Can you effectively worship virtually?

Can you effectively worship virtually?

The pastor holds church on Wednesday night, takes prayer requests, visits with the parishioners, and has a cup of coffee with them. During the week, she has appointments with prospects who want to know more about the church and also meets and has prayer with folks who are in need.

Sound familiar? You bet. Wait. The pastor is a 3-D, virtual version of herself, as are her parishioners. It’s new worship via Second Life.

The Saturday 8/29/09 edition of the Atlanta Journal Constitutition asked the question: Can worship be “real” online? The article, which is available in their archives (it was in the hardcopy edition) highlighted a pastor who is taking advantage of new technology to reach more and do more. It’s the next step in an ever-evolving landscape, one which religious institutions must learn to navigate.

1) The online campus: Back in April, I interviewed the Internet Pastor at New Spring Church about their web campus. Since then, a number of churches have launched or are planning to launch similar campuses.

These campuses are traditional in many ways. A message is brought via video and audio during “typical” service times. Someone is on the chat line to answer questions, take prayer requests, minister during the “altar” call, etc. Study material or pastor notes are available. Archived presentations are available for viewing any time. So, similar structure to an “in-person” service, but conducted online.

2) Twurch: Have you considered going to Twurch to Twellowship with your Tweeple? We’ve been following the activity on Sundays on Twitter and find that it’s teeming with pastors, rabbis and other leaders who are engaging people from around the world. Using hashtags, applications like TinyChat, pics and more, people listen, learn and pray together. The fellowship continues throughout the week.

3) Second Life: Maybe the most cutting edge way to have church is via Second Life. This 3-D world provides an added element that some of the other technology may not – an important social and visual connection that goes beyond Tweet Deck or a chatroom at an online service. The AJC noted that “last week a cleric delivered a Ramadan sermon in a virutal mosque.” There’s Temple Beth Israel for the Jewish community and a variety of churches and other faith-based orgs are active.

So, back to the original question: Is virtual worship really worshipping? If we connect on Facebook, interact in a chat room or visit in Second Life to discuss the gospel, is it worship?

Can you come before God with humility, reverence and in service to Him…virtually? Can you praise and adore Him…virtually? Can you share testimonies, preaching and music…virtually?

I’m no theologian and can’t answer those questions from a scholarly point of view, but I can look deep in me, observe others and wonder about the answers.

When I see lives being touched by this type of online outreach, people “going” to church when they were afraid to any other way, and social networks being formed around the gospel of Jesus Christ, I can only answer yes.