It happened so suddenly.
In early March, churches in the United States were doing their regular worship services and carrying on other events as usual. Many had already begun planning and promoting Easter services. By the end of March, all those services and plans had radically changed. Church buildings and meeting spaces now remain empty for the immediate future as churches have moved to gathering online.
I’m thankful we have the technology to communicate and virtually gather. But we shouldn’t think this technology can fully substitute for our in-person meetings. I’m concerned as to how quickly we’ve let the technology do more than facilitate our church interactions.
Glut of Content
Overnight, churches pumped out tons of online content, pushing out multiple videos for people to watch throughout the day. You could spend all day on Facebook or Instagram “going to church” as you hop from video to video.
But as the saying goes, the medium is the message.
Should the church so quickly and reflexively reorient itself around the medium of the internet and social media in particular—a medium that demands lots of content geared towards immediate gratification? Is the church now just another content provider in a sea of online resources?
As we figure out how we want to do church online in this odd season, let’s not fall into the trap of thinking people need more stuff to passively consume. Worship sets that invite comparisons to music videos or late-night talk shows won’t serve us well in the long run. No church’s budget will ever be able to out-plus Disney+.
What Makes Us the Church
Remember: what makes us the church is that we are saved by and united together in Jesus. We are uniquely his body, connected to one another in him—a connection sustained and nurtured through our embodied life together.
The internet can help us maintain these connections in a limited way. But it can’t and won’t ever fully substitute for them. It’s good and even sanctifying for us to lament the loss. At the same time, we affirm that because the church forever belongs to the Lord, we can still carry out his mission. The gates of hell will still fall before the church, no matter our current challenges.
That means we can and should readjust, but let’s do so in a way that centers on our connection to each other as members of the church. This means putting as much energy as possible in facilitating member-to-member interaction and connection, releasing the saints for “the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12). Remember, church leaders, we serve a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9), and perhaps like never before the world needs faithful representation of our Lord.
We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. God already assembled the church in a way that allows members to care directly for one another (1 Cor. 12:24–25) and to extend care to their neighbors.
Harness Technology for a Greater Good
How might we use our technology less to direct people toward passively watching their screens and more toward actively connecting with one another? How might we use it to help church members talk to one another, care for one another, and pray for one another? How might this season push our members to represent the gospel message in everything they do, as they interact with their neighbors, coworkers, and social-media followers?
Perhaps this is a season to lean into a “low tech” way of doing this through that old friend, the phone call. Church leaders directly calling each of their members, and members regularly calling one another is one of the simplest—yet most immediately effective—ways to maintain church health.
Yes, for now we’re unable to meet together, at least in person. Nothing is changing that reality for the immediate future. But the Lord is faithful, and he loves his church. His plan to reveal his love to this world through his church has not changed.
This is a ripe season to remove barriers to God’s people participating in outreach. Let’s prayerfully trust that as we readjust within the limits he’s given us, God will bless and sustain us until the day we can again be face to face and have our joy made complete (2 John 12).