19 September 2016 - clay
What defines church, part 3 – Church online
God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. – I Corinthians 1:9
Today there seems to be no end of tasks which can be accomplished online. Amazon allows you to purchase products and have them delivered to your home within the same day, some even within a couple of hours. Walmart and Sam’s allow you make your grocery selections on their web sites and they will pull everything for you so you only have to go pick them up. My three degrees are the results of three different colleges offering education online. I never saw the campuses of two of those schools until right before graduation.
What does this mean for the church? Can a church legitimately offer a service or create a campus online and effectively perform the Great Commission? If a person only attends online are they an active part of the church membership or are they taking the lazy way out? How can the sacraments of the church be offered in an online setting?
First, can church online be a legitimate form of church attendance? I believe that it absolutely can, in multiple ways. Consider someone who is homebound and physically unable to attend a church service in person. Using technology we can take the church service to them and help them grow in their relationship with Christ. Consider someone in the military who is overseas and unable to find a Christian worship service. The same technology can help them to watch a service or attend a small group during a time when they are able to. Finally, what about someone who is a new Christian in an area of the world where Christianity is punishable by imprisonment or even execution? Watching the church online can disciple them in ways that they would never have access to otherwise.
These are just a couple of examples of people who don’t have physical access to a church and yet, like all believers, they shouldn’t neglect the gathering together. People don’t have to be in the same location in order to share experiences and life together. There is a reason that social media carries the name “social” with it. People are able to find affinity groups and connect with others through sites like Facebook and Twitter, where before they had to be in the same physical location to do so.
Will there be people who take advantage of church online in order to not take part in the church? Absolutely there will be, but this is really no different than people who may physically attend a service and choose to stay anonymous. Online attendees may potentially be able to interact more than physical attendees because they have the ability to chat during the service and ask questions.
How can baptism and communion be accomplished with a church online? Communion is the easier of the two. With enough advance notice, online attendees can have the elements present with them and participate during the service just like anyone else. There are also single serving communion packages which include a small cup of juice and a wafer that can be mailed out. Baptism is a trickier one, as you need water and someone else to help. Can it be done? Yes, but the logistics surrounding it are a little more difficult.
Small groups can form online and discipleship and education can happen as well. Instead of limiting ourselves to only the worship service online, we could also show membership classes and broadcast small groups as well. It is even possible that people from the same area who are not in the same physical location can get together to form their own small group or attend church online together. I’ve developed relationships with other guys through playing Halo online sometimes. I have one friend who I’ve never actually met who I talk to quite often because of Xbox Live. Relationships can develop online, sometimes in a deeper fashion than they do in person.
Yes, an online campus can be a vital part of a church. It can help to plant new churches in areas not yet reached by the Gospel. It can disciple those who are not otherwise physically able to attend a traditional church. It can help foster small groups over diverse areas. The church would be remiss to ignore the opportunities presented to it by this kind of technology, being careful to ensure that it is used in ways that seek to glorify God and not to expand our own kingdoms.