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Contemporary Religious Community and the Online Church

TitleContemporary Religious Community and the Online Church
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsHutchings, T
JournalInformation, Communication & Society
KeywordsChristianity, Cyberchurch

‘Online churches' are Internet-based Christian communities, seeking to pursue worship, discussion, friendship, support, proselytism and other key religious practices through computer-mediated communication. This article introduces findings of a four-year ethnographic study of five very different ‘online churches’, focusing on the fluid, multi-layered relationship between online and offline activity developed by Christian users of blogs, forums, chatrooms, video streams and virtual worlds. Following a review of online church research and a summary of methods, this article offers an overview of each of the five groups and identifies clear parallels with earlier television ministries and recent church-planting movements. A new model of online and offline activity is proposed, focused on two pairs of concepts, familiarity/difference and isolation/integration, represented as the endpoints of two axes. These axes frame a landscape of digital practice, negotiated with great care and subtlety by online churchgoers. These negotiations are interpreted in light of wider social changes, particularly the shift from bounded community towards ‘networked individualism’.