While researching for this paper I found myself on a particular Church’s internet campus just minutes before an ‘experience’ (as they call it) was about to start. To let go of this opportunity would mean writing about something that I had never experienced myself which, considering I am writing a paper on the topic, would be at least poorly researched, and at most, dishonest. Besides, perhaps participating in internet church would make me a believer.
I entered the website as the service was starting and typed in a username into the chat. Over the next 45 minutes a number of things became evident:
1) It was completely anonymous. There was no indication of who anyone was - their age, gender, location etc - or how many people were even on the site! No list of members, just a board with meaningless names typing to each other. It was so anonymous that changing usernames was instant - which I did at one point. Which means I could have a conversation with myself and no one would even know it was the same person.
2) The people chatting were really not talking about anything substantial, let alone the message or worship. It was undirected, almost meaningless chatter.
3) Although there is an ‘internet pastor’ (I know only because he made a pre-recorded message during a break about child sponsorship), he wasn’t talking, or never made himself known or more likely, wasn’t on at all - and no one seemed to have taken his place the only person who seemed 'different' (their name was in blue) was the one who posted twitters about the message, but that's all he did - he never actually said anything.
4) It had everything a church service has - right down to sermon notes, being able to receive prayer, 'raise a hand' when the pastor asked a question, and even a time to collect the offering.
Just like comparing Cool Whip to whipped cream, it tastes, smells, and looks like church, but it ain't church.