Is Virtual Community Real Community?

While most followers of Jesus who have been on the journey of faith for many years grasp  both the theological and pragmatic need for community, newcomers to the faith may be unfamiliar with the concept given the increasingly individualistic society in which we live.  Many local congregations would benefit from a renewed focus on Christian community.  One helpful example of restoring an intentional emphasis is Our Savior’s Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Circle Pines, Minnesota.  Under the leadership of the Rev. Stephen Sylvester, they developed an identity statement that begins “Created for relationship with God, all people everywhere and creation itself . . .”

While there is relatively little argument that community is valued, there is significant disagreement of what constitutes community.  As people spend increasing amounts of time in the virtual world, more Christians are asking the important question of what role virtual community can and should play.

Consider these options:

  1. Virtual community lacks one or more elements necessary to be labeled  ”true/real community.”
  2. Virtual community plays a supplemental role.  For more on this view read my post about Lenora Rand’s “The Church on Facebook, Why We Need Virtual Community.”
  3. Virtual community is another form of community and is equally as real as face-to-face community.  For more on this view, read my review of Douglas Estes’ Sim Church: Being the Church in the Virtual World.

So What?

It is likely that this topic is already being discussed in your local congregation.  The option chosen by the decision making leadership team will influence many ministry decisions, including budgeting and staffing.  The issue is important enough that it warrants considerable attention and should be revisited on a regular basis by church leaders.

  • How many hours a week do you spend communicating with or interacting with people virtually (all methodologies aside from face-to-face)?  How significantly has that number increased over the last several years?
  • Which of the three options best describes your view?  Do you think your view would differ if you spent markedly more or markedly less time engaged in virtual interaction? Why or why not?
  • Consider this conclusion by Abilene Christian University professor Richard Beck in relation to the current topic: “Why are Millennials leaving the church? It’s simple. Mobile social computing has replaced the main draw of the traditional church: Social connection and affiliation.” (Click here for his most recent assessment.)  How does your view of the role of virtual community shape how you believe your local congregation should reach out to these young adults?

Trackbacks

  1. [...] While we must recognize that virtual presence and community are not the same as in person presence and face-to-face community, we must also be careful not to label either as an exclusive way of being church nor to uphold either as a timeless ideal.  Toward that end, I outlined the three options Christians have for answering the question Is Virtual Community Real Community? [...]

  2. [...] primarily face-to-face to virtually, consider my recent posts New Ways of Being Church and Is Virtual Community Real Community? May 24th, 2011 | Tags: facebook, Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife, Lisa Miller, [...]

  3. [...] Is Virtual Community Real Community? – a consideration of the three possible answers [...]

  4. […] Since United Methodists practice open communion, all present at worship are invited to partake.  The group calling for the moratorium was divided on whether or not congregants must be in the same physical place to partake in Communion.  Put differently, it appears some are suggesting that virtual presence is in some way less than physical presence (a few of my thoughts). […]

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