Robin J Johnson
Church online — yeah! Leave the pyjamas on, grab a coffee, relax, sit back and watch. Seriously? In reality that might have been the experience for a number of people. Nevertheless, how you choose to watch church online, well that is up to you and fine by me. I was just stirring and trying to get your attention.
Now that I have your attention, there is a serious side to this discussion. When there was no alternative and we were in lockdown with our churches closed, thankfully we were able connect in some manner by various digital means. Though not always perfect it helped many people and played a vital role in delivering the Word of God into homes and lives. Also to a degree it helped maintain some sense of community.
As we are coming out of the lockdowns, with restrictions lifted, we can return to gathering together and we most certainly must make that a priority. For me personally (just being honest), online church, once the novelty wore off (after about 4 weeks), was a pain and frustrating. The reasons for that are varied, which I don’t want to get into presently and so distract from the real intent of this article. Let me say though, that while I didn’t particularly enjoy it, I still watched. I made the most of a bad situation, one we were all forced to face for a season.
A danger of the church online experience, especially when prolonged, is it can make ‘church gathered’ less relevant. That is both unfruitful and dangerous for a believer. There is great value for everyone when we fellowship with others; be it a sports club, an interest group, Rotary, etc. In a faith community there is far greater value for believers to gather rather than just meet online. The intimate fellowship that happens between believers when physically meeting together cannot ever be replaced by church online.
TV, me and Jesus, I don’t think so. Granted there are circumstances when it has value; for shut-ins or the sick or people who for legitimate reasons cannot attend the public gathering to worship and fellowship, then obviously church online has a role to play.
This is not to say that good things did not happen with online church. Most certainly they did; people made commitments to Christ, were healed, filled with the Spirit, were taught and encouraged. Nevertheless, church online cannot be a substitute for believers gathering in Jesus name. The dynamic of people gathering to worship their God and encounter His manifest presence is undeniably one of the most uplifting and crucial elements of the church gathered.
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16 (NASB)
The cynic may say, “It’s only about bums on seats.” No, not true, but neither is it simply a numbers game. Our aim cannot be the number of people attending the Sunday service, but rather how relevant, impacting and life changing the service will be. Edifying, encouraging and equipping the people of God must be the priorities along with facilitating meaningful relationships and a real sense of belonging.
Discover creative ways to encourage others and to motivate them toward acts of compassion, doing beautiful works as expressions of love. 25 This is not the time to pull away and neglect meeting together, as some have formed the habit of doing, because we need each other! In fact, we should come together even more frequently, eager to encourage and urge each other onward as we anticipate that day dawning. Hebrews 10:24-25 (TPT)
Speaking of v24 above Brian Simmons states — The Aramaic can be translated “Let us look on one another with the excitement of love.” Every person that walks through the door is a valued human being in the eyes of God. I often ask myself, “How well do we convey that fact to everyone who attends our services, whether it is their first time or they are a regular attendee?”
A word currently often heard is, ‘reset’. Whether you like the term or not, probably it has some relevance.
- It is time to reset your church attendance, stop putting off returning to your local church.
- It is time to get off the couch and onto the pew, so to speak.
- It is also a good time for churches to reset. That can be different for each of us, but certainly a good time to do some honest rethinking and reassessment.
- It is not the time to bring back the old just because that’s the way it’s always been done. Be creative look for better and more effective ways to do ‘church’.
Many leaders and their teams, at the start of these pandemic days, had to quickly discover, learn and be creative with how to present church online and all credit to them. Job well done! Churches did different things. Some tried to reproduce the normal Sunday service, while others took a more laid back approach. There was no one right way to do church online, we all just wanted to stay connected. My challenge is, now that we are returning to church gathered, let us apply the same creative diligence to produce a Sunday service experience that is fresh, impactful, meaningful and transformational for everyone who walks through the door.
It is important to distinguish between church online and viewing a broadcast of a church service or conference session, etc. I am certainly not criticising the use of modern media to broadcast the greatest story ever told. I just do not want the online experience to be a substitute for the physical and meaningful gathering together of the people of God. Thank God for every new technical advancement and digital device that makes it possible to distribute the Word of God, provide resources and a platform to equip God’s people for the proclamation of the Gospel.
There is a massive amount of material available out in the digital world across the world wide web, of which there is no end. Some I wish had never made it to the airwaves, yet there is plethora of good preaching and teaching (we are there too) available at a click of a button. Nevertheless, these are no substitutes for attending the gathering of the church. Jesus said. “I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18) And we know this had nothing to do with bricks and mortar, but everything to do with people, chosen and elect, brought out of darkness and into the light, an assembly of God’s people to demonstrate here on earth the power of the Kingdom of God.
I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Matthew 16:18-19 (NASB)
No doubt the mega churches and many of the larger ones (who have the resources) will continue to livestream their services as they have done in the past. I have no objection to that and if it is resourcing the Body of Christ and reaching the lost to bring them to Jesus, Hallelujah! When people watching those broadcasts make it a substitute to attending a local church, then I have a conflict.
We have always known the benefit of church attendance even in times of crisis. Finally the world is taking note that there is a connection between active faith and good mental health.
“In the past year, American mental health sank to the lowest point in history: Incidence of mental disorders increased by 50 percent, compared with before the pandemic, alcohol and other substance abuse surged, and young adults were more than twice as likely to seriously consider suicide than they were in 2018. Yet the only group to see improvements in mental health during the past year were those who attended religious services at least weekly (virtually or in-person): 46 percent report “excellent” mental health today versus 42 percent one year ago.” (SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN – David H. Rosmarin – June 15, 2021)
In the New Testament context ‘fellowship’ is much more than people getting together around a mutual interest. It is much more, the implication is of ‘partnership’ — believers coming together to pursue a common agenda, strengthening one another for the cause of Christ: to win the world for Jesus. The first church grew and impacted their communities, not simply because they were filled with the Holy Spirit, but because they knew the value of gathering; they were devoted to fellowship (Acts 2:42). “They became partners.” (Notes: TPT – Brian Simmons)
A part of the enemy’s scheming is to sow seeds of doubt and whisper thoughts trying to influence us to abandon fellowship. Surrendering to his lies we then become isolated, vulnerable to attack and being ‘killed’. We will not be a victim of his deceit, we will gather together, triumph, overcome and together grow in grace and knowledge in Jesus name.
The biblical model is church gathered. A place where people of faith congregate to bless one another, pray and worship together. Whether it is in an auditorium, a community hall, a house or under a tree, ‘church’ really should be classified as an essential service.
And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:25 (NLT)
(NASB) New American Standard Bible – (TPT) The Passion Translation – (NLT) New Living Translation
Photo: Australia for Christ Church, used by permission.