Internet church, online church or cyberchurch refers to a wide variety of ways that a religious group is using the internet to facilitate its religious activities, particularly worship services. The Internet has become a site for religious experience which has raised questions related to theological questions around ecclesiology.
In the beginning of the internet, many ministries began posting informational and sermon-like messages to visitors. Through the years this method of teaching has evolved in the form of video, audio podcasts and blogs.
Many of today's internet churches are descendants of brick-and-mortar churches, offering members an alternative to the traditional physical meetings within a church building. Some, such as the Church of Fools, offer church experiences through entirely 3D virtual reality environments.
Recent statistics have shown an increasing exodus of young people from churches, especially after they leave home and live on their own. In a 2007 study, Lifeway Research determined that 70% of young Protestant adults between 18–22 stop attending church regularly.
Internet churches now exist all around the world; however, they are still criticized for their lack on “human connection”.
Internet church is a gathering of religious believers facilitated through the use of online video stream, audio stream and/or written messages whose primary purpose is to allow the meeting of a church body of parishioners using the internet.
It includes different aspects of Christian community online, especially by those who view this phenomenon as a subset of emerging church, the developing expressions of the faith in relation to culture change. A cyberchurch is a ministry that exists primarily as a private website, an interactive space on a public website or social networking site.
An internet church describes an institution that teaches and practices its religious beliefs entirely or primarily through online methods. Though there are hundreds of internet churches available online, the term "internet church" is generally reserved for churches that have a majority of its members meet, connect or congregate by way or use of the internet; where religious services are conducted through Internet technology. The internet churches differ/contrasts from the traditional church through the physical media that links pastors, teachers and believers. Many churches in the United States have their own internet church campus, and many of them have members numbering in the hundreds.
Members keep in contact with pastors and ministers and collaborate with other believers through web communication tools provided. In some cases members communicate by phone with ministers.
As Internet usage continues to thrive, Christians are using websites, blogs, social networking sites, media services, chatrooms, discussion boards, and other electronic means to provide social connection, education, and enrichment of their faith.
The word cyberchurch was used by web-developer Tim Bednar's paper "We Know More Than Our Pastors" which detailed the blogging movement's influence on the experience of faith. Religious pollster and author George Barna used the term in his book Revolution to describe "the range of spiritual experiences delivered through the Internet". Barna sees Cyberchurch as one of the future "macro-expressions" (large scale forms) of church in the future; one that will soon account for one-third of American spirituality, together with other "revolutionary" forms of church.
Social networking sites
Christians, like many Internet users, are increasingly using social networking sites like Facebook. These sites incorporate much of the technology of blogging but forge more concrete connections between users, allowing them to "message" each other within the system, connect officially as "friends", rate and rank each other, etc. These connections may or may not materialize in the real world, but many people now consider on-line relationships a significant part of their lives, increasing the potential influence of a Christian presence in these environments. Criticism of Christian use of these sites has grown, however, due to prevalence of questionable content and issues of safety. As a result, several Christian alternatives for social networking have been developed. On the other hand, some advocate a missional stance, using social networking sites and networking components of other Internet mediums like blogging, chat, and instant messaging to proselytize new converts and spread the Gospel.
There has been some speculation and experimentation with the idea of starting churches within such "virtual environments". LifeChurch.tv is at the forefront of developing a platform to support the Online "Church Online" Campus offering their platform to other churches. For instance, a quick google search will reveal their platform is being utilized at East Lake Church in Chula Vista, CA The Ridge Community Church in Milwaukee, WI and Seacoast Church in Charleston, South Carolina. True, LifeChurch does not limit themselves and has also used other platforms to plant a cyberchurch within the Facebook community using an "Internet Campus" technology. Likewise, churches are beginning to appear in the Second Life virtual world where people can attend as avatars and worship together. Many of these churches retain elements that can be found in traditional churchgoing, such as sermons. However, they also attempt to adapt to the unique social norms of digital media; users attending these churches are often referred to by their online usernames and there are sometimes chat sessions before, after, and even during services.
Podcasting, streaming audio and video, media downloads, and self-broadcasting websites have made it possible to share the sights and sounds of belief. While religious recordings of different types have certainly existed before, it is the Internet's ability to make these files public for millions of users that has led to the growth and influence of this component of cyberchurch. Now there are millions of audio sermons, conference and seminar recordings, home videos, documentaries, faith-themed films and more accessible on the World Wide Web.
