Shane Hipps on "Virtual Community"...Again
Connecting online has value, just not as much as we think.

This conversation got started with a short video of Shane Hipps at the National Pastors Convention discussing whether online community was really community. Scot McKnight posted his response a few days later. Earlier this week, Anne Jackson joined the discussion by asserting that what happens online is "connecting," not "community." Shane Hipps now returns to Out of Ur with his reflections.

Scott et. al, thanks for all your comments and push back. Always appreciated.

Clearly we're playing with semantics here. I don't say that dismissively. Semantics matter - sometimes more than other times. I'll let others judge whether it matters here. It may be that we agree after all.

First, my language in the video was less nuanced than it might have been in written form. That is my tendency in a spontaneous oral interview. I will try to be more precise here.

When I say that "virtual community" is not "community," that does not mean it has no value. As I indicated in the interview, I know that all kinds of deeply meaningful connections and interactions happen online all the time. I have experienced them myself. Some may want to call this "community." Fair enough. I just don't call it "community." That is not intended to dismiss or demean any one's experience online.

I play with semantics in an effort to help us see that "virtual community" and "unmediated community" are not interchangeable. In my opinion, one is actually better than the other. The reason is that "virtual community" occurs primarily on one frequency of the human experience: it is mostly a disembodied, and largely cognitive, connection. And that's wonderful; it's a good thing. It's just not as valuable as unmediated community, which involves the entire range of the human experience - physical, non-verbal, intuitive sense, subtle energies, visual cues, acoustic tones, etc. These are extremely powerful things that should not be quickly dismissed as "nice but not necessary."

Most of us see these ingredients as essential for healthy marriage and parenting. It's the reason no one extols the virtues of online parenting or the value of sex with your spouse in a chat room rather than a bedroom. The same is true of community. For me, community is a sacred and powerful institution, and I prefer to treat it in the same spirit as marriage or parenting.

I guess what I'm saying is that virtual community is like playing the guitar with one string. You can make music; it's just not as interesting or as good as music on a guitar with six strings.

February 27, 2009

Displaying 1–10 of 15 comments

links of london Necklace

October 29, 2009  7:20pm

It was a very nice idea! Just wanna say thank you for the information you have shared. Just continue writing this kind of post. I will be your loyal reader. Thanks again.

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David Powers

March 23, 2009  4:20pm

I agree with you. Just wish I could see your non-verbal cues and hear the inflection in your voice as you state your case. Wish I had the honor of knowing you personally, eating a meal with you, celebrating your kid's birthdays, knowing your dog's name, and understanding something of your background and what brings you to this place in life. In short, I wish I could have some of that unmediated community with you. But alas... I don't know you and you don't know me. But that didn't keep you from communicating effectively, albeit in a virtual realm. Neither should it keep "the church" from doing likewise.

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Ben Wagener

March 19, 2009  8:21am

My two young adults spend most of their time, at least during the week, on line with their friends as THE way to connect.One of them experienced the church in their first 25 years as a significant community, but now stays mostly in touch online with a few friends who find participation in church enriching. So,at our off-site monthly church gatherings for young adults, we use both virtual connections by e-mails through our prayer concerns and celebrations and a face-to-face supper and Bible study in a home to build what I feel is a deeper sense of community.

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March 05, 2009  12:11pm

This conversation on "virtual" vs. "embodied" community calls to mind the "attractional" vs. "missional" church issue. I put forth the same answer: We need both. If my memory serves me right, the internet topped the polls as the primary source of information which the multitude of "game-changer" youth resorted to in deciding who they would vote for in the last US presidential election. I hope Christian leaders would profit by this "inside story" so that the same multitude of youth would vote "YES" to Jesus Christ.

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Marcus Goodyear

March 03, 2009  9:09pm

Phil, I'm sure my spiritual formation is severely lacking. And I'm with you about the community of Christians being the embodiment/body of Christ. Of course, I agree with the sentiment here from Shane and most everyone–online activities should never replace physical communities. On the other hand, I'm helping lead a network of blogs and our slogan is "Real Community. Shared Values." And I stand by that. The relationships that have formed there are real. The community, while limited by the medium, is real.

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Tom Fillinger

March 03, 2009  1:29pm

Online community is similar in many ways to 'gospel blimp evangelism'. The beauty and joy of Christian Theism is that it is by design Incarnational. I believe on e of the single greatest deficiencies of the church in America is the absence of genuine robust "Life in Community" face to face and intimate. Thaks for listening.

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Mark Simpson

March 03, 2009  1:00pm

We are getting so far from the truth that I am finding it hard to believe what I am reading. The Father did not send a book, or a CD, or an article, or a music album, or a recorded sermon: He sent a Person, His Son, and said, "As the Father sent Me, into the world as a person, even so in the same way I am sending you." Paul echoes this: "You know what kind of MEN we proved to be among you." God COMMANDS us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves–not our blog posts or websites or Facebook locations–but ourselves TOGETHER. Church happens with people, together, in His name, where He agrees to come too! When will we get it???

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February 28, 2009  10:27am

Marcus, you raise an interesting question. Is our relationship with God "mostly a disembodied, and largely cognitive, connection?" I would argue that it should not be, and that if it is something has gone terribly wrong in one's spiritual formation. To state but one objection to that formulation, our relationship with God is experienced in the Body of Christ, an unmediated, face-to-face, embodied community. To limit our relationship with God only to the intellectual, or to some felt, spiritual sense, is to rob our relationship of the incarnational fullness God desires.

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Steve Martin

February 27, 2009  6:58pm

Online stuff is great for some things in the faith. But it will NEVER replace the gathering of the faithful to hear the Word out of the mouth of the preacher, or the gather to share in the Supper. Other than that, it's pretty good.

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John L

February 27, 2009  6:16pm

Thanks again, Shane. We disagree a bit, but I appreciate your commitment to exploring the tough questions on how technology impacts community and spirituality.

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