead or participate in online churches for their input.

  2. There are churches the Supplement their vital community churches with web activities and then there are ‘Web churches” that focus on a web only or mainly group. I would not call these churches but more like an on line group, and those group can be beneficial to people, but I would not call them a church.

    The problem is accountability Who are these on line “churches” accountable to?
    Are they constantly asking for money ? Are they preying on the lonely and elderly or shut in? Flashy web churches and charismatic brick and mortar churches can both exploit the spiritually lost and needy but on line churches have a layer of anonymity that makes it possible for much abuse.

    On line churches can deliver information to church membership and assist in the good works of a church… Those of us in rural areas can do on line meetings and work sessions, especially in the winter when travel is difficult and dangerous.

    On line churches can also deliver spiritual poison with little or no accountability for the , at times, tragic consequences of poor ministerial counseling.

    Rev. Alexander familyservicesNH.com

  3. We can get extreme about many things, but I think the important part of having a website that shares Jesus is where your heart is when you have one. We have had prayer requests and shared in praise reports as a result of those prayers with brothers and sisters all over the world that we would have never met let alone prayed with in a building. Our website is an outreach to many people that would never even think of going to church in a building. Back in the mid nineties we had a church exclusively online called The Keys To The Kingdom. We met in a chatroom on aol every Saturday evening at 8:00pm. It was an awesome experience because people from all over our country came. There were words of songs typed up in the chat room, the pastor of the church would type up a sermon (of course we would pray) then have fellowship afterword. There were homebound people that would attend and more importantly lost people would pop in and several of us led many to Jesus via an instant message! We sent out weekly devotionals, prayer requests and praise reports! Many gave their hearts to Jesus, many were healed, set free from drugs, alcohol! If the Holy Spirit is actively moving in a ministry how can man say it is wrong. So you asked for a reply and received a book!

  4. Jack, thanks for the comment. I appreciate the first hand account of your online church. Sounds like God was at work.

    Just to be clear, I think there is great value in using the Internet to help connect people with an offline church and great value in using the Internet to enhance communication and relationships among those who are in an offline church together. That’s the whole reason OurChurch.Com exists. My concern is for churches that exist exclusively online, where the people never meet in person.

    I’m curious… how long did the online church last? Are you still in fellowship with any of the other participants? Do you know how any of them are doing spiritually today?

    • That church (Keys To The Kingdom) lasted from 1996 – 2003, Yes I am close to several that were involved. I am located in Cleveland Tennessee and one person in particular is from New Yorkwas a drug addict and an alcoholic and Jesus used me to lead her to Him in the beginning of 1996. Today she is still walking with Jesus and we are dear friends. After the Keys to the Kingdom. We were blessed to come together with funds for non perishable items that we would mail to people in need. Jesus led me into a jail ministry. I created a website (thru the guidance of the Holy Spirit) and posted prayer requests. Many of those people from Keys to the Kingdom began ministering to the inmates via letters and such. Actually I had the opportunity to meet several of them and there was a gathering in Indiana where many met each other. It was a blessing and a good experience that had enhanced the growth in my relationship with Jesus.

      • P.S. In the existence of Keys To The Kingdom, never once did we ask for money, though people used their money to purchase food items and mailed them to those in need

  5. Mark, good point. I look forward to hearing more from those who lead or participate exclusively in online churches as well.

