Online Church = Spiritual Fast Food

Yesterday I blogged that online church is like online sex, a cheap substitute for the real thing.

I want to make it clear that I don’t think online church is completely worthless or always bad.  Advocates of 100% online churches make a good point that online church is better than nothing.  If some people who won’t step foot in a church hear the gospel through an online service, that’s a good thing.  If someone who is in an isolated area or can’t get out of the house for health reasons, or has to work Sunday mornings is able to worship and hear the word of God, that’s a good thing too.

But I don’t think it’s ideal.  I don’t think it’s a long-term healthy situation.

So let me try another analogy.

Online church is like fast food

1) It lacks essential nutrients. Burgers and fries lack a lot of important vitamins and minerals you can only get through fresh fruits and vegetables.  Similarly online church lacks a lot of important spiritual nourishment you can only get in healthy community with other people.

2) It’s processed. Fast food is processed with chemicals and preservatives.  Similarly online church is produced.  There’s little room for natural, organic moves of the Holy Spirit.

3) You get it your way. With fast food, you always get your meal the way you want it.  Same is true for online church.  It feeds the consumerism mentality prevalent in our culture that says I’m in it as long as it meets my needs.  Healthy churches have mutual commitment where people participate out of love for each other rather than one they get out of it.

4) Little effort is required. If you want fast food, you just go through the closest drive through.  They do everything for you.  If you want online church, it’s the same deal.  There’s little effort required, just show up and consume your spiritual meal.  Healthy church involves not just feeding yourself, but feeding (serving) others.

Fast food is not all bad

If you haven’t eaten for days, getting your hands on a Big Mac and McFries is a good thing.  It will prevent you from starving.  It will save your life.  Similarly, if a person is spiritually starving online church can be a lifesaver.  Many people have come to trust in Jesus as their savior because of God’s work through online churches.

If you are physically unable to prepare a meal, a bucket of KFC can provide you with nourishment.  Similarly, if you are physically unable to be a part of a local church community, an online church can carry you through with spiritual nourishment

In fact, it’s probably OK to have tacos or fried chicken or some other fast food 2 or 3 times a week your entire life, as long you’re getting healthier foods at other times. Similarly, there’s bad about online church as a part of a healthy diet that also includes community and serving in other settings.

But you wouldn’t advocate a diet consisting exclusively of fast food for the rest of a person’s life, would you?

Likewise I don’t think it’s healthy for anyone if their spiritual diet consists exclusively of online church.

Agree?   Disagree?

I would especially like to hear from those of you lead or participate in a church that is entirely online or if your church has an “Internet campus.”  Do you view getting people connected in your online church as the ultimate goal?  Or do you view it as an interim step with the eventual goal of getting people connected in a physical community of believers?

[images by mrbling, wandering-yxy, lifeontheedge]

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.

5 Responses to “Online Church = Spiritual Fast Food”

  1. I think this is a much better comparison! I really like online church, as last year I had to spend a year in Europe (sounds like punishment, doesn’t it) and I had a hard time finding a church that I connected with. My church then started online church and I really had a great time staying in touch with my own church back home.
    So online church is a great alternative. It also provides some fun little things that real church doesn’t…
    Globalisation: you are chatting live with a bunch of people about God from all different continents…
    Questions: The last few years have proven that people are far more open to ask hard questions when the speaker is not live in front of them! Some of us are more bold when it’s online and will ask questions of others and/or the speaker that we would not ask in person (it’s the age old mask thing) I would probably not make this comment if it weren’t for being online!
    Dress Code: I LOVED being at church in my PJ’s, slurping a coffee and dancing through the house to the worship being played! I would never do that at my church and honestly, people thank me for that! :)

    Online church is fantastic, but we need real people in our life! We need real friends who see us, who can speak into our life and that will point out to us that we should not apply to America’s got talent!
    But every now and then, just like fast food, online church is so fun and fantastic!

    I strongly suggest to someone who ONLY does online church, to try and get a group of friends together that are committed Christians that would do life with them. Not everything has to happen inside a church building….

    OK, I’ll stop now! Great blog tho! thanks! :)

  2. i think you need to cite some reasons why it is a “good” thing.

    also, all metaphors and analogies fail at some point… not sure if the fast food one is the best.

  3. John, I did cite 2 good things. Online church can present the gospel to someone who wouldn’t go into a church building and it can provide spiritual nourishment to those who are physically unable to gather with a community of believers. What are some other positives you see in online church?

    When NPOnline launches is getting people involved in NPOnline the goal or will you be trying to get people involved in NPOnline connected in churches offline?

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