from the Introduction to eMinistry: Connecting with the Net
Generation, by Andrew Careaga. Click
here to buy the book.
Out of the
mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength.
Turkle’s book, The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit,
a twelve-year-old named David explains his views about the future of
are computers who are just as smart as people, the computers
will do a lot of the jobs, but there will still be things for
the people to do. They will run the restaurants, taste the food,
and they will be the ones who will love each other, have
families and love each other. I guess they’ll still be the
ones who will go to church.
In the decade
and a half since David’s observation, the state of computer
technology has advanced far beyond anything imagined in the
mid-1980s. Today, a new kind of church is emerging for people to
attend. The global hive of interconnected computers known as the
Internet is the "Roman Road" network of our day,
connecting the body of Christ in ways never before possible. In
scores of Internet chat rooms, people and computers now
"go to church" together. It is not the kind of church to
which most of us are accustomed. Nevertheless, people -- and perhaps
computers? -- are experiencing worship within these Internet
And young people, especially teenagers, are often leading these
online congregations -- with the assistance of their computer
software programs, of course.
the Virtual Bible
One evening, I
discovered a few of the faithful cyber-congregants gathered in a
chat room called #ChristianTeens. No one in this virtual
sanctuary was preaching a sermon or singing praises to God. Instead,
what they were doing resembled a cyberspace version of a Bible
drill, with "f|owrpowr" and "Drake" quizzing a
regular named "JesusFrk" on his knowledge of Scripture.
is no typical Bible student. On my screen, JesusFrk appeared as
simply one of seven ASCII nicknames listed down the right-hand side
of the "window"; that connects me to this virtual room.
Other than the @ symbol appearing before the nickname, indicating
JesusFrk’s status as a channel administrator or operator
("op"), JesusFrk looked no different than any
member of the chat room.
f|owrpowr and Drake, however, JesusFrk is not the textual
representation of a human being. JesusFrk is a computer program. He
(or rather it) is a virtual robot, or "Bible bot,"
an automated software program that spews Bible verses -- in either
the King James or the New International versions, depending on the
preference -- onto chatters’ computer screens on command, as
$niv matthew 14:3
Matthew 14:3 Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put
him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife (niv)
impressed, Drake took JesusFrk out for a spin, tossing this Bible
bot a few random chapter-verse citations.
$niv acts 13:12
Acts 13:12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he
believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord (niv)
these are just random ...
that is so cool
$kjv proverbs 3:22
[Proverbs 3:22] So shall they be life unto thy soul, and grace
to thy neck.
f|owrpowr are members of a new generation of young Christians -- the
Internet Generation -- who are exploring and expressing their faith
in this strange new world of cyberspace. JesusFrk is the resident
Bible bot for #ChristianTeens, one of dozens of Christian
chat channels that exist in the virtual venue of Internet Relay Chat
(IRC). For Drake, f|owrpowr, and other members of the Net
Generation, the Bible bot is as integral a part of the faith
experience as hymnals and pews were to an earlier generation of
As access to
the Internet continues to increase, more people -- young and old
alike and both Christian and non-Christian -- are logging on to the
Net in their quest for meaning. Chat networks such as the Undernet
and Dalnet allow people from
all over the world to do that with ease. In this virtual world, they
visit, debate, discuss issues, engage in Christian fellowship, and
even hold Bible studies. If the room happens to have a Bible bot
(and many Christian chat rooms now come equipped with them), Bible
study becomes quite convenient. The bot acts as the lector for the
group, looking up and presenting Scriptures on command. With a
JesusFrk in the house, chatters can hold a Bible study without a
Bible. Just feed the bot Scripture references, and it will provide
the words from a virtual Word.
Changing the Church
of such online automatons raises many questions in light of David’s
assertion that humans will “still be the ones who will go to
church.” Of course, no one who attends a Sunday morning church
service or a Saturday evening mass will find an android behind the
pulpit, the preacher’s monotonous delivery notwithstanding. Star
Wars-style droids are not likely to be preaching in any church
house or house church anytime soon. Nevertheless, with the advent of
and all of its trappings -- Bible bots, hypertext online Scriptures,
streaming video and audio of worship, and thousands of Christians
assembling together in these virtual rooms -- the church is being
pressed to rethink, and perhaps expand, its definition of itself.
wired world, defining church as merely a regular gathering of
“church members” in a “church building” no longer suffices.