Tech-savvy bloggers can use multimedia to create audioblogs and videoblogs that present experiences, opinions, dialogs, stories, and teachings, creating a more live feel to the blogging experience. Many prominent thinkers, authors, and leaders have blogs that present a podcast or streaming audio of speeches, lectures, or sermons. Video sharing sites like YouTube and Google Video allow anyone with a web camera to post video alongside professional religious movie producers and make it available to millions of users. This allows believers to share ideas about faith in new and creative ways. Most of these sites allow people to embed video hosted remotely onto their blog or website, powering video-based communication across the Internet. Christian-specific sites have also recently sprung up to provide faith-based video sharing services.
- Cyberchurch by Patrick Dixon (Kingsway Publications, 1997, ISBN 0-85476-711-8)
- "The internet church" by Walter P. Wilson (Word Publications, 2000) ISBN 0-8499-1639-9
- "Exploring religious community online: we are one in the network" by Heidi Campbell (Peter Lang Publications, 2005) ISBN 0-8204-7105-4
- The Blogging Church by Brian Bailey and Terry Storch (Jossey Bass, 2007) ISBN 978-0-7879-8487-8
- The Wired Church 2.0 by Len Wilson (Abingdon Press, 2008) ISBN 978-0-687-64899-3
- Church of Facebook: How the Hyperconnected Are Redefining Community by Jesse Rice (David C. Cook, 2009) ISBN 1-4347-6534-2
- SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World by Douglas Estes (Author) Zondervan, 2009) ISBN 0-310-28784-7
- Under The Radar: Learning From Risk Taking Churches by Bill Easum and Bill Tenny-Brittian (Authors) Abingdon Press, 2005) ISBN 0-687-49373-0, a book citing Alpha Church for sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion on the internet, p. 33.
- "Brandon Buckner,  Redeeming The Internet" Collide Magazine (Accessed April 1, 2011)
- Hutchings, Tim (December 2007). "Creating Church Online: A Case-Study Approach to Religious Experience". Studies in World Christianity. 13 (3): 243–260. doi:10.3366/swc.2007.13.3.243. ISSN 1354-9901.
- Nils Smith, "Faith groups should embrace — not fear — social media" San Antonio Express (Accessed August 16, 2010)
- "OMGod: The World's first online church". 3 News. August 5, 2010. Retrieved October 5, 2011.
- BRETT MCCRACKEN, "The Perils of 'Wannabe Cool' Christianity" Wall Street Journal (Accessed August 13, 2010)
- Gordon MacDonald "Who Stole My Church?: What to Do When the Church You Love Tries to Enter the 21st Century" (Thomas Nelson Inc, 2008, ISBN 0-7852-2601-X, 9780785226017)
- Jonathan Wynne-Jones, "Church minister to tweet Holy Communion to the faithful" Telegraph (Accessed August 16, 2010)
- Tim Bednar, "We Know More Than Our Pastors: Why Bloggers Are the Vanguard of the Participatory Church" PDF (Accessed September 5, 2007)
- George Barna, "Revolution" (Tyndale House, 2005, ISBN 1-4143-1016-1 )
- John Kuhn, "Should Myspace be Yourspace?" Breakaway http://www.breakawaymag.com (Accessed September 5, 2007)
- see Ditty Talk, Your Christian Space, Xianz, MyPraize, Faith Freaks, Christ Union
- Andrew Careaga, "Embracing the cyberchurch" Next-Wave http://www.next-wave.org (Accessed September 5, 2007); Kevin D. Hendricks, "How Your Church Can Use MySpace" Church Marketing Sucks http://www.churchmarketingsucks.com (Accessed September 5, 2007); and Rev. Arne H. Fjeldstad, D. Min, "Communicating the Gospel on the Internet" Communicating Christ on the Internet http://www.geocities.com/ResearchTriangle/1541/ (Accessed September 5, 2007)
- Bobby Gruenewald, "Facebook Church" Swerve http://swerve.lifechurch.tv (Accessed September 5, 2007)
- Theodore Wright, "CyberChurch in Second Life" Dokimos.org http://www.dokimos.org (Accessed September 5, 2007)
- Tim Hutchings. (2011) "Contemporary Religious Community And The Online Church." Information, Communication & Society. 1118-1135.
- Andrew Jones, "Linking to Cyberchurch" Relevant Magazine (Accessed September 5, 2007)
- Cyberchurch, a 1997 book by the well-known Futurist Patrick Dixon, explored ways in which churches and individual believers were embracing web-based technologies, and correctly anticipated rapid developments over the following decade, including widespread use of video and community forums, especially by larger traditional churches who have developed global influence as a result.