Yesterday I did something that I've never done before. I stayed home and watched church online.
For the last few months I've been visiting a different church every week. I wrote a couple of blog posts about this a little while back. You can read them by clicking here or here. I was intending on visiting another church with my family yesterday, but we've all been sick for the last few days, and we just weren't feeling up to leaving the house.
So we stayed home and watched church online. We tuned into North Point Community Church. The online experience was excellent, similar to everything else North Point does. With that said, I still have some mixed feelings about the idea of church online. While it's still fresh in my mind, I want to share my thoughts with you. Here are some of my pros and cons to online church.
Pro #1 - Online church is a great option for when you are sick or can't make it to church.
Like I said, my whole family was sick. Leaving the house wasn't really an option. It wouldn't have been good for us or for anyone else if we would have attended church in person yesterday. So having an online option was great for us. I can also see how this would be helpful when the weather is really bad, as well as for people who are shut-ins or simply don't have a way to physically get to church.
Pro #2 - Online church can be a great way to get to know a church before attending in person.
Even after visiting a new church every week for the last few months, it's still intimidating to walk into a new place that we've never been before. I can see how someone who has never attended church or someone who hasn't been in a long time would find the online option as a non-threatening way to check out a church. North Point did an excellent job of trying to engage the online audience and invite them to come to a physical campus in person.
Pro #3 - Online church is better than no church.
There are lots of people who, for one reason or another, aren't going to physically attend church at this point in their life. Yet they may be willing to watch a church service online. I would argue that giving someone the option to watch online is better than them doing nothing at all. It's a step in the right direction. I can definitely see value in online church for this reason.
Con #1 - Online church is not an equal substitute for attending in person.
I'm sure people will disagree with me here, but in my opinion there is something irreplaceable about physically gathering together with the body of Christ. I am not arguing that we can't experience some form of community online, but it is not the same kind of community that we get by being physically present with each other. I would argue that it is always better to attend church in person if you can. A concern I see in offering online live streaming is that it could encourage people toward staying home when they could be physically present. I'm not saying this is a reason to do away with it, but it is something worth evaluating.
Con #2 - Online church isn't naturally participatory.
I know that many churches that offer an online experience have a host or pastor available to facilitate some sort of chat option. But my guess is that most people don't take advantage of this feature. My assumption is that most people watching online do just that: watch. I'll be honest, that's exactly what I did. Even though the words were on the screen during the songs, I didn't sing. It would have felt weird. I'm not saying it's impossible to participate, but I didn't feel very natural to do so. It is definitely a bigger challenge to participate online than in person.
Con #3 - Online church offers an escape from accountability.
I know that simply physically attending a church doesn't guarantee accountability. But when you show up to a church physically, other people know you exist. They know you are there. They see you in person. When you are watching online, no one knows who you are. Once again, many churches offer online sign-in options, giving options, etc. But it's much easier to ignore those options when you are watching online because no one knows you are there but you. It feels like accountability is a much greater challenge online than in person.
At the end of the day, I have mixed feelings about online church. I see a lot of value in it, but I also see some danger with it. I think it's a very powerful tool that can be used in positive ways. But I also think that it could be a cause for concern in some areas too. It seems like we are just scratching the surface of online church at this point. I'm curious to see what it's like 5 or 10 years from now.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on online church. Have you ever experienced it for yourself? If so, what do you think? Feel free to comment below.
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