Online Church Part 8: Can Disciples Be Made Online?

This is a guest post by Gabe Taviano, a.k.a @GodsMac.

An individual’s opinion of online church and normal church make this debate entirely subjective. So many look at the question of whether online church can be authentic as needing a yes or no answer. Hasn’t that always been a problem of the church? Everyone believing that they have to be on the same page, when they could be much less worried about what everyone else is doing and focusing on what God wants for them.

In order to be effective at all, online discipleship requires some of the same things that offline does. Accountability and relationships were modeled by the first disciples in fairly small groups. Can a large online church audience effectively be discipled?

If an individual is connected with a few others, most definitely. And maybe even done more effectively than in person. Given the fact that people tend to be able to spend more frequent with people online than they do offline. Knocking down common barriers like schedule and distance.

But there are a few areas where I see big complications rising up when a church sends a few pastors to focus solely online. How does a church handle spiritual growth when common practices like baptism, communion, service and evangelism arise? From the experience I have through DigitalDisciples.net, the online connection works best when it ignites a desire to grow with others in person. I’ve seen too many online within the video game / chat room / second life arenas that attempt to justify their time doing little for the kingdom.

We definitely have many questions to bring up as the web continues to spread and improve, that’s for sure. From what I’ve seen, the priority always needs to be placed on where and when we can effectively grow the kingdom. Truthfully, I don’t think many online evangelists could tell you that they’re also doing much to reach people offline. We can only “be virtual” for so long, right?

[image by wynnie]

Gabe Taviano, a.k.a @GodsMac is a Christian web designer at Taviano.com + blogger at GabeTaviano.com + podcaster at GodsMac.com + disciple at DigitalDisciples.net + husband to @marlataviano

Gabe Taviano is the proud husband to author and speaker Marla Taviano (MarlaTaviano.com) and father to their three daughters, Olivia, Ava and Nina. God is guiding Him as he is developing the Digital Disciples (DigitalDisciples.net) network, which consist of free monthly meetups for Christians who are tech / creative minded, and listing one of those individuals each day online. He serves as Director of Digital Presence at a Christian radio station, 104.9 the River (1049theRiver.com) in Columbus, Ohio.

15 Responses to “Online Church Part 8: Can Disciples Be Made Online?”

  1. I think many of us Christ-followers can get caught up in the "learning about Jesus" stream and forget that we've actually been called to reflect His life in the 21st century. Discipleship is so much about following the leading of the Spirit. The world might not be so confused about Christ these days if we realized we truly are disciples, and we stopped plugging our ears when the Spirit is trying to lead us.

  2. Thanks for this post.
    Since our website (http://www.disciplingonline.org) deals with discipleship, your comments caught our attention. It is far more difficult to disciple on line for the reasons that Paul gave…becoming like Christ is caught rather than taught. There is something about that personal contact and accountability that can't be replaced by on line. I personally have done some discipleship via online, emails, and phone calls with individuals we had close contact with in our church and then moved away. Even then it has its challenges. I believe we can never get away from the example Jesus gave with His own disciples just as Paul said. That is the ideal! I know the purpose of our website is to provide the materials and understanding for others to do that one on one discipleship with personal contact as well as to encourage them in that process. Thank you for your insights. Perhaps if it ever comes to a time when it is difficult to get with people, the Lord will need to give us the creativity to use technology. We can never limit Him for sure.

    • Sharon, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Proponents of online church would argue that millions of people already have difficulty gathering together physically – those who are sick, have physical disabilities, or living in countries closed to Christianity. Is there no hope of discipling them online?

  3. It is my belief that we were made to be in physical communion with others.

    Physically being in the same room as other people has benefits that I believe were hard-wired into us by our creator.

    When it comes down to it, online connections and relationships can never fully replace offline relationships, they can only compliment them.

    I think that a lot of discipleship can be done effectively online but only as an extension of that which is done offline.

    Great post, Gabe.

    • Hey Peter, thanks for your comment. So, what do you think about those who are unable to physically gather with other believers? Can online churches effectively disciple them?

      • Hi Paul,

        Ah, now I was going to mention them but I didn't want my post to get too long.

        I think that for people in remote locations online churches can definitely be an effective means of discipleship, however, face-to-face meetings, when possible, are still essential.

