Dictionary.com lists, as definition 1 of "church", "A building for public, especially Christian worship.". This definition, while concise, misses several of the points that I consider to be part and parcel of a church.
My definition of church does not include denomination, as K5 is obviously not a place of Christian worship. Thus, your mosque, temple, or any other place, real or imagined, may fit into my definition of a church.
The primary motivating factor for any church is that of community. People are not inclined to worship on their own; otherwise, organized religion would not be nearly as pervasive as it is today. People have a natural instinct to get together and celebrate something larger than them, be it Bacchus, Jesus, or Jah Rastafari.
Kuro5hin certainly is a community. In fact, it exhibits an obsession with community. A google search for community on Kuro5hin turns up 4,400 results. We are a diverse group of people with a common bond, our website, where there are well known figures and quiet lurkers, as in any group. While I haven't developed any close, personal type friendships, a quick look through the diaries shows that many others certainly have.
Perhaps growing out of the property of community, churches have traditions associated with them. Every church community carries out, almost without thinking, traditional activities that are deeply ingrained into the community. Only when somebody steps into that church who doesn't know the traditions do they become apparent.
Kuro5hin, despite being a fairly young community in church terms, certainly carries traditional expectations. Let somebody post a story about a personal experience in the queue, and see if they don't get told a thousand times that it should be a diary. Watch when somebody repeats the intro text in the body of a story, or posts two diaries in a day*. There is, or isn't, a K5 cabal which far predates me, a relative newcomer. There is an implicit, unwritten guidebook to K5 that is only accessible through experience.
Churches always congregate around some set of shared beliefs, however strict or loose they are. Christians gather to celebrate Jesus, Rastas to celebrate Jah. However, it is my belief that these beliefs are, for most, little more than an excuse for the community to gather together in celebration of their unity. It is a basic human instinct to want to feel like part of a group, to feel that one belongs to something larger than oneself.
Here my point seems hardest to make. Readers of Kuro5hin are an intelligent and diverse group, and we all have very different viewpoints on many different topics. I think there is, however, one thing that unifies all of us. We, as a community, believe that K5 is a valuable concept. Rusty's entire job, more or less, is to take care of a place that doesn't exist in anything more than our minds. The community finds this so important that we pay him to do so, which brings me to my final point.
Churches through time have experienced everything from a poor existence to a lavish richness, because all of their funds are donated. Churches, with a few exceptions, provide services for free and ask only for the generosity of its parishioners to keep it going. In most cases, the parishioners find these services worthwhile enough that they donate money to keep the church going.
Economically, K5 operates nearly exactly as a church. Rusty offers extra services to our readers and writers in exchange for their generosity, but the basic services of Kuro5hin are free. Furthermore, no visible distinction is made between those who have paid and those who haven't, unlike fark.com (the TotalFark icon means that the user is a subscriber). This tends to emphasize the evenness of our community.
To me, the main difference between Kuro5hin and the churches I have been to is the lack of interpersonal communication. All of our discussions are centered around specific topics, which is perfect for geeks. However, I don't get the actual friendly feeling of shaking someone's hand, and one-sided diary conversations and IRC conversations are a poor substitute. This leaves me questioning the amount of time I spend on the site, wondering whether I'm wasting my time away from real people or not. Nonetheless, I do spend quite a bit of time "here".
Kuro5hin is, in my mind, as real a place as any church, and I come here for my daily intellectual bread. In its internet existence, I find a wonderful community, although one that sometimes leaves much to be desired, just as I do at a church. Kuro5hin has the ability to make me stop and think carefully more often than most things, and it puts me into contact with other people who also like to stop and think. For this, I am grateful, and I suspect that most of you are too.
*: my apologies to all the comment writers, I don't mean to pick on any of you personally.