The World Wide Web has become prime real estate for budding churches everywhere, according to the USA Today
And a growing number of brick and mortar congregations are creating Internet offshoots that go far beyond streaming weekly services.
Church sites have become fully interactive, with a dedicated Internet pastor, live chat in an online “lobby,” Bible study, one-on-one prayer through IM (instant messaging) and communion.
On one site, viewers can click on a tab during worship to accept Christ as their savior. Flamingo Road Church, based in Cooper City, Fla., twice conducted long-distance baptisms through the Internet.
“The goal is to not let people at home feel like they’re watching what’s happening, but they’re part of it. They’re participating,” Brian Vasil told USA Today. He is Flamingo Road’s Internet pastor. Church sites can be found throughout Twitter and Facebook complete with thumbnails of viewers’ Facebook profiles that appear during worship so people can click on each others’ pages to quickly connect.
The move online is forcing Christians to re-examine their idea of church. It’s a complex discussion involving theology, tradition and cultural expectations of how Christians should worship and relate. Even developers of Internet church sites disagree over how far they should go. The staunchest critics say a true Christian community ultimately requires in-person interaction. They deride the sites as religious fast food or Christianity lite. Pastors who back the sites say they feel a religious duty to harness this new way for reaching the spiritually lost.
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