First, let me say that I like the phrase “church online” more than “online church.” Your church should be online, but I don’t think it should be an online church. As such, people should be transitioned from an online community to a physical one whenever possible, without abandoning the online aspect.
Some people can’t get to church because of illness. Someone may be in a country where the Gospel is persecuted. Those and similar groups can continue to engage their church online. Those participants matter to God. They are real people.
So, the best way to do church online is to intentionally work to move everyone possible from being alone on the screen toward being in community with others and being incorporated into a covenant community. Church online can be a valid outreach if the church communicates that the normal expression of God’s intent and design is that we gather in worship with people and then scatter for the work of mission in the kingdom.
A good balance could be for churches to say about their online presence, “We will be there only if you can’t be here.”
Do online churches have a future?
As we continue down the path forged by the digital revolution, New Testament churches are going to function within community that includes online aspects. They’ll do it primarily in person, but they’ll also have online opportunities and an online outreach. Currently, some churches have an Internet pastor to serve those participating online. This role will only become more prominent. Ideally, churches will have an online presence, but will strongly encourage life-on-life interaction where social media enhances rather than excuses community. This can be one more tool that we have to introduce people to Jesus Christ and His church. It is not going away anytime soon, so we cannot just ignore it. Instead, we need to learn how to use it for God’s glory. If not, we will become increasingly irrelevant in a world shaped by the Internet.