  6. shame you lumped all online churches together, there is a difference between viewing an online message and a ONLINE CHURCH. I am the Pastor of a “ONLINE CHURCH” We have Bible Study and Sunday Services in live chat rooms, where we type it all, we have a interactive forum, what a shame to be compared to online sex…
    The people at COCSF have commented several times on the FACT of how close we are to each other, far more “connected” than those in the disfunctional, hypocritical churches you find now. I belong to a church of over 500 people, when my hubby recently had surgery, you know who sent cards, flowers and well wishes, it wasnt the big church we attend, it was the online family we love and cherish…now what does that tell you.
    Have you ever considered, what are the people to do that cant get out? Is the church gonna come pick them up in their wheel chair, oh yea maybe a few times then after that its a burden and it stops, what a bout the person to sick to go out the house? What about my sister that is bed ridden battling cancer? Are there pastors that are gonna come to her home and talk to her, share the word with her, oh they do a few times and then when she didnt spring back right away (its been a 18 mo battle) they slowly disappeared. I have stuck to that woman like glue…
    Personally you need to re think what you wrote, you obviously are mis/un-informed and frankly have hurt my feelings. I have never been compared to online sex and that offends me…
    I am praying the Lord will change your heart and that you will investigate before you write a bunch of untruths again.
    FYI it is the policy of the ONLINE CHURCH I minister at, we no where on the web, forum, or chat ask for a dime, EVER…this ministry is run 100% by me, my funds, I live on SSI and I pay the cost of the website and all the free materials we give away each month, oh yes, each month we send out CD’s and Books and RBC booklets and Gospel of John free of charge no strings attached and dont want there money…

  7. Wow, I haven’t really thought about a totally on-line church before, but having said that, there was a period of my life when it was particularly difficult for me to get to my home church (about 14 years ago) and I actually ended up going to a small church just up the road. I was brought up with parents who said that it did not matter which church you went to, just so long as it was Christ-centered and Bible-based, so at least there was some growth!

    I’ve read all the comments and I agree with them all:- Yes, I strongly agree that God intended the church to function as a “physical” body and I can testify to the fact that the growth and maturity in my life would NOT have come about without being rooted/serving within a “physical” body.
    Having said that, I also understand that there are those who are unable to reach a “physical” church and that God is big enough to do it on-line, as we’ve heard testified to. BUT, having also said that, I also believe that “the church” seriously needs to “pull its socks up” and not centre on being a “worship service” and amass numbers but RATHER function to its capacity in all areas of serving – including to those that are unable to leave their homes for whatever reason, including the widows, as we are clearly instructed in the Bible.

    I recently heard of a church in the USA (someone might be able to identify it!), where they apparently are a home-based church, apparently meeting in their homes in small groups (thus serving one another, up close and personal, and knowing of each others needs). I understood that they had no large premises, but meet once very few months (don’t know of precise period) and hire a large place and have a massive outreach/combined worship/healing service. Personally, my heart and spirit leapt when I heard this, because as having been brought up in a Christian home and becoming a believer at a young age and now in my 40’s, I have already seen too much of God’s finances going to run a large church premises, when it appears to me from His Word that God’s heartbeat is that He wants us “out there,” being the “Good Samaritan,” meeting the “woman at the well” and meeting His lost children right where they are at and financially being able to do so!

    Recently for our own church body, we actually went through a bit of a division over this very factor – whereby there was a group that was wanting to continue along the “contemporary” DNA style of church and the rest of us who had been so stirred in these last 18 months of God’s heartbeat wanted a fully functioning, people-serving, Christ-centred, Bible-teaching based body.

    I think it is like all things, if His people and church does not function in the way He intends it to do, the Holy Spirit WILL make a way – if it means that it’s through technology, then its through technology! Having also said that, I believe that as “shepherds,” we are responsible and accountable for our flocks, no matter whether they are on-line or off-line. Jeremiah 23 vs 1-4 states a very clear warning to ALL shepherds and I think not sufficient shepherds read this passage in fear of our Lord and daily form it into a prayer in their own lives!!!

    If the flock is on-line, I believe it is the responsibility of that shepherd who is guiding that flock to ensure that somehow, some way each person does become plugged into a healthy physical body! I know that even though our website is only a “baby” compared to many of yours out there, but I believe that it is our responsibility to ensure that any one that contacts us for prayer etc is either already connected or encourage them to be connected, or take it even further – to make the effort to locate a healthy “physical” body for them. If they cannot attend, then ensure that the relevant local leadership understands that and do what they can to get them “plugged in”.

    For many years, my husband and I have had a saying, “It all starts in the home!” This stemmed out of our marriage becoming broken, whilst we were fully serving within the church, divorced and restored – to God be all the glory! But we had heavily laid on our hearts that the only way we could maintain and protect our relationship was to ensure that “…every comes out of the home.” I think that is the reason why my heart leapt when I heard of that church body which was totally home-based and met corporately regularly, but not every week – that way if someone can’t attend, let them have church in their home!

