Monday, November 3, 2008

Surfing the world wide church

This Newsweek article mentions attempts to use the Internet to replicate (or replace) the traditional community component of religion. Instead of going to church, just log in online. At some Christian sites, you can even participate in the communion online, which is a different kind of openness in communion than that mentioned in an earlier post.

Many religious groups use advances in technology to either provide their religious services more effectively or to provide new types of religious goods. We sometimes think that religious groups abhor new technology, but this attitude is more the exception than the rule. Throughout history, religious groups and individuals have incorporated new technologies just as other groups and individuals. Think of printing presses used centuries ago to produce religious tracts and holy writings. Today, most churches have some presence online even though most do not actually hold religious services online. Another article from today even describes a new Catholic television station that is only available online.

Providing religious services such as communion online is just another example of religious entrepreneurship. One interesting question for us is how good a substitute the online church is for in-person church. The article mentions how some aspects of community can be replicated online while others cannot. This matches our club theory; some of the goods that are produced collectively at an in-person church service cannot be closely replicated online. Thus, online church for many people will be an imperfect substitute for church in person. However, there are some who will prefer the online experience. The interesting thing will be to see how large this particular market becomes. Given that young people, in particular, enjoy networking online, I would not be surprised to see this type of market survive in some form, though it will not likely have a large market share.

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