It's Sunday morning at one of today's most innovative and fastest growing churches. Coffee is served. Ambient music fills the room. A screen displays a countdown clock announcing the service will begin in five minutes. People chat in the lobby while others sit in prayerful silence.
The worship leader appears and greets the congregation. A woman turns to her husband and says, "I can't hear. Would you turn it up?" He obliges, clicking his mouse to increase the volume of his laptop speakers. She gives a nod of thanks and settles in to worship.
Welcome to virtual church.
Recently a number of churches have made the leap beyond multi-site and satellite campuses. They have launched internet campuses, making every living room, dorm room, or coffeehouse with wi-fi an extension of the church.
The trend started in 2007 with a handful of churches and has grown to dozens of congregations today. Some are large and highly visible churches, such as North Point Church near Atlanta, while others are small, but the momentum will likely lead to the launch of hundreds of virtual churches in the years ahead.
Online church is not simply a streaming video of a sermon or a podcast. Worship services have scheduled times so that attendees engage simultaneously. Efforts are made to ensure the experience is more interactive and less passive than you might imagine. Brian Vasil, who oversees the internet campus of Flamingo Road Church near Miami, says the aim of their internet campus is identical to that of their physical campuses.
"We want to help people take steps toward Christ. We do not want them to just consume good teaching, but to engage and connect," he says. "Many people hear of internet campus and think that it must be pretty passive—people ...