Why Can't I Just Go to Church Online?
Attending a physical church still matters.
There is a nearly endless list of things I can do right here on my couch. I can do about 95 percent of my job, shop for groceries, talk to friends who live in other states, write this blog post, attend school and even have church. The internet is a beautiful thing.
Does a physical church even matter anymore?
Our phones have replaced church. Messages from the best preachers in the world are at your fingertips, and you can personally select the message that is most relevant to your life right now instead of whatever the pastor happens to preach on this Sunday.
Or if you prefer the Sunday morning experience, you can live stream the entire service of many churches without leaving your living room.
You can open Spotify and listen to worship songs you actually enjoy without needing to tolerate a mediocre band or suffer through the songs you don’t like that the worship leader picked out this week.
You can even give generously, right there on the couch.
You can donate to a church, to a missionary in a developing country or to the local nonprofit that saves girls from sex trafficking in your city.
So is church attendance still necessary? If church is nothing more than singing songs and hearing a sermon, there is a far more efficient way to do it. Why are we hanging on to the Sunday gathering like it’s a magic bean if we can experience all of it on our phones?
On the other hand, if church is more than a sermon and a few songs, is that being clearly communicated by most local churches?
Why people don’t need church
Barna recently reported a growing trend of those who love Jesus but not the Church.
And contrary to what many of us have heard, “Christians who do not attend church say it’s primarily not out of wounding, but because they can find God elsewhere or that church is not personally relevant to them.”
Most people aren’t leaving the Church because of abuse, offense or hypocrisy, but because church is:
Unimportant: People do not find value or serious benefit in attending church.
Irrelevant: The church isn’t answering the questions that people are asking.
Inefficient: If I can listen to a sermon on my daily commute by a preacher who is a much better communicator than the local pastor, attending church is a poor use of my time.
There are three things the Church must do to show the world that more efficient does not mean spiritually sufficient.
Remind the people why we gather.
We no longer live in a culture where people are born assuming that Sunday is the Sabbath or a day of worship. We have to tell them why church is important.
Every single week.
No, that isn’t excessive. If you want people to think of church as a vital part of their lives, you must remind them why they are here.
We are here to gather (the word “church” means “gathering”), with the rest of the Body of Christ in Christian fellowship, and a smartphone can never replace that.
Emphasize “we,” not “me.”
I would encourage pastors and worship leaders to look at the sermons and songs they are doing at their churches each week.
If we are communicating that church is about “me,” rather than “we,” in the songs we sing and the sermons we preach, then why do I need to come? I can have church at home.
If church is not about a gathering, but a time for people to individually focus on the Lord, then my living room is a far better place than church to personally connect with Jesus.
So on that note, can we please stop saying things like, “Don’t think about the person to your right or left, just focus on the Lord right now?” Corporate worship is all about worshipping together, rather than alone with the Lord.
Give them something they can’t download.
What makes church a unique experience that you can’t get on the internet? I would suggest the answer is participation.
There are two types of church services: performative and participative.
Performative: The church service is a performance. The audience watches while the Church performs a great concert and an inspiring message. The audience has no duty or responsibility.
We can do all of this from our phones.
I call the people in this type of service the “audience,” rather than the “congregation,” on purpose.
Audience has the root, “audio,” which implies they are simply hearers and nothing more. Congregation implies that we are gathering together (congressing) to be a part of the service.
Participative: The church service requires the involvement of the congregation.
People have to sit and stand and kneel, speak and sing and be silent, receive the Lord’s Supper, give, pray, etc. Participation is transformational and it can’t be done on my couch.
Participation is worth coming for.