I’m concerned. I’m concerned that the predictions are coming true. What predictions? Well, when the shutdowns due to the pandemic began early last year and most churches went to online-only services, prognosticators predicted that after this whole things was “over” (a concept which becomes more elusive every day) that up to 35% of church attenders would never return. The prognosticators are beginning to look like prophets.
Churches had to make a big pivot in 2020, and most of them did it with remarkable grace and flexibility. Small churches that had not done much with technology were thrust into the digital world, and they made virtual services happen whether it was through Facebook Live, YouTube, or other platforms.
Pastors had to pivot, too. They had to figure out how to minister to their flock without coming into direct contact with them. And they got creative! Annual Easter egg hunts were taken directly to members’ homes by socially distanced “eggings” of their yards. Easter lilies were delivered to senior adults. Women’s ministry game nights were done via Zoom. Pastors masked up and made home visits standing outside. Pastors and volunteers did whatever they needed to do to stay connected with the people entrusted to their care.
Of course, congregants had to pivot as well. Elderly people who had previously eschewed technology began attending virtual church and Zoom meetings with family. Children’s ministry volunteers created packets for parents to do Sunday school at home with their children.
In other words, everyone had to make major adjustments on how ministry was accomplished. However, all of these adjustments were made with the belief that they were temporary. And yet, here we are over one year later, and large numbers of people have still not returned to church.
I understand that there are people who are highly vulnerable or afraid to resume in-person church. I get it. The problem is that many of the people who say they haven’t returned to church because of coronavirus concerns have returned everywhere else. They go to stores, schools, ball games, conferences, restaurants, and work, but they have not returned to church. They visit family and friends, but not worship services, small group, or Bible study. The inconsistencies are glaring, and I cannot help but wonder why.
I’m not trying to beat up or judge anyone here. I honestly cannot figure out what’s going on. I will admit that there is something enticing about sitting at home all cozy on the couch wearing yoga pants and a hoodie while watching online church services on a flat screen. I’m in! Throw in the flickering ambiance of a scented candle and I am really in. There are some solid pros to virtual church. Here are a few:
- I don’t have to get showered, do my makeup and hair, or get my kids dressed and out the door on time. I also don’t have to make the drive to church. I can literally roll out of bed 30 seconds before church starts, and I’m there on time.
- I can watch church comfortably. After all, what pew or chair can compete with a Lazy Boy and sweatpants?
- I can really concentrate on what the pastor is saying without all the distractions of crying babies, talking children, and people with small bladders.
- I can multitask, baby! I can fold laundry, cook lunch, order my groceries online, and do my taxes all while watching church. It’s called being a good steward of my time.
Do you see a common thread? The common thread I see in those reasons is comfort and convenience. But is that really what church is all about? Doesn’t that make ME and MY desires the center of it all? Church is about coming together as a body of believers to give proper praise and worship to the one true God. There is something supernatural about corporate worship. God does something when His children are together that He doesn’t do when they are separate. It isn’t about emotion; it’s about impact. We really are better together.
We know Hebrews 10:25, but do we really know Hebrews 10:25? Let’s back up one verse and read verses 24 and 25. They say:
“And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
It seems that when Hebrews was written, some people had stopped meeting together as the church did in the book of Acts, and it had become a bad habit. (By the way, according to Acts 2:46, the church met daily!) These verses tell us that when we forsake assembling together, we miss out on encouraging others and being encouraged. And who doesn’t need some encouragement these days? Almost all of the reasons why we love virtual church are basically selfish. None of those reasons take into consideration serving others. They are completely focused on how we want to be served.
Over a year ago, we stayed home from church to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Remember how the goal was to flatten the curve?) As things progressed, recommendations changed and most people followed them to the best of their ability. At some point, however, we have to decide whether or not we are going to obey God’s words in Hebrews 10:25. He said not to forsake assembling with other believers especially as the return of the Lord Jesus Christ draws near. When God inspired those words, do you think He didn’t realize that a pandemic would hit the world in 2020? Of course He knew that! People have employed masks and social distancing in stores, schools, and everywhere else. What makes church inherently more “dangerous” than those places?
Not only does virtual church not give you that important fellowship of believers that Hebrews and Acts talk about, but it also doesn’t give you the opportunity to participate in serving the body of Christ. Your church needs you. Your church family needs you. Babies need to be rocked and changed. Children need to be taught that Jesus loves them. Students need people to listen to their hearts and guide them with biblical wisdom. Couples need godly teaching on marriage. And on and on and on.
I mentioned above that children need to be taught that Jesus loves them. That makes me wonder what children are doing while their parents attend church in the comfort of their recliners and pajamas. Are they playing in their rooms? Are they plugged into electronics? Or are they sleeping late since there’s nothing to get up for? I am fully aware that you can teach your children a Bible lesson at home. (After all, many of you got a home packet from your child’s Sunday school teacher.) You can even make an awesome craft. But do you? I can’t help but wonder.
I have always said that I believe that technology is for such a time as this to draw as many people into the kingdom as possible in these last days. I still believe that. But I also believe that it has become a crutch for some and a reason to stay home instead of love and serve the body of Christ. (PLEASE know that I understand there are those who are seriously vulnerable to getting sick, and the virus could possibly be a death sentence to you. I’m not talking to you. Unless you have gone everywhere else except church. In that case, I am talking to you.)
I am sure that there are many reasons that people love watching church online. However, there are some really important reasons to make virtual church the exception rather than the rule. I hope you will talk to God about your current method of attending church, and ask Him for wisdom rather than simply defaulting to online services because it has become acceptable and accessible. Consider attending in-person church so that you can be encouraged but, more importantly, so that you can encourage others!