As Internet technology continues to advance, churches are experimenting with taking more and more aspects of church online. The apex of this experimentation is the virtual church, where all aspects of the church happen entirely online and the participants never gather in person.
In the last couple of years, there has been an explosion in the number of online churches. That is raising a critically important question:
“Is a virtual church a real, authentic and valid expression of the church of Jesus Christ?”
This is the question Pastor/Dr. Douglas Estes explores in his book SimChurch (affiliate link).
The question is very controversial and has sparked passionate responses from people on both sides. The first post I ever wrote on the topic way back in 2006 is still the second most commented on post ever on this blog.
In SimChurch, Estes is open about the fact that he’s an advocate of virtual churches. There were a few areas where I found the logic supporting virtual churches to be a bit lacking. For example, Estes argues that churches shouldn’t look to Acts 2 as a model for church because he believes that church was a historical anomaly. But for the most part he does a good job addressing the many of the criticisms that have been raised against virtual churches fairly from a biblical and historical perspective.
The most surprising thing about SimChurch for me was how much attention Estes gives to churches in virtual worlds like Second Life. It was surprising because most of the growth and conversation these days is with real-world churches launching Internet campuses on the conventional web. But there are some great thought provoking, theological questions concerning virtual worlds that Estes addresses such as whether sin, communion, and conversions to Christ in virtual worlds are real.
What I love most about SimChurch, though, is that it takes the conversation about online church to the next level. It gets down to the foundational question, “What is a church?” and then looks at each aspect of what a church is and whether a virtual church can do/be that. It challenged some of my thinking and added to my understanding of the issues confronting virtual churches, and for those reasons I highly recommend the book even though I don’t agree with all of it’s reasoning and conclusions.
In fact, SimChurch has motivated me to take the conversation about online church to the next level. Stay tuned as later today I’ll be announcing a series of blog posts about online church.
So, have you read SimChurch? If so, what do you think of it?
Check out our new poll in the right sidebar. This week we ask…
How important are the issues surrounding online church to the future of the church?