Online Church – Help or Hinderance?
In a recent article on the Christian news website The Christian Post entitled Why Go To Church When You Can Watch Online?, The question was posed about whether ‘online’ churches were biblical, or even good for you. There are several if not hundreds of mega-churches around the country that offer their weekly services online, many in an attempt to reach the ‘un-churched’ and non-believers.
With the voyeuristic nature of the Internet, the opportunity to view a church service can be an anonymous and non-confrontational way for people to experience church, without all of the awkwardness many experience when attending church for the first time. We’ve all been there, you walk into the church building and, if you’re with a friend who is a regular attendee, you’re immediately introduced to about a gazillion people, whose names you’ll never remember who are all ‘just so glad you’re here!’ Then there’s the inevitable question the pastor asks at many churches, “Who’s here for the first time?” followed by your ‘friend’ promptly casting the spotlight on you and your ‘church virgin’ status.
Watching a church service online, however can not only give you an anonymous peek at just what goes on at a given church on a given Sunday, it can also take some of the unfamiliarity out of the equation, should you decide to later take the plunge and actually walk through the church doors.
In addition to the ability for the un-churched and curious to do a bit of ‘church shopping,’ it also affords the same opportunity to newcomers in the area to check out local churches without having to slog the kids from church to church every Sunday for a month or two, in their quest for just the right congregation to become a member of.
In addition to this, having services hosted online is a great way for your congregation to keep up with a sermon series if they have to skip one or two due to a trip out of town or an illness. For folks that are homebound due to illness or some other issue, having access to these recorded sermons can mean the difference between falling away from their faith and maintaining a connection that can uplift and carry an otherwise isolated member through a difficult time.
Not A Mainstay
On the other hand, using a computer as your only means of church ‘attendance’ is dangerous. Dr. R Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the above mentioned article stated that, “The fellowship of the saints is a vital means of grace for the disciple of Christ,” …Believers need the accountability found only within the local church … We need to confess our sins and declare forgiveness by the blood of Christ together. We need to be deployed for service in Christ’s name together.”
There is a feeling of passivity that goes along with viewing an online sermon. There is a disconnect that occurs when the speaker isn’t in the same room as the listener that’s a lot like watching a mildly interesting news story. It seems to enter the brain, dance around there a bit, and promptly exit when we turn away from the screen and see that the laundry needs doing and the floor needs vacuuming.
There’s also a very important relational component that goes along with real church attendance, that the computer or television will never be able to duplicate. A handshake, a hug, a conversation in person with people who share the same beliefs and often the same struggles is affirming and irreplaceable.
God is big on relationship. He started with an incredibly intimate and vital relationship with Adam and Eve in the garden and he’s been trying to have the same relationship with each of us ever since. Part of His design is that we also have close relationships with others as well. It’s how He made us and a ‘church family’ can be one of the most positive and life-affirming relationships we can have with other people.
So, should a mega-church, or any church for that matter, offer their services on the Internet? Sure! I believe we are called to reach the world for Christ using whatever media we have available, but the emphasis and the focus must always be about bringing those voyeurs into the church doors and into community with Christ and each other.
How often have you viewed an online sermon in the past year? Why did you view it?