Friday, October 21, 2011

Online Community: Enhance or Replace?

This week I would like to focus a little more on the online Christian community and how it is lived out in every day life. Community in the Christian church has surpassed the relationships shared in the four walls of a sanctuary.  There have been multiple studies trying to discover the legitimacy of community in online churches. How do they work? Do people have actual relationships online? Will the idea of online community replace face-to-face community? After reading the research, the answers to those questions surprised me. Online church hasn't really replaced offline community. In fact "Religions Surfers see the Internet as "a useful supplemental tool that enhances their already-deep commitment to their beliefs and their churches, synagogues, or mosques" (Larsen 2001, Executive Summary). So, community has actually been increased due to the online communities.

With hopes of learning more of this online community, I chose to research a website of a Christian camp that I worked at in Colorado, Campers from all over the world attend this camp, so whenever the summer is over, and the camp gates are closed, staying in contact with each other is difficult to do. Camp Kivu has created a website that not only allows the campers to make their own "Kivu Network Profile", but they can also follow a Kivu blog as well as a blog updated by the camp director. You can register for camp on the website, as well as watch videos to keep up with what's going on at camp during the year. They define their community through chatting online, emailing each other, contacting their  previous counselors through the website, as well as communicating with the camp director about his religious blog updates on Christianity. The offline impact is huge. Because of this option to connect online, campers return every year with a stronger relationship with the other campers due to the network that they were able to maintain via the Internet. They also feel as if they have more of a personal relationship with the camp director through following his blog where he expresses his emotions and feelings about Christianity.

After exploring this website, Larsen's argument that the Internet enhances community is supported. Campers grow their relationships online while they are not together, which in turn strengthens their relationship when they are together.

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