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SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World Paperback – September 22, 2009

4.5 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Estes offers the most even-handed, informed, and insightful overview to date of what virtual-world ecclesia means not only within its own confines, but also to ecclesia in the physical world. At the risk of over-stating the case, it is increasingly incumbent upon clergy and lay leaders alike to familiarize themselves now...right now...with the information Estes renders so clearly. --Phyllis Tickle

Review

“If your church is even thinking about starting an internet campus (or has one already), this book should be required reading. It brilliantly connects the dots between church history, technology, and current thought about online spiritual community. While it doesn’t answer every question (and no book could, given the newness of the subject matter), it goes a long way toward resolving the query: is church online ‘real’ or not? As an internet campus pastor, I think this book tells it like it is and what it will be. A worthwhile read for anyone interested in real ministry and real connection in the virtual world.” -- Brian Vasil

“Christian theology has yet to take full stock of the emergence of virtual worlds together with its promises and perils for the church. Douglas Estes challenges entrenched ways of thinking about what it means to be the church in light of his positive assessment of virtual congregations. While this book makes some controversial points, at the very least it raises provocative questions as it attempts to shift the burden of proof to the defenders of traditional models of church.” -- Adonis Vidu
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Zondervan (September 22, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0310287847
  • ISBN-13: 978-0310287841
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,566,502 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
When Zondervan sent me a copy of 'SimChurch' by Douglas Estes (no relation) I assumed I was holding a book that encouraged traditional churches to update their decade-old websites and get their weekend services online. Boy was I wrong. Apparently while I wasted time mastering Rock Band in my basement other nerds have been experimenting how to have a virtual expression of the Church.

Viewing church services on the Internet is mostly a passive experience, just like watching an TV evangelist. Virtual churches have made a major leap beyond the one-sided nature of viewing a service. Community happens through the Internet; it just may not be the same definition of community that we grew up with. Each generation learns how it is going to connect with each other and technology is a major factor in that decision. The same can be said for churches. What the printing press, automobiles and air conditioning did to change the way society interacts, and the way churches meet, is happening again with the Internet. Whether or not we like the changes, it is here to stay. If a church wants to stay ahead of the curve, learning how to connect with this generation then they need to get plugged in. If, instead, they jump up and down on their pews, pound their pulpits and tip over the baptismal because they think their way of doing church is `right' they need to remember that most churches through history have had none of the conveniences they just threw their temper tantrum trying to defend.

This book was not written by someone on the inside trying to state a case for their virtual gaming world or new church software. Douglas Estes is the pastor of a real, brick and mortar church in San Jose, California; he has a PhD in Theology and is an Adjunct Professor of the New Testament at Western Seminary.
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Here is my review of this book, which I originally posted on my blog last fall. You can find this review and reviews of other books related to faith and technology at my blog [...].

For those of you unfamiliar with this new movement, the idea of online church is not just putting a recording of your church service online. Instead, it is actually conducting an entire live church service online, complete with worship, teaching, offering, fellowship, and possibly even communion and baptism. This can include both churches with Internet campuses and those who conduct services in virtual worlds, such as Second Life. The author tackles questions surrounding the validity of online church and asks some tough questions. He ends the book by challenging online churches to break the mold and attempt to do things that no physical-world church can.

If you have read my blog before, you know that I have been a critic of online church. However, as a lover of technology and the Internet, I am always open to thinking in new ways about things and want to see how technology can be used to share the message of Christ. But I am also a realist: I know that just because we can do church online does not mean that we should. So I read this book with an open mind and heart - looking for new ways of thinking about online church.

Some highlights of SimChurch for me included:

- a definition of virtual church as "a virtually localized assembly of the people of God dwelling in meaningful community with the task of building the kingdom."
- the author taking on those who would use the church as described in Acts 2 as a way to discredit the virtual church. The early church existed at a special time in history and we will never fully be able to recapture it.
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Estes, Douglas. SimChurch: Being the Church in theVirtual World. Zondervan, 2009, 256 pages.

Of all the books I have read in preparation for a class next month on Church in the Age of Facebook, this is the one I was most pre-disposed to disagree with and perhaps even dislike. Although I am a strong proponent of the use of new media for communication, I have generally had a bias against the idea that online communities could authentically host "church." I think my doubts about "SimChurch" are probably especially related to the high view of the sacraments I hold as a Lutheran Christian, but I also think I simply don't understand--and have not participated in--simulated worlds enough to have a warm or favorable sense of them.

I find myself surprised, and in awe, because not only has Douglas Estes won me over, at least to the point of recognizing that the church needs to offer some kind of virtual church in the present era, but he has actually won me over so completely that I am already trying to envision how our church might better do mission starts in the virtual world, and how my denomination, the ELCA, can direct mission developer energy in that direction. In the same way that J.W.C. Dietrichson followed the Norwegian settlers to the new world in order to organize them into churches, it is incumbent upon us as Lutherans to figure out how to be with people on this new, growing frontier.

Which is not to say that I agree with Estes on all points. I still think offering the sacraments in a virtual context, no matter how you slice it, is questionable.
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