Online Christian Churches

Three Case Studies


  • Tim Hutchings Durham University



Internet, Christianity, Internet Religion, Online Churches, Cyberethnography


Online churches are Internet-based Christian communities, pursuing worship, proselytism and other ecclesial activities through digital media. This article is based on three case studies of online churches: i-church, the Anglican Cathedral of Second Life, and Church Online. Seven key themes emerge from these case studies and are used here as a framework for comparative analysis: mass appeal, spiritual experience, community, reliance on the familiar, local church attendance, internal control and external oversight.

Author Biography

Tim Hutchings, Durham University

Tom Hutchings holds a PhD from Durham University, UK. His thesis, entitled ‘Creating Church Online: An Ethnographic Study of Five Internet- Based Christian Communities’, was based on three years of participant observation and over one hundred interviews and focused on worship, community, authority and the relationship between digital media and everyday life. He joined the HUMlab digital humanities research centre at Umea University, Sweden, in September 2010, beginning a one-year project examining the role of the Internet in religious recruitment and disaffiliation.


Barna, George et al. 1998 The Cyberchurch Is Coming. Barna Group Press Report. Online: (accessed January 10, 2010).

Bedell, Ken 2000 Dispatches from the Electronic Frontier: Explorations of Mainline Protestant Uses of the Internet. In Hadden and Cowan 2000: 183-203.

Boellstorff, Tom 2008 Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. Princeton University Press, Woodstock.

Brasher, Brenda, 2001 Give Me that Online Religion. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Campbell, Heidi 2005a Spiritualising the Internet: Uncovering Discourses and Narratives of Religious Internet Usage. Online: Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet 1(1). Online: (accessed January 10, 2010).

b Exploring Christian Community Online: We Are One in the Network. Peter Lang, Oxford.

When Religion Meets New Media. Routledge, Abingdon.

Clark, Lynn, Stewart Hoover and Lee Rainie 2004 Faith Online. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Online: (accessed January 10, 2010).

Dawson, Lorne L. 2005 The Mediation of Religious Experience in Cyberspace. In Højsgaard and Warburg 2005: 15-37.

Estes, Douglas 2009 SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World. Zondervan, Grand Rapids.

Gibbens, Mark 2008 I-Church Takes a Big Step Backwards. (August 7). Online: (accessed July 1, 2010).

Hadden, Jeffrey K., and Douglas E. Cowan (eds.) 2000 Religion on the Internet: Research Prospects and Promises. JAI Press, London.

Helland, Christopher 2000 Online-Religion/Religion-Online and Virtual Communitas. In Hadden and Cowan 2000: 205-24.

Online Religion as Lived Religion: Methodological Issues in the Study of Religious Participation on the Internet. Online: Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet 1(1). Online: (accessed January 10, 2010).

Højsgaard, Morten T., and Margit Warburg (eds.) 2005 Religion and Cyberspace. Routledge, Abingdon.

Jacobs, Stephen, 2007 Virtually Sacred: The Performance of Asynchronous Cyber-Rituals in Online Spaces. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 12(3): 1103-21. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00365.x.

Jenkins, Simon 2008 Rituals and Pixels: Experiments in an Online Church. Online: Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet 3(1). Online: Online: (accessed January 10, 2010). 2010 Where Are Other Network Churches? Online: (accessed August 17, 20).

Miczek, Nadja 2008 Online Rituals in Virtual Worlds: Christian Online Services between Dynamics and Stability. Online: Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet 3(1). Online: (accessed January 10, 2010).

O’Leary, Stephen D. 2005 Utopian and Distopian Possibilities of Networked Religion in the New Millenium. In Højsgaard and Warburg 2005: 38-49.

Robinson-Neal, Andree 2008 Enhancing the Spiritual Relationship: The Impact of Virtual Worship on the Real-World Church Experience. Online: Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet 3(1). Online: (accessed January 10, 2010).

Schroeder, Ralph, Noel Heather and Raymond M. Lee 1998 The Sacred and the Virtual: Religion in Multi-User Virtual Reality. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 4(2). Online: (accessed July 26, 2010).

Thomas, Richard 2004a Interview. Today, BBC Radio 4 (7 March). Online: (accessed September 13, 2006).

b Why Internet Church? (5 March). Online: (accessed October 28, 2007).

Wright, Ailsa 2008 i-Church: The Unfolding Story of a Fresh Expression of Church . In Evaluating Fresh Expressions: Explorations in Emerging Church, edited by Louise Nelstrop and Martyn Percy, 123-34. Canterbury Press, Norwich.

Zaleski, Jeff 1997 The Soul of Cyberspace: How New Technology Is Changing Our Spiritual Lives. Harper, San Francisco.



How to Cite

Hutchings, T. (2011). Online Christian Churches: Three Case Studies. Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, 23(3), 346–369.