Why Online Church Services Are Not Enough
Video and telephone church services have become a feature of the pandemic. They have have allowed people to keep in touch with church during a difficult time. But, while helpful during the crisis, the technological novelty, comfort, and audience figures may have blinded us to the simple truth: we need to meet with Christians physically.
Here are 7 reasons why – and why online services can never be a substitute for physical church meetings:
Church is Christ’s vehicle for saving and perfecting us.
It was Christ’s great plan to save people from hell for heaven through his people, the church (Matt 28.19). Together, as we talk about Jesus, his Holy Spirit works powerfully to bring people to faith and change lives. As we meet people in church physically and relate to people in love, with Christ’s help, we grow as people. We will not grow in character by watching on the sofa; we need to interact with imperfect people. Like pebbles in the sea, we help knock each other’s edges off!
Church is the place where you hear Christ’s words to us.
You may think, “we get teaching through online services.” Well, yes and no. The online preacher can’t see you and doesn’t necessarily know you; your difficulties and doubts. But your church pastor and Christian friends can and do know you. When you meet them, they can often see how you are from your face, draw out your feelings, and can apply Christ’s words to your situation. Jesus wants us all to be teaching one another, not just the vicar (Col 3.16). He knows that sometimes you will listen to your friends more than the preacher!
Church is where we see Christ’s life modelled.
We learn not just by hearing teaching but by seeing it lived out. It is in church that we see, experience, and learn from Christ’s love through others, as well as learn the principles (1 Thes 2.8). I need to see Christians persevere in faith through cancer, because through them I will learn wisdom. Wisdom is knowledge applied. Seeing them will help prepare me for the many trials of life. You can’t get that full 3D experience online.
Church is where we exercise the gifts God has given us.
The church is like a body that flourishes when all parts work together well (1 Cor 12.21). We may not realise that the church needs us because we don’t think we have much to offer. But the Bible says that Christ has given us all different skills and abilities to serve God’s people. Helping with cleaning, cutting the grass, and cooking for people are vital tasks. Such gifts cannot be fully exercised virtually.
Church is where we experience signs of God’s grace.
The Lord’s supper and Baptism are sometimes called “means of grace.” They are ways in which we may experience something of God’s kindness. These ceremonies are God-given, tangible, powerful reminders of Christ’s saving work. They cannot be experienced alone but together, a shared sensory experience, bring us together as the body of Christ. Virtual baptism and Communion can never replicate the physical act.
Church is the place where we find true family.
As Jesus died, he said to John of Mary, “here is your mother” (John 19.26). In the church, we find brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers in Christ. People who care for us physically, sometimes more deeply than our natural families. That love may not always be expressed well. At times we may feel unloved. But that family is lasting, and it is only experienced as we take time to meet and get to know people. Ipad pictures are no substitute for physical hugs!
Church is a taste of heaven
The great picture at the end of revelation is people from every tongue tribe and nation worshipping Christ in a renewed world (Rev 7.9). Church gives us a glimpse of that future: real, physical, and united in worshipping Christ. Church may feel rather less exalted than heaven. Christians are still sinners, albeit saved by grace. But, nevertheless, church gives us a glimpse of that great future: not a production line of clones or disembodied souls, but uniquely different, embodied people living in harmony together in God’s place. It prepares us for that day.
The 5th of July was therefore a great day. Why? Because churches were able to meet physically again. But has the short, sharp disruption of lockdown fooled us into thinking that church meetings are disposable? That somehow I can follow Jesus in my own safe individualistic pixelated bubble?
Christ calls us out, to take risks, to serve the physical and spiritual needs of others. This is a threat to our safety. But, paradoxically, it is life in all its fullness.
Our livestream will therefore only be kept running during the crisis to keep in touch with the congregation and to invite our local community to come and experience the reality of Christ at work among us every Sunday.
Let’s pray that through this crisis, people will realize that we need Christ’s people, as they need us. And, as it says in Hebrews, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us do so all the more as the day [of judgement] approaches” (10.24)