Christian Online Communities
Insights from Qualitative and Quantitative Data
Since the rise of the Internet, traditional religious communities have either embraced or struggled with new media. At the same time, a significant number of believers turns to new media as a substitute for or supplement to offline communities. Researching these users raises some crucial questions that guide my contribution: Do these users find or build communities online and, if so, how do these communities differ from offline equivalents, and how can they be grasped theoretically? Based on findings from a quantitative survey among Christian Internet users, I will first illustrate the emergence of personal relationships among Internet discussion board users and their perception of an actual online community. Then, based on qualitative research, I will elaborate three types of community existing within the discussion boards. Relating these types to classical (Weber, Tönnies) as well as recent (Anderson, Hitzler, Hepp) theoretical approaches to community, I will argue that the characteristics of social media do not unidirectionally determine any specific kind of community online. Rather, the needs of users as well as their offline religious affiliations are decisive and result in a broad range of online communities that can mirror such traditional forms as the Dorfgemeinschaft, as well as more recent types such as imagined or posttraditional communities.