A Post-Quarantine Assessment: Is the Digital or Internet Church Really the Church?


It has received a lot of attention during the pandemic. It will receive more attention in the post-quarantine era.

Some call it the digital church.

Others call it the internet church.

In either case, it refers to people joining worship services, and even groups, virtually or digitally. They are not physically present.

I am watching this trend closely via hundreds of churches, and I am seeing more and more chatter and a lot more disagreements about the nature of the digital church. Let me share with you some of the major shifts taking place, especially since the pandemic hit.

  • Any church can have digital worship services with technology today. There are many options for churches today, most of them free. Facebook Live is the most common option, and it is free for the churches that use it. Just a few years ago, only the large churches with greater resources could live stream their services. Now any church with an Internet connection can do so.
  • More church leaders are asking if the virtual or internet attendance should be counted. The question they are really asking is: Is a virtual attender the same as a physically present attender?
  • The theological debates about the digital church are increasing. There are some really strong opinions being articulated. And since we Christians tend to love a good theological debate (fight?), I anticipate the discussion will grow more heated.
  • Some churches are reporting a decline in physical attendance as they provide virtual attendance venues. There are church members who are beginning to view attending church virtually as just another option, much like they can choose among multiple worship services where they would be physically present.
  • Churches are reporting mixed results about giving among virtual attenders. Though the information is anecdotal for now, church leaders report some pretty decent offerings among the virtual attenders if they give them the opportunity to give. But they are also reporting a decline in per capita giving when a member shifts from physical attendance to virtual.
  • This issue will be generational to some degree. Millennials and, even more so, Gen Z, see virtual communities as real communities. Some of them can’t understand why churches can’t have vibrant virtual communities in lieu of being physically present.

Though this issue is not new, it seems to be approaching a tipping point in the post-quarantine era. I will continue to keep you updated on developments regarding the virtual church.

In the meantime, let me hear from you. I suspect some of you have a strong opinion or two.

This post originally appeared in January 2018. It has been updated to reflect changes related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Posted on June 28, 2020

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Ivette Diaz Barbosa says on

    I have tried 3 times, but it doesn’t work for me in the sense of belonging. I listened to the sermons, read the Bible studies, gave financially, but there’s not communication, not outreach, no following up etc. Don’t expect more that attendance. That is not pastoring or outreach.

  • hi, I think having a live stream of each mass and important event is a good thing. I believe you should show up to in-person mass if you can, but if you have a family emergency or at high risk for covid, or simply show more interest in Christianity and catholicism then your family and put more effort in then online is a good alternative. I’m a catholic teen, I did 8 years of catholic school while doing public school at the same time, I used to go to mass every Sunday, and pray every night with my family before dinner, unfortunately my family has drifted apart from god, prayers, and mass. But I only seek to get closer to him, I can drive myself to my church and go alone, but I feel uncomfortable going alone as I have social anxiety about certain things, and I’ve been working on it, but as for now, online mass is a good alternative for me. I refuse to receive the body of christ again until I go to confession for not attending mass in years, as well as confessing my sins, so watching online and being in person doesn’t make a big difference for me in my situation. Yes, you’d get a closer experience with god if you were to go in person, but God is with us everywhere and that’s all that matters. Overall, I think it’s perfectly fine to attend online mass’s if you’re more comfortable with that.

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