Amazon, eBay, Priceline — we’ve come to accept these
virtual shopping places for every day purchases of books, records,
travel and even used cars. While the Internet didn’t strike a fatal blow
to bricks-and-mortar retail, it certainly changed the way buyers buy
and sellers sell.
So you shouldn’t be surprised that religion has also found a new home
on the Internet. And that traditional houses of worship are going
virtual. In a simple search for “churches in Second Life," I found the
following places of worship listed on the first page: Second Life Synagogue Temple Beit
Israel, Chebi Mosque, Chapel for the Holy Mother of God Maria
and First Unitarian Universalist Church of Second Life.
Just as they go online for everything from Facebook to finances, a
growing number of young people are finding faith online, most notably in
the virtual world known as Second Life.
Young people are not only creating their own religious identities,
they may also be changing the future of worship
itself. Looking to the future is the challenge. Many religious
organizations are realizing that to shepherd the millennial flock, you
must meet them where they live ... online.
"I think [this] generation is really turned off by the term
religion," LifeChurch.TV's Pastor Bobby Gruenewald says. LifeChurch.TV
boasts 80,000 congregants through the web. They log on to hear sermons
and chat with other worshippers. Other online congregations are popping
up daily where they connect with the digitally connected faithful
through faith-based phone apps, worship Web pages, online scripture
readings, even prayer websites. And… tweeting is encouraged.
The Internet also levels the playing field between young people and
the authority of the church, giving them a sense of control that
previous generations never had.
This may also explain why a recent Pew Research Center study on
Generation Y and religion found that while young adults are the least overtly religious American
generation in modern times, the number of young adults who
say they pray every day rivals the portion of young people who said the
same in prior decades. According to a new Pew Research study, one
in four Millennials (as the generation between 18 and 30 years old is
also known) are unaffiliated with any religion, far more than the share
of older adults when they were ages 18 to 29. But belonging does not
necessarily mean not believing in the minds of these Millennials.
A Lifeway Christian Resources study
offers additional insight into what appears on the surface to be just
another widening gap between the generations. Seventy-two percent of
Millennials say they are more spiritual than religious. While the study
did find that fewer of them attend worship services, pray or read sacred
scriptures, I wonder what percentage might gravitate toward online or
virtual religion when it comes to prayer.
"Online, what people are doing is seeking out truth," Rebecca
Phillips, vice president of social networking for Beliefnet.com, "and it might not be in the
traditional way of a pastor speaking from a pulpit."
Second Life was created by Linden Lab in San Francisco in 2003; its
founders imagined a social platform for an idealized online society.
Membership has soared to 18 million and 1 billion hours logged on “in
life.” Second Life has established a thriving economy that grew 93% in
2009 and transacted the equivalent of more than $1 billion. It has
become a popular venue for politics and education.
For a quick introduction to Second Life, you can download a free excerpt from my
book, Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization and view this YouTube video, An Introduction to Second Life.