Even before the Internet became embedded in our culture, the church
had been defined more broadly. In
sense, the church is the company of all believers. It is the global
church, unbound by geography or time. The Christian idea of
fellowship includes the local church, but it extends beyond the
local congregation to encompass believers everywhere.
advent of cyberspace, this notion of a global church remained an
abstraction for many of us. Even today, with the online population
approaching 50 percent in the United States and Canada, few
Christians recognize the Internet’s potential as a medium that
could broaden Christian outreach to those who might never darken a
church door, foster dialogue among people of diverse faiths and
denominations, and help church leaders develop a sense of unity
diverse faith. Cloistered in our own denominations or local
congregations, some of us do not see beyond the four walls of our
own local fellowship, except for the occasional missionary visit and
with which we’re more comfortable is that of the church as a
purely physical presence -- a bricks-and-mortar, pews-and-pulpit
church structure. That’s the tactile church, the one we
experience in our physical lives, the one we can touch. That’s the
church with which we’re familiar: a pragmatic, experienced idea of
the church as a “local” sacred assembly or congregation, a
gathering of believers who join together to worship God. This
physical church is an ekklesia (the Greek word for “assembly,”
from which our notion of church as a congregation originated).
development of online communities of Christians, however, has made
the once-abstract notion of the universal church more real, more
current, more intimate. The realm of cyberspace has the potential to
link the local church with the global church in new and exciting
ways. An online church is both global and local. It is a common
gathering place that transcends the boundaries of time and
cyberspace, believers routinely assemble but in a way that is
foreign to our traditional idea of church. On the Internet, the
church no longer requires a physical gathering. It is an ekklesia
that encompasses the globe, a church without stained-glass windows.
The online church, in the words of one
observer, is a
“congregation of the disembodied.”
Church. Where’s the Steeple?
channels such as #ChristianTeens be considered a true church?
Do those who assemble there constitute a true ekklesia? Such
places have no physical structure, yet they have become “places”
in which Christians assemble.
meet online to pray, discuss their faith, seek spiritual guidance,
and study the Bible. In the language of the Internet, chat channels
such as #ChristianTeens are “rooms.” Some such rooms are
even modeled after the
church of the “real” world. To the people who meet there, the
chat rooms do have a sense of place. If a chat channel is
church, it is computer-mediated church; the computer serves as the
middleman. But does the fact that the adolescents who congregate on #ChristianTeens
do so over a computer network make their experience any less
legitimate than if they were to gather in a church building, in a
home, or on a street corner?
people, this strange new world of the Internet is as real as this
text you are now reading. Cyberspace is rapidly becoming as
transforming a force in our culture as television has been over the
past half century. Teens are among the pioneers of online life. In
the United States, 70 percent of all teens surf the Net, making them
the most wired demographic group in the world.
“life on the screen,” to borrow Sherry Turkle’s term, is
influencing the spiritual lives of our children in ways that we
adults might find surprising. Consider the following examples.
An otherwise unchurched six-year-old startled his teacher (me)
one Sunday morning with his response to the reading of a
Scripture passage so familiar to churchgoers: For God so
loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son, that
whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have
everlasting life. “That’s John verse three sixteen,”
the boy blurted out. (It wasn’t exact chapter and verse, but
it was a lot closer than some of the generally churched kids
could have gotten.) “How did you know that?” I asked. “Because
that’s what it says on my mom’s screen-saver!” he replied.
Some 150 kids in Southampton, England, log on to Southampton’s
Community Church Web site http://sublime.hants.org.uk
for virtual church. Although they are all members of the same
local church, the kids are spread out in twenty different cell
groups throughout the city, and the Web site offers them a
meeting place they might not otherwise have.
Since July 1999, teens have been logging on to a Web site called
the Internet Youth Group http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Prairie/5083/
to download Bible studies and devotionals and discuss issues
with other teens via the
A three-year-old ended her bedtime recital of the Lord’s
Prayer with “and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us
some e-mail. Amen.”
preceding examples are just a few of the ways that the Internet is
influencing the generation that is growing up with it. We are
bombarded daily with other examples, mostly in the form of
sensational media reports, that portray this new medium as
something that is inherently evil and destructive to
soul. Any form of technology undoubtedly influences behavior, and
the Internet does pose dangers to our society. But the
Internet is no more an implement of evil than is a hammer. Both
objects are tools that can be used for either good or evil
purposes. A Habitat for Humanity group uses hammers to build
homes for the needy, while vandals use them to smash car
In both cases, the person, not the tool, is responsible
for how the
tool is used.