        There are, of course those who are stuck in their homes for whatever reason but are not in remote locations. Online discipleship can help them but the issue there is why are their brothers and sisters in Christ not going to THEM? Why should they suffer a lack of physical fellowship just because they are unable to go out?

        I think it's easy for us to essentially neglect people by saying "I'll do all my ministry online" when the people next door are desperate for some company!

        • >>why are their brothers and sisters in Christ not going to THEM?

          That's a great question. Some people will argue that in person visits are not necessary because they believe discipleship can be done just as well online as offline. If a person believes that, then you can make the case that online discipleship is more convenient for everyone involved.

          Hmmm, that reminds me… I haven't see my 80+ year old next door neighbor for quite a while.

          • … and there's the nub of the argument.

            I simply believe that we were made in God's image – a God who is three-in-one, a communal being by His very nature. I believe we NEED physical community.

            I think the apostle Paul did too. He wrote letters to teach, exhort, encourage and correct but often talked about visiting. If he could disciple completely by mail, he would never have had to visit!

            So the discussion comes down to: do we as human NEED face-to-face contact or not?

            If we don't need it, then online discipleship alone is perfectly OK. If we DO need it, then Online discipleship can never do the whole job.

  4. Hey Gabe, thanks for the guest post.

    My initial reaction to the question was that discipleship should be one of the easier functions of the church for an online church to accomplish because the web makes it easy to post and link to study material, discuss issues, and even do accountability.

    But then I started thinking… much of becoming like Christ is caught rather than taught. Jesus didn't start a school or a Bible study for his disciples. He lived with them. He went around ministering to people – healing them, loving them, teaching them while his disciples watched, helped, and later asked why he did what he did. That kind of discipleship is tough to do online.

  5. I think the question comes down to one more simple. How many disciples (in an on-line sense) has a particular on-line organization created? Brick and mortar churches can point to missionaries, pastors, seminary students, associate pastors, teachers and the like, to say nothing of rank and file lay people. How do your on-line organization statistics look (and I'm being more general than pointing to ourchurch.com)?

    I realize that this is looking beyond saving / teaching a particular site visitor to having them actually doing something with what they are taught, but isn't that one of the goals of making disciples – that they be well enough versed in the Bible and filled with the Spirit to be able to go out and grow the kingdom?

    If you can't point to people who you have taught who have gone out and started building their own on-line church for God or actively witnessing in non-Christian forums in polite and appropriate ways that end up bringing in new people to be saved (or do the equivalent in the physical world), then regardless of whether or not it is possible to create disciples in a virtual environment, it isn't happening in reality.

    If it is happening, are the virtual church plantings and fruit bearing of new believers occurring at the same rate, a slower rate, or a faster rate than brick and mortar churches. You would think it would be faster because the cost of entry is lower and the easy of access by the world is claimed to be easier. I'm not sure you should count convincing an existing brick and mortar church to develop an on-line presence, but even if you count that – how are you doing?

    For those that have both a brick and mortar and on-line presence, which is doing better at getting people saved and is the on-line presence just an extension of the standard service via video feed or a completely separate entity? Which is doing better at keeping people saved once they've made the decision? How do the return the next Sunday rates of on-line churches exceed, match, or fall short of those who make decisions for Christ in a physical church?

    • PaulSteinbrueck Dec 29, 2009 at 7:49 am

      William, those are great questions. Many online churches are too new to be able to answer them, but I'd love to hear from pastors of online churches that have been around for a couple years or more.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Tweets that mention Online Church Part 8: Can Disciples Be Made Online? « Christian Web Trends Blog by OurChurch.Com -- Topsy.com - Dec 22, 2009

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by OurChurch.Com, Gabe Taviano. Gabe Taviano said: Head over to the @OurChurchDotCom blog today to read my guest post – Can Disciples Be Made Online? http://bit.ly/93cBax [...]

  2. uberVU - social comments - Dec 22, 2009

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by OurChurchDotCom: Guest blog post by @GodsMac -Online Church Part 8: Can Disciples Be Made Online? http://bit.ly/7GL1s7

  3. 10 Things I Learned from the Online Church Blog Series « Christian Web Trends Blog by OurChurch.Com - Dec 30, 2009

    [...] Can Disciples Be Made Online? [...]