When we meet in the Cloud
A short defense of virtual gathering.
Covid-19 has sent the world and the church into a tech frenzy. Work, school and even play dates have moved online, and the church has certainly had to adjust. While many of the churches have turned to YouTube and Zoom to help shepherd people, some of the most faithful churches and most respected leaders have chosen another route.
Many churches with the funds and knowledge to embrace this virtual road have pulled over and simply said, “Wait.” They have chosen to suspend corporate worship all together until crowds are encouraged to gather again and not replace it with a virtual substitute. The reasons are varied but most have a root in the insufficiency of a virtual gathering to replace the actual one. Other arguments include that it may encourage less fidelity to the church meeting once life returns to normal. I agree that each one of these disadvantages has elements of truth to it and should not be ignored, but I believe that the virtual gathering can bring tangible value.
Christ chose the imagery of marriage as an illustration of His love for the Church, and I think marriage might help us think through this more clearly. We have had numerous married men in our church deployed overseas. I have walked through the challenges and changes that come with such a long separation. In all my counseling and consideration with these couples, I have never discouraged them from reaching out using FaceTime or Skype or whatever technology is available. I don’t think it needs to be said that such an interaction is not a sufficient replacement for being face-to-face with a spouse, but it surely beats the alternative of never seeing or talking to each other for 6-9 months. I don’t worry that the husband will find virtual marriage more attractive than the physical kind. In fact, I’m pretty sure the virtual one only increases the desire to be together.
If a gathered church is no more attractive than a virtual one, the problem is not the temptress of technology, but the understanding and execution of the corporate body to begin with. That being said, I do fear that many trends in western Christianity have dulled the pleasures of the gathered church.
People who attend sporting events are being swayed to watch them in the comfort of their own home, but none of the players find the couch more enjoyable than the court. When worship is a spectacle, the location of spectation (think I just coined that) is negotiable. But when corporate worship is a community effort, where people actually sing to one another…and can see and hear one another, where people live in community, then watching from the sideline is only what injured people do…and they count the days until they can participate once more.
The reason we have chosen to still have a designated time when we encourage all our church to gather around a screen and listen to the Word read and preached and sing songs and give is because it’s better than nothing. I don’t mean that it’s just barely better than nothing either, but it is significantly lacking in many ways. But I think those deficiencies will create the same longing, to be together (if not more) than complete abstinence would. Whatever tactics your church employs, let us all be committed to the local body of Christ, and may we sing with new vigor the words of Isaac Watts, “We long to see your churches full.”
Until we meet again…or online…