Hjalti á Lava was searching his iPhone for a Bible app when he stumbled across Church Online, a service of Web site LifeChurch.tv. Soon he was regularly logging into the Oklahoma-based cyber-church -- some 4,100 miles away from á Lava's home in the Faroe Islands, west of Norway.
"It allows me to connect with others and have conversations about the message," says á Lava, who shares his faith with other believers in the site's live chat room. "Technology allows us today to have fellowship across borders and cultures."
In doing so, á Lava joined growing numbers of Christians worldwide who are migrating from the chapel to the computer. A map on the Church Online site showed users from 22 countries logged into a recent service.
Online religious services offer convenience to those who are too isolated or infirm to attend a real-world church. But can worshipping via a computer offer true spiritual fulfillment?
Internet pastors and parishioners cite their 24-hour access to interactive tools and social-networking platforms to show their online experiences are as meaningful as those that take place with face-to-face congregations.
Even this seemed in step with modern evangelicalism:
Links allow congregants to "raise their hand" and publicly commit to Christ, while prayer requests and one-on-one guidance are a click way. Sermon notes can be shared and discussed. And many online churches are aided by volunteers, allowing them to hold services several times each day.
Well, how much different is that from "making a decision" in response to a sermon, walkin' the aisle, signing the card, raising your hand? Clicking a button from a computer is as Scripturally as walking an aisle.
Ultimately my point again is that if the primary purpose of "going to church" is to hear a sermon and some music, why not just do it online?