Thursday, August 27, 2009

Virtuality again

The discussion continues....

Is virtual (on the Internet) church really church? The issue is troubling a number of people, including Bob Hyatt, who's written in the first blog post of two or more that: The problem, in my mind, with virtual community and internet campuses isn’t that it’s not church... it’s that it is just church enough to be dangerous. Because it has all the easiest and most instantly gratifying parts of community without the harder parts, it ends up misshaping us.

On one hand, there's certainly truth in the fact that face to face stuff with other Christians is an essential part of being in the Body of Christ, but on the other, the fact that people are tuning into some form of church when they might not otherwise attend seems to me a plus rather than a minus.

It all depends on what we think church is. The gathering together of a group of Christians on a Sunday is only part of what Church is, and for many, while it gives them a chance to worship corporately, to hear preaching, to pass the time of day with a few fellow Christians, and maybe get to know a stranger or two, it's a fairly small window in the week. It's what's done outside of that Sunday morning experience that constitutes the rest of church - often the non-Sunday part is the bulk of church for some Christians.

Getting some people to tune into the radio, or TV, or the Internet are all ways of making sure people hear the Word preached. They may also sing along (as the Praise Be series obviously expected people to do) if there's the opportunity. For some people this may be all the church they'll know, and while it may seem fairly low-key to outside viewers, it's vastly superior to no experience of church at all.

If we are to participate in church in the whole sense then obviously we have to do more than attend Sunday services. But I'm not sure that those who just attend Sunday services are really any different to those who attend via the Internet or some older form of media.

Apropos of this, I just came across a blog post by Mark Pierson (who, along with Mike Riddell, is/was one of the pioneers in alternative worship in NZ):

What is there for someone in my situation when I go to church? 30 minutes of sung worship that will pop me out of how I feel and into something “better”? A sermon giving me another 3 things to add to the hundreds I have collected over the last few years in order to better be a follower of Jesus? A stream of people asking me how I am but not waiting long enough for me to tell them? Why do “worship leaders” nearly always expect that a good outcome in worship is to have everyone happy, “up” and talking to those around them? Eric Wilson in his wonderful book, “Against Happiness” suggests that “the predominant form of American happiness breeds blandness.” That may explain why so much worship is so bland.

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