|dc.description.abstract||This thesis investigates Christian online communities, with special emphasis on studying the
nature of community and cyberspace. The purpose is to identify characteristics of
community that individuals are seeking to cultivate in the online setting, showing possible
implications for individuals in the "real world" church and offline communities. The key
research question is: "What does online communication offer individual Christians and
groups of Christians? How is the Internet changing Christians' interaction with the real
world Christian Church?"
The literature review on the topics of community, the Internet and online religion begins
with theological definitions of community being combined with Social Network Analysis.
Community is defined as a network of relationships between individuals connecting to a
common purpose, whose bonds are created and sustained through shared traits and beliefs.
The Internet, the "network of all connected networks" and cyberspace, a metaphorical space
laden with distinct interpretations of what is real and what is virtual in a technological world,
are explored as a space utilising new ways of communicating and being. Online community
combines traditional traits of community with a new technological setting and is defined as
individuals assembling through Internet technology to form a network of interdependent
relationships based on a common vision, care and communication. These explorations
provide groundwork for studying online Christian communities, online groups who share a
common Christian commitment and unite through a specific faith-based discussion topic.
Case study methodology is used to explore three Christian-email communities. They were
selected on the basis of common online practices, yet represented diverse theological groups.
The Community of Prophecy is a Charismatic-Renewal group focused around the gift of
prophecy. The Online Church is an evangelical group of sensory impaired individuals. The
Anglican Communion Online is a group with links to the Anglican Church. A three-phase
research strategy is employed. Phase one involves participant-observation in selected online
communities. Phase two involves distribution and analysis of online questionnaires to online
community members. Phase three involves face-to-face interviews. These discussions tested
out online observations and investigated how individuals link their online and "real world"
Each case study is analysed with data presented under four themes. First, The Online
Community and the Online Context examined how each community used Internet
technology and adapted to the online environment. Secondly, The Online Community and
the Real World investigated how each community links online experiences with real world
activities. Thirdly, The Online Community as a Community considered how each online
group develops unique patterns of behaviour and a common identity. Finally, The Online
Community Reflects on the Church demonstrated how members critique the real world
Church community through the positive characteristics of online community they
Through this study three conclusions are drawn. First, online involvement is not causing
people to leave their local church or shy away from real world participation. Secondly,
people join online communities primarily for relationships not information; relationships
often noted as lacking in the offline Church. Thirdly, members' descriptions of online
community and reasons they give for online involvement provide a critique of the real world
Church. Also the attributes of online community highlighted (relationship, care, value,
consistent communication and in-depth/intimate communications) offer a picture of what
individuals hope a Christian community of the Church to be like.||en