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Havin' Cyber Church

Is Christian fellowship via the Internet an acceptable alternative to church services?

Q: Do you think Christian fellowship via the Internet is an acceptable alternative to attending church services? Does praying and encouraging each other by e-mail count as participating in the "fellowship of believers"?

—Sherry Pettey, Carthage, Missouri

A: Sherry, the expression "fellowship of believers" describes the vibrant, compassionate, and committed relationships the early church experienced as a direct result of their unity in the Spirit and the time they spent together in worship, prayer, and study (Acts 2:42-47). Later in Hebrews 10:25, the Scriptures urge all of us as the body of Christ: "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess … And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together … but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."

For missionaries overseas, for people who live in remote areas, and for those whose physical limitations keep them homebound the Christian fellowship accessible through the Internet is truly a godsend. It's a wonderful way to stay connected to other believers, and to receive encouragement, prayer, biblical instruction, and godly counsel. Even those of us who have the privilege of being actively involved in a local congregation find we can benefit from Christian websites and online groups.

But Internet church fellowship does have its limitations. Watching a church service on your PC just isn't the same as being there. In His earthly ministry, Jesus often demonstrated how well He understood the power of personal contact—the warmth of the human touch.

E-mail is great for sharing prayer requests and words of exhortation, but it doesn't provide the same opportunities for the hands-on types of ministries facilitated by the local church. Your particular spiritual gifts and talents may be the kind you can't really exercise online.

And let's face it: There's an anonymity to the Internet that can be very appealing—for the wrong reasons. It lets us escape the true intimacy, honesty, transparency, and accountability believers are called to. We can retreat or withdraw from an online community all too easily. No commitment required. "I get my fellowship online" can be an excuse to keep our brothers and sisters in Christ at arm's length—and avoid the spiritual growth we experience as we learn to deal with difficult people and circumstances face-to-face.

Bottom line: By all means, take advantage of the benefits and blessings of Christian fellowship available to you through the World Wide Web. But be careful you don't spend so much time staring at the screen that you miss out on the opportunities for the flesh-and-blood fellowship and Christian service that may be right outside your door.

Christin Ditchfield is the host of the syndicated radio program Take It To Heart, and the author of A Family Guide to Narnia: Biblical Truths in C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia (Crossway) and Take It to Heart: 60 Meditations on God and His Word (Crossway).

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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