As churches look to find ways to reach more people for Christ, online church is often brought up. What online church looks like depends on the church, but in this very digital and online world we live in, looking to use online tools to reach more people in your local community (and the world) is a great option to consider.
One comment commonly heard about online church is that it isn’t “real community.” People who argue this point make it seem as if the only way to have community is through physical, face-to-face interaction. As understandable as this point is, I have found this argument against it to be not very accurate.
Community does happen in online church. In fact, I have found that community can happen in online church just as frequently as if someone was to attend a physical church.
Here is how community can happen in online church:
Chat Rooms During Church Services
When someone first goes to an online service for a church, there is usually a chat room on the site that allows people to make comments, ask questions, or encourage each other if desired. The chat room is usually monitored and led by a chat host. The job of that chat host is to engage people in conversation, get to know them and process life and the message as it is actually happening live. Not everyone who watches online will engage in this chat room, but it has been my experience that 25-30 percent of them do.
Here is where community happens. As a chat host myself, I have found that the people who attend the 9:30 a.m. service usually attend that same service each and every week—just like they might do if they were to go to a physical church. And because they check in at the same service, I have gotten to know people over that time—people I have never actually met in person. However, through our conversations, I have gotten to know them quite well, and vice versa. I would actually say we have a friendship that has developed online. That is how community starts and begins to develop.
Online Life Groups/Bible Studies
While chat rooms are great ways for people to meet others and have conversations, online life groups are another great way for people to build community. Online groups can happen in a variety of formats. There are Google groups or Hangouts, Facebook groups, WhatsApp groups, Zoom (video) groups and YouVersion Bible study groups. You can format these groups any way you want. For instance, you set up a day of the week and time that works best, or you can post daily about a certain topic or study. With online groups, the more posting and engagement happens, the more community is developed.
What is great about online groups is that they are very conducive to busy people with busy schedules. They may want to get involved in a physical life group at someone’s house but because of time, they cannot. With an online group you can keep these busy people involved in community because they can check in regularly with others and learn more about Christ together on their timeline.
Community happens in a variety of settings. We cannot limit ourselves to think that it has to look a certain way. With ever-changing digital and online tools we can now connect people together in ways never thought possible 10 years ago. As technology continues to develop, it will only get easier to connect and build community with others. Online ministry connects people together and creates community. Try something out, and see how God moves.