I’ve been a little a little worried about people / churches mistaking streaming worship and preaching / teaching for church. Streaming a service, sermon or worship isn’t necessarily church. Gathering, worshipping together and listening to teaching / preaching are a part of church life. They aren’t in the fullest extent church. As we do that, it is important for us to keep in mind that online church is more than streaming.
Church Online And Online Church Misconception(s)
Even before the COVID-19 crisis that has ‘forced’ churches to stream services, I’ve been worried about a misconception that might grow. So I ranted. I usually leaving ranting for my personal ‘gram account but this time I felt it appropriate on the ChurchMag Instagram.
Streaming a preaching or gathering isn’t church online. That’s one part of it. Christ followers online are, in a sense, the Church online. As a movement, we are the Church online. The kind of movement we are, as a global collective, is for discussion on another day.
Then there’s another aspect to consider. That is a community of committed Christ followers journeying together. People who stir, agitate, inspire each other to acts of love. Individuals forming a body where they build each other up. And, together not only live out their faith, but bring together their gifts to introduce others to Jesus and love their neighbours.
So, for the purposes of this discussion I make following distinction:
Church online: Christ followers with estate or some form of presence online.
Online church: community, in the real sense, of Christ followers.
Excuse the simplicity I’ve used, but I can’t unpack all the detail here. I can only communicate minute aspects and thoughts. There’s a whole branch of theology dedicated to this study!
Beyond A Broadcast
Congregational or collective worship isn’t (supposed to be) a spectator ‘event’. Worship in gathered community is something we all participate in. I guess part of the problem is that we’ve developed a culture of ‘listening to worship’ music. Watching a worship song performed on YouTube doesn’t mean you’re involved in that act of worship.
Worship is more than the songs we sing or stream. It is also, in a big way, how we live. But, when we express worship in song, we should be participating.
Tech, media have affected media; the creation, broadcast and consumption. I’m for streaming. My concern is that we could slip from active participation to passive spectators. This means that church leaders–preachers / teacher, worship leaders etc, we must encourage participation. We as the body, should also guard against slipping into spectators.
Online church is more than streaming, let’s also make it about participation.
This isn’t to suggest that we can’t be or that there aren’t spectators in the in-person-same-room gathering. The thing is, some of the challenges that exist IRL, still exist online. I love that the Church Online Platform has provision for some interaction while streaming but more can still be done.
If I had to help church develop an online strategy for church life I’d suggest not paying as much attention to streaming live worship as we do. While we take advantage of streaming we mustn’t lose sight of community. Online church means that we explore ways of making community happen.
Online church is more than streaming, let’s make sure we’re building community.
The other aspect we must factor into online church is how can we love our neighbours? Who are the least in our communities? Shelter in place directives or lockdowns, as they called in some parts of the world, affect them even more.
The medium doesn’t change our mandate. The medium isn’t supposed to change our mission. Our identity demands healthy disdain against inaction.
How will we be the light?
As we move to take care of congregants, let’s not lose sight of introducing others to Jesus. This is one of the reasons I watch how Alpha is adjusting their evangelisation resource for online. It might be a way to continue mobilising your church to reach others.
Online church (should be) is more than streaming. So, let’s build more than streaming platforms. Let’s build a participatory, relational, growing community of missional disciples. Now that we’ve kinda, sorta figured out this streaming thing, let the church online be online church.