How might we define Church? Perhaps as a building, a gathered Christian community, a discipleship movement? What though would it look like if Church was online, would we attribute the same value or worth, if it existed in cyber-space?
Where do you gather as a Christian community? A small group sitting together in someone's living room, maybe something outdoors, perhaps meeting in a cafe, or a church building. Community created in these places is tried and tested.
But there is change afoot, with the explosion in social media in the last few years, more and more people are finding, creating and enjoying meaningful community online. For example, if Facebook was a country it would be the biggest on earth, a whopping 1.44 billion plus people are currently subscribed to its community. Facebook dwarfs all other social media platforms, like WhatsApp on 9 million, and Twitter 320 million to name two.
When considering online Christian community some people think that somehow online community is not as meaningful as face-to-face. Somehow church online is seen as something less!
Many don't agree with that argument. Yet there are many more people who go online to find answers to spiritual questions rather than the church; and for whom church community doesn't fit with work or family commitments.
Those that hold a negative view of online church may find their stance stems from a fear of what it might mean for the church in the future. The world is changing and has changed and we would do well to keep up with it rather than take a reactionary stance. We step into whatever the world is offering and seek to make community in that place. After all is that not what Jesus did!
The internet is the next earthly frontier to be explored, it is wild and untamed, various nations debate over how to police the Internet. However the Internet in some ways it is like a living thing, and Facebook amongst many other platforms has managed to harness and form community in that place.
Facebook as already mentioned is vast and global, and you who are reading this, will be given the option to share on Facebook and may well be yourself on Facebook. It is in this place we seek to form Christian community that is vibrant and meaningful.
As part of the team for d-church we have been developing an online christian community for a number of years now. Together as Christian leaders, once a month, we sought to bring together meaningful content, images videos and text on a particular theme. One of the beauties of using Facebook as a platform for community building, is that the mechanics for social interaction are already well established and well known. Generally everyone knows how to comment, share, tag, like, set up a group or page and if they don't its very easy to find out.
For d-church we chose a page, for particular reasons and flexibility. The d-church monthly event takes place online. The team all ring each other on a conference call using Skype, and each of us have responsibility for different social media platforms, including WordPress, Twitter, Google plus and of course Facebook.
The content is preselected and put together in a document, the content of which is shared appropriately across the various platforms. Most people who interact with the monthly event use Facebook. I know personally of a number of people who join in with d-church as their only Christian interaction and many others for whom it is part of their spiritual diet for the week and month. This community offers several things, a safe place online, no one is judged here, people are accepted for who they are and what they bring. The only expectations are, that participants treat others well. We are told that the doors of our churches are often a barrier to outsiders coming in and we are encouraged to go outside of our churches. D-church on social media is very accessible to those who just want to take a quick look, and we hope they will gently be drawn into the friendly community they find.
We live in a post christendom world, a world that is instant and in the moment, and d-church and others who are engaging with social media are creating, forming spaces where people can interact with faith issues. Not that it might replace Church but broaden its horizon to encompass all of humanity as it seeks meaning, value and peace with itself. Of course our hope is that what they come to find is a God who knows and loves them.