A myth is growing in some circles of the blogosphere that online church is not good, not healthy, and not biblical. If we read carefully the criticisms levied against internet campuses, they boil down to some very common and tired themes: Internet campuses and online churches are not true churches because they don't look like and feel like churches are expected to look like and feel like (in the West, anyway). Arguments against virtual church follow the idea that if it doesn't look like church, feel like church, swim like church, or quack like church, it's not a church. This may be a useful test for ducks, but churches are far more complex animals.
This myth is causing even open-minded people to have doubts about whether a church online can be ‘real.' Let's lay aside for a moment that nowhere in the Bible does it preclude online church, in any way. Let's lay aside the fact that church history almost nowhere would lead someone to conclude that a virtual church is not valid (the lesson of church history is that new formats for church always go through a period where they are attacked as invalid). Let's lay aside the troubling truth of the testimonies of meaningful community that are coming out of online churches. Let's lay aside the problem that most (all I've read) of the blogposts criticizing virtual churches are based on cultural factors, pop psychology, materialistic misreadings of a few New Testament verses, or worse, citations of famous pastors who have doubts.
An even greater concern is the proliferation of a related myth: The myth of the "virtual" church. As a result several of the churches who have launched virtual campuses are telling their pastors and people, "Don't use the word ‘virtual,' because people think it means fake." For the record, virtual doesn't mean fake, it means synthetic. In the long run, it doesn't matter whether church culture embraces or discards the word virtual, but we need to be accurate in our representation. Virtual churches are not fake churches; they are real churches that use synthetic space as a meeting place (or a synthetic medium as a means of building community). The ‘virtual' part of the term—which identifies where they meet—has nothing to do with the question of their realness or validity.
Now watch the sleight-of-hand foisted on an unsuspecting audience. We hear and read the myth that the reason why virtual churches are not real is because they don't have real community. Really? All this time I thought that church—and real, biblical community—had nothing to do with where a church meets. Isn't church supposed to be about people in communion with God rather than the building? Does it really matter where the church meets? Does it really matter whether a church meets in a bar (‘pub') in Portland, in a fancy stained-glass cathedral in Cambridge, under a banana tree in a jungle in Arusha, or in a synthetic space created on the internet? Can someone tell me why the cathedral (or the bar) has a privileged position for ‘real' community over the internet (or the banana tree)? Since when does the location of a church determine the quality of its community? Is the enlightened church in America really still stuck on buildings? To me, this is enough to doom the myth but there is even something more problematic.
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