    Apologies this has ended up longer than expected!!

    Yours in Christ
    Liz
    - The Watenes
    http://www.twiceuponalifetime.com

  8. We are living in China and we are not allowed to start a Church.Yes we are meeting before and have Bible reading and sharing and offering also.I thank God that my sending Church have online streaming they broadcast their services live online now we are joining them.We rather have the service together with them than me preaching in whisper voice we collect our offering and we are also supporting Missions out side China.I know that this is not a forever thing but while it is still closed I think this is the best option.We hear bombastic , energetic and encouraging sermons.One time i did the closing prayer for the service for the Church thousand miles away from us.
    Let us not limit our self of what we can do for the Lord high technology or what ever.Satan is more advance…

    Ace

  9. How would the woman who had blood issue and touch Jesus be ever saved if there is no touch. From another point of view, the centurion who has so much faith that just want to listen to Jesus commandment and it shall be done. No touch at all and in modern days, the voice can be through multimedia.

    I wonder how washing of feet can be done through internet.
    For me, it is not possible to be done by internet

  10. Pastor Jackson, thanks for your comment. I’m glad you are finding value in your online church, but I wonder if you’re still not settling for less than God intended for you.

    It’s sad that no one in your offline church cared enough to support you and your husband after his surgery, and I’m glad your online church sent cards and flowers, but wouldn’t you have appreciated it even more if people had visited with you in the hospital, prayed with you hand in hand, and given you big hugs?

    Call me an idealist, but yes, I do think when a church is truly being the church as God intended, they go get people who are in wheel chairs and visit those who are too sick for that. I think you believe that’s how church should be too, otherwise it wouldn’t bother you so much when they fall short.

    I think what you’re doing is good and beneficial, but you’re only able to go so far because of the limits of the medium. Don’t you just long to sit around a table with the people in your online church?

  11. Liz, thanks for your comment. I love your heart for connecting people in small, home-based churches.

  12. Ace – Wow, I can’t tell you how excited I am to have someone in China joining this conversation! My kids are learning about Christians being persecuted around the world. Each day we pray for Christians in a different country and yesterday we prayed for China. My kids will be thrilled to read your comment.

    I share your appreciation for churches that put their teachings and other materials online for others to use. What’s great is that you are not doing this on your own, but you are meeting face-to-face with other believers for prayer, worship, and Bible study. You are serving and encouraging one another.

    Blessings to you and the fellow believers in your community. Stay strong in the Lord!

  13. Thanks for the prayers.Maybe i’m out of track because what we actually see is the online service going on my sending church.Do mean that online church is that the Pastor is Preaching in front of a computer while his members???????? are listening watching in there respective houses 5 meters 2-3 miles away?? What a lazy members?

    Ace

  14. Ace, what I referring to by “online church” is churches that videocast their services over the Internet to people who never meet in person with any other believers. The pastor could be preaching in a church building to a congregation of people or just to a camera. The people could be 1 mile or 10,000 miles away.

  15. This article criticising online church is somewhat contradictory since it is relying on an online audience. Real Church, as a Roman Catholic, is also about praying for people you do not necessarily see personally, like prisoners of conscience or persecuted Christians in Pakistan or China. Through prayer, through Holy Communion and through a sense of God, whether at home or at Church or in a prayer group, you are uniting yourself in spirit with people you are not physically present with. Of course, this extends to praying for the dead and praying with the saints.

    God bless.

  16. Francis, I wasn’t saying churches shouldn’t be online at all. I was saying I believe churches that are entirely online, where participants never have any physical contact with one another at all, lack essential elements of what God intended a church to be.

