July 3, 2012
Online Church: The Pros and Cons
Why go to a church service when you can watch online?
Tim Stevens from Granger Community Church was asked a question recently that earlier generations of pastors never faced: "Why go to a church service when you can watch online?" With more churches offering online videos of their worship gatherings, staying home is a growing option for many Christians. While there's nothing new about broadcast worship (churches have utilized radio and television for decades), the fact that you can 'attend' your local church without leaving home makes one feel more connected or committed.
Stevens responds to the question with five reasons to physically go to church. In one of his points he reminds us that church isn't just about being "fed":
If going to “church” once a week was just about gaining what you need spiritually to make it through another week, then tuning in online would be just fine. You could get what you need on Christian radio, reading books, studying the Bible or watching your favorite TV preacher. But the purpose of church is so much broader than that. It is about corporate worship, praying and studying the Bible together, serving one another and reaching out in mission together. This can’t be done in isolation.
Stevens also reminds us that the church is really an interdependent community of Christians, and not just an institution that provides religious goods and services:
You need the “church” (those people who are followers of Jesus and gather together with your congregation) more than you think you do. There is so much in Scripture about the relational aspects of the church—love one another, be devoted to one another, encourage one another, instruct one another, greet one another—and these can’t be done as well in a virtual environment.
If his post ended there one might conclude that Stevens is no fan of online worship, but you'd be wrong. He goes on to list four reasons why online services are valuable. Central to his thinking is the idea that online worship "provides a bridge" for those unable or not yet ready to "take a step into a community of faith." But Stevens doesn't see online worship as a legitimate, permanent substitute for physical engagement in a church.
So what do you think? Should your church be providing online worship? Can it serve as a bridge or outreach tool, or will it be abused and used to further cultivate a consumerist mindset among Christians? Check out Stevens' thoughtful post and share your comments.