I guess I was not surprised by this but a recent article in the Reformed Church in America bulletin insert called “Today” told about a church in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, that has begun a mid-week service for worship on Facebook. Yes, I am serious. You can check it out at www.facebook.com and then search for First Reformed Cyber Church and you will find it. I spent some time there to get a feel for what the church is really doing online.
Pastor Dianna Smith says “Worship at First Reformed Cyber Church is a very Reformed liturgical process.” She says this is just a new format that is being used to connect with younger people. Smith posts Scripture passages, music and videos, as well as litanies, all ahead of time. When the service begins she then guides those who take part from link to link. She will direct participants to read the Scripture text on their own and then, when they are finished, to respond with an “Amen” or by clicking “Like.” By this she knows when to proceed. Sermons are abbreviated and thus usually a sentence or two. (I am not making this up!)
Smith says the part of this that is most meaningful is “the joys and concerns” people share with each other. She adds, “They will post their joy and I will respond to it, and others respond to it.” People go back and forth encouraging and supporting one another. She adds, “The church is so excited about it, to see the young people that are a part of it, belonging to this way of worshiping.” She initially estimated 10-15 teens would participate but this has exceeded the teens of First Reformed and now draws 300 to 400 hits a week. She adds, “I’ve already had a family join the church that are members of Cyber Church only.” She employs many contemporary idioms and says this is really about “powerful worship.”
I have so many questions that I am not even sure where to begin. The first might surprise you but it is the whole issue of technology and ideology, something I have written about over on my ACT 3 Weekly articles; cf. www.act3online.com. While I obviously believe we can use technology in a number of very good ways I have serious doubts about building a worship community in cyberspace. And people actually join Cyber Church? In the flesh and blood world of the New Testament this gets as close to gnosticism as we can go while still having the words of orthodoxy in their form. Has the medium, in this case, become the message? It sure seems so to me.
I also wonder how the church does communion and baptism? Do you serve wine and bread to yourself and do you baptize yourself? I am not hung up on the clergy question here at all. I believe in the real priesthood of all believers! I am hung up on the question of physicality. I just do not know how you do church without real people in bodily form gathered together in some actual place. I understand that we can share and pray and serve one another by using Facebook. But can we do all that church is meant to be online?
What questions do you have? I am serious in asking this so I hope some will respond. If you want to defend this new type of church then please tell why. If you see problems tell why. Is this likely to “catch on” in other places? Will we see more of this happen in coming years? Is this a good thing? Why or why not?