the weblog of Alan Knox

Online community and discipleship?

Posted by on Nov 14, 2011 in blog links, community, discipleship | 12 comments

Online community and discipleship?

Once again I want to point you to a post by Miguel at “God-Directed Deviations.” This post is called “Virtual Community & Virtual Discipleship.”

Miguel is asking some very good questions about the role of online communication both in developing community and in helping people follow Jesus Christ. As with many of his posts, there is some good discussion in the comments.

As part of his post, Miguel says:

If we say that there are no virtual communities, then the issue of online discipleship is moot. If we say, however, that virtual or online communities do and can exist, then some would have to “Go” to those communities, no problem – “Teach them to observe all things that Christ commanded,” slight problem – and ”baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” bigger problem. Or perhaps you may have a differing point of view with respect to how online discipleship would be done. I would say that online evangelism, at least on the surface seems much more possible than discipleship, but I’m open to here what you have to say here as well.

Again, I encourage you to read Miguel’s post and interact with him there.

However, I want to ask a couple of questions here as well. Is it possible to have virtual or online community only (i.e., you never meet face-to-face)? Is it possible to have virtual or online discipleship only?

(By the way, I wrote a short series last year that began with “Internet Ministry: What is it?“)


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 11-14-2011

    “…better is a neighbour that is near than a brother far off.” (Prov 27:10)

    I experimented with an online community of disciples a couple of years ago. A friend of mine (Tim) has a church planter training workbook that he and a coworker (Sherman) use in over 25 countries around the world. I used that material, and Moodle (which provides a fairly powerful learning environment that is used by K-12 and Universities for online schools), and video conferencing, to create a 20 week online training center. We put three groups through it.

    Interaction was weekly, and included personal study using the workbook as a guide, occasional learning modules or brief pre-recorded ppt’s covering a specific issue, posting responses in a forum, and then commenting on what others posted. Once a week, we would meet “face to face” via a video conferencing tool for a group discussion.

    I’ve met a few of these folks in person. Just this past week I visited Tony, who went through the program, and then spent a couple of weeks overseas seeing the concepts in action with Tim and Sherman. Tony and his new bride Katie shared dinner with us on Tuesday, and then we joined them in a home fellowship of about 25 people on Sunday.

    Tony and his wife, Katie are flat out on fire to serve God, love the brethren, and love the lost. I suppose the online learning community a few years ago provided Tony some help, some good information, perhaps even some encouragement. Just as I’ve received some help through many of you on this blog. But it was the folks we gathered with on Sunday–the folks Tony knows week in and week out, that are influencing Tony (and he them) in terms of growing as disciples.

    For me, nothing compares to developing in person relationships. I can see online community augmenting existing, in person, mutual discipleship, but not supplanting it. The medium is too narrow, giving us a very controlled and minimal glimpse of each other. Without seeing the example set by a person in real circumstances, we are only getting a black and white, two dimensional picture.

  2. 11-14-2011

    BTW, you can download that manual free at:

  3. 11-14-2011


    I have no problem with online evangelism.

    Online making disciples? No!

    Making disciples requires teaching (which, no doubt can be done online), but it requires much person to person (in the flesh) relationship and daily life demonstration of what being a disciple entails.

  4. 11-14-2011

    Doesn’t sound like a yes or no answer here. Aren’t there levels of effectiveness? Most of us would attest that we’ve been “discipled” from reading a book. But, that’s a shallower level. If I walk with the person who wrote the book, that’s a deeper level. It’s also more effective because theories become practicalities when we watch and do. Not so much when we read and write. So yes, on a shallow level, we are discipling each other, but it’s definitely not where the majority of growth should come from. If it does, you’re likely not growing very fast.


  5. 11-14-2011

    Thanks for the great comments! I love the “yes” and “no” answers… I’ve recognized great benefits from online communication, and I’ve also recognized some of the limitations.


  6. 11-14-2011

    Hey Alan- Great question.

    It seems to me that the answer is entirely dependent on a person and his/her situation. There are some for whom an online community/discipleship may be the only option. So for that person, absolutely! Most of us have the luxury of choosing both to some degree.

    It seems a little… caustic to me to make a rule that says, “No, you may not experience community or discipleship in *this* way, because that doesn’t meet my standard for discipleship.”

    We know there were early believers (Jews/ Romans) who were secretly converted- who- perhaps- never had the freedom to express their beliefs openly. Their discipleship could be compared to an online discipleship, couldn’t it? Mostly gained through observation, listening from the fringe, with maybe occasional snippets of interaction, but no real personal–in depth contact. Would Jesus have invalidated that discipleship because it didn’t fit a pre-conceived pattern?

    I think we should be cautious about setting rules and limits for others based on our own experiences and opportunities. What is a helpful guideline for me, might be shackles for you.

  7. 11-15-2011

    I want to add something to this discussion. I only know many of you (and many other people) through online interaction. Do we actually have some kind of relationship or not? If there is some kind of relationship, is it a discipling relationship on some level or not? (I am thinking through these questions also…)


  8. 11-15-2011

    Yes and yes! I learn from and lean on you and many others in my online Christian community. There have been years when my “e-church” is what(who) pulled me through some times of deep questions and disappointment in my traditional church community and what is available to me.

  9. 11-15-2011

    I totally agree with Art’s sentiments here. The online discipleship is great supplementary community but can never replace “in person” discipleship and community.

    That said, I am very certain that you can build community online. It’s only when you try to replace online community with in person community, that you end up with these false ideas of what is happening.

    Ultimately you need proximity to walk out the most effective discipleship and community.

  10. 11-23-2011

    Hey, I’d like to throw something out there. Fuze allows ten people to video conference (and another 90 join by watching and massaging the group).

    I have an account we can use, and Fuze allows you to use the same meeting link and passwords everytime-so way less hassle for recurring meetings. Everyone can use full privileges.

    Anyone interested in getting together? Could be something like once a week, once a month, or ad hoc.

  11. 11-23-2011


    How does that online massage thing work? 😉

    I know you can do group video chats on Google+ also, but I haven’t tried it yet.


  12. 11-23-2011

    It’s not really a massage, it’s just the xalon rays that emanate from the LCD display on laptops that feel like a massage 😉

    That would work, they can also have 10 users together. I’ve used both. The difference with the Fuze thing is that it combines webinar features (documents and website sharing along with the video conferencing. I think google+ might be the best place to start, since it is highly replicable by users for free.