  17. WOW! This has been awesome to read. The benefits of broadcasting services online just as they are on television are unmeasureable. But this MUST be at the Holy Spirits direction, because all the finances are his, and must be used with wisdom. The internet is just another way for the Good News to reach the lost and hurting. Ace I have been to China 7 times to bring the Good News and let me say this, the faith that my brothers, sisters there have is so awesome. Each of you are an example that every American shoudld follow. In the mist of all your persecution we have never been asked to pray for it to end but rather that your faith would prevail and that our Father would continue to meet all of our needs. I’m sorry to say that to many christians here pray for the hard times to stop, instead of growing stronger and going further with Jesus through it. We have a Bro. in prison now just for printing bibles. May God continue to provide ways for all the people to hear his word no matter where they are. Now this may bother some it may sound trivial to others but its is not trivial to God. I say this because I can from God. The term online church, offline church etc is not biblical. Some have already said it but I will take it a little further. There is no such thing! The CHURCH is God’s people plainly stated and this is the only church. There are many congregations of believers, places of worship etc. Let us remember what the word of God says, we must guard our tongue for in it is the power of life and death. To label a building as the church is derogatory. And my brothers and sisters are correct in saying that the church is to be LIVING so that others will see Jesus in us and then desire Him. The buildings, or even the internet is only a place, method to be encouraged, strenghtened, to again go out and be the CHURCH. We are to be the manifestation of Jesus to those that don’t know him and those that will not step into a building. Let us be the living, breathing, touching, talking, hugging, caring, supporting, teaching, comforting, listening body Jesus wants us to be, THE CHURCH. If you ever hear someone say to you that they want to go to church say here it is. Our family in China and other closed nations have the closest thing on earth to the real church. They do not need a building or even AC, they just gather together and give it all to God. I love each of you and hope you have heard my heart as I have heard yours.

  18. First off, want to say “Hi” to all you great folk!
    David Nason, I want to applaud you for your definition of “Church…” it is God’s people and, the buildings and the Internet are indeed ways to enable us to reach people with the Gospel and to encourage, support and strengthen each other.
    I’m reading Floyd McClung’s book “You see bones, I see an army” about doing simple Church and I do think we have been so fixated on Church being a building that we have lost the real essence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to spread the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
    Whilst it’s true that he was writing to a Church, look at how Paul did Church. He had the first prison ministry – from the inside out!
    David, I pray for your brother in Prison and I ENVY your simple Church structure!
    Blessings,

    Trish

  19. i have only just come across this article. I am a member of a physical church, but also the member of an online church. Both offer a number of things, at the physical church we meet, we worship, we pray, we eat together, we form friendships, we care for each other, we bring others to a knowledge of christ, we undertake mission and most importantly we follow the spirits direction. In the online church, we meet in the chatroom, we worship, we pray, we share bible study, we eat, we share our days as they are happening, we bring the message of the cross to others and some believe and are saved through the grace of God, and most importantly follow the spirits direction. We also meet in person either as individuals, or as groups, we hold mission events and are even intending a mission trip to romania. Both of these have a role to play and I agree that solely online church is isolating, our pastor encourages all members to attend a physical church to receive the fellowship that only comes from physical presence. We have shared communion online (it is possible), we have seen people saved through this medium.. God has provided the multi media platform of the internet and he expects His people to use it to good effect – to find new ways of interacting with people and bringing them to a knowledge of him. i personally believe that online church can truly provide many of the essences of the early church that have been lost in our concept of church as a building – it can bring us back to basics. you mention in your article that the community of believers
    Develops genuine friendships
    Shares their money and possession with each other
    Eats together
    Shares communion together
    Prays together
    Serves one another
    Serves those outside the church

    all of these are undertaken by the online church i attend – therefore they are church and although different – not wrong.

    God has given us tomorrow and all the technological advancements that it has – it is our duty to grasp that tomorrow and make it our today – bringing the kingdom of God into the here and now

  20. Yesterday, while I was at work, my sister stole my apple ipad and tested to see if it can survive a twenty five foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My iPad is now destroyed and she has 83 views. I know this is totally off topic but I had to share it with someone!

  21. Thanks for highlighting this event, Nick. I made an appointment as a result of your post. Now, I was curious as to which travelling tailor (that visits Ottawa) promises the most bang-for-the-buck. Perhaps you or your readers can enlighten me?

    • PaulSteinbrueck Aug 2, 2013 at 9:01 am

      Thanks for reading the post. In the future, please post your comments with your name rather than targeted keywords, so I know your comment is genuine and not simply a link building campaign.

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