computers and the Internet ultimately contribute positively to our
faith and culture? I am hopeful, but only time will tell. The Net
is a young medium; whether it ends up becoming a positive
influence or a detriment to our spiritual lives remains to be
seen. What is certain, however, is that the Christian faith will
not be left untouched by the Internet. In fact, this technology is
Christianity in ways that few people in the traditional church
would have imagined. Along with the rest of the Internet, the
Christian presence in cyberspace has expanded tremendously over
the past decade. Whereas in the mid-1990s, when the Web was just
beginning to flourish, Net-surfers could find only a few hundred
Christian resources on the World Wide Web, today we are awash--some
people would say flooded with--online information about
our faith. The Net houses tens of thousands of Christian Web pages
and thousands of Christian-oriented chat rooms, newsgroups,
forums, and other online “communities.” These online projects
offer a wide range of services, from free electronic mail to music
and movie reviews to investment advice.
of cyberspace are pouring out a deluge of digital information. No
matter what your interest is, chances are great that you’ll find
a resource related to it on the Internet.
the Online World
heavy interest in the Internet by ordinary Christians in the
United States and elsewhere (the creators of one online survey
estimate that more than one-third of Web users are Christians),
church leaders must recognize how ingrained
this technology is becoming in the lives of their congregants and
welcome the cyberchurch into the fold. The Internet is here to
stay. So, too, are thousands of seekers who feel alienated from
the traditional church and are turning elsewhere to find
relevance, meaning, and spiritual connections.
church does not begin to encompass the online world in its
ministry, it risks losing even more of its eroding influence in
society. Although, as George Barna writes, “Americans today are
more devoted to seeking spiritual enlightenment than at any
previous time during the twentieth century,” the church’s
influence in people’s lives is at an all-time low. The church is
because of its message but because “a growing majority of people
have dismissed the Christian faith as weak, outdated, and
irrelevant.” Author and pastor James Emery White concurs with
Barna, noting, “People are very interested in spiritual
things, are asking spiritual questions, and are on spiritual
quests as seekers, yet they have no interest in the church.”
concurring is futurist Tom Sine. In Mustard Seed Versus McWorld,
Sine notes that “everyone from George Gallup to Time
magazine has documented a growing hunger for spirituality
throughout the Western world,” yet he laments that the church
seems oblivious to this hunger and the many other challenges
globalization, hastened by the Internet, is wreaking in our world.
“We are living in a world changing at blinding speed,” he
writes, “yet in our homes, churches, and Christian colleges we
unconsciously prepare our young to live and serve God in the world
in which we grew up instead of in the world of the third
millennium. Don’t we have a responsibility to prepare our young
to live in tomorrow’s
world, the wired world of instantaneous global communication, is
dawning -- on the Internet. The Internet poses tremendous
challenges to the church, but it presents tremendous opportunity
Log on for
these online seekers for God and to draw the cyberchurch into the
fold, the traditional church must do the following three things.
enter the world of these cyber-seekers. We must learn about them
and from them to understand how they respond to the workings of
this new medium.
strive to understand the medium itself and its place and
influence in our culture.
consider how we as the church should respond to the Net’s
growing influence in society.
expect nor desire for the church to allow the Net to supplant more
traditional methods and tools for ministry, nor do I advocate that
young people abandon traditional church, Sunday school, or youth
group relationships in favor of a
totally virtual spiritual experience. But because we Christians
are called to relate to the world in which we live, we must
understand the culture and society of our times and do all that we
can to influence them for Christ. As the Net becomes more
influential in the lives of young people and as more children
access the online world from both school and home, we Christians
must be prepared to deal with the challenges that cyberspace
presents. We must become salt and light in cyberspace.
My hope is
that the church will seize the power of the Net to supplement
flesh-and-blood ministries. Another of my hopes is that those of
us in the church who work with children, adolescents, and young
adults -- whether “officially” as Children’s
ministers, youth ministers, or church pastors or unofficially as
volunteers -- to more fully understand the effects of the online
world on those whom God has entrusted to our care. And I hope that
we respond with unconditional love, which never goes out of
hope is that we follow in cyberspace, as in all of the world, the
example of Jesus Himself, who said, “Let the children come to
me, and don’t try to stop them!” (Matt. 19:14, Contemporary
information about Andrew Careaga’s new book,
eMininstry: Connecting with the Net Generation, visit the book’s
companion website at http://eministryonline.com
Note: For a great example of how one church is impacting and
being impacted by the internet check out Vineyard
Central's (Cincinnatti) web site.