Maybe it started when church services were first transmitted over the radio or when preachers came to television, but today’s online churchgoers are repeating an old question: Why should I come to church when I can just livestream it?
I’m an advocate of our own church’s livestreaming. Indeed, we see often a few hundred IP’s that either watch our services live or catch them once they’ve been posted online. That adds up to a 1.5 to 2 times more in terms of actual people who are taking in church each week through the internet.
And believe me, I know this kind of service is well used by people for good reasons! Vacation, business travel, illness, and work can all be good reasons why some people take it in every week. I also recognize that many people check out our church online in advance of actually coming through the doors.
Where I get concerned as a pastor is when people seek to permanently replace this kind of church experience for actually being present for worship. One guy even kidded me on Facebook by saying that since he could give online and go to church online, he thought maybe we could just send him some communion in the mail as well!
For me, there are 3 big reasons why habitually watching church on your computer in your pajamas is not the best way to take in church:
- Church is a community that requires the presence of people with spiritual gifts. You can’t bring your unique contribution to the church experience if you’re not there. If church were merely an impersonal “show”, that might work, but it’s not a TV program; it’s meant to be a give-and-take-experience of the kingdom of God. See 1 Corinthians 14:26 for more insight.
- Church is meant to be an assembly of people who encourage one another. Hebrews 10:25 involves a command that revolves around not forsaking meeting together to encourage one another. The Greek word translated “church”, in fact, actually refers to an “assembly”. “Church” in New Testament Greek is the word ekklesia, which refers to “an assembly of those who are called out”. We can’t really be an assembly of those who are called out of the world if we don’t actually assemble in the same place.
- Worship is best experienced in the presence of other believers. Jesus promised to be in the midst of those who are gathered together in his name. Paul refers to the worship experience of the church as being assembled in the power and name of the Lord Jesus (see 1 Corinthians 5:4). That’s just not the reality when you’re meeting online or watching on TV. The personal experience of the church worshipping, praying and proclaiming “live” cannot be matched by a computer or a television.
- People see and learn the wrong thing from your passivity. Right here I’m thinking of children and neighbors who probably know you’re a Christian. There is not Christianity without the Church, and there are no church-less Christ followers. When you disengage from real church indefinitely for virtual church, you’ve left something that your children and your neighbors need to see in your life.
- Church is a participatory experience, not a passive program being watched. When you just “watch” church, you’re probably not getting from it what you need. The experiences of the worshipping church like singing, raising hands, spontaneous worship and prayer, communion, testimony, preaching, giving and countless other moments are pregnant with implicit blessings that are far more likely to be known to their full in person.
Watch this blog for a post soon called “How to Get the Most From Online Church”!