Living the Christian life and sacrificial living in Christian community is just that: a sacrifice, and it takes intentionality to live the life God has called us to live. In light of online church services becoming the norm, I think many of the things God has called us to do as a church when we gather will become naturally more difficult and even easy to stop altogether.
Below are a list of things I see as potential struggles that will affect every Christian, and therefore, every church. They’re not judgement calls, but simply an acknowledgment of how online services make the communal aspects of Christianity more difficult (so that we can be aware of them) with some practical things you can do to continue living in Christian community as we’ve been called to do.
As a final note before the list, I’m not saying that God can’t work through online services, but I am saying that I believe having online church has more drawbacks than have been acknowledged from what I’ve seen online and we need to be aware of some specific problems that they will cause and be ready to proactively fight again them in our personal lives and churches as a whole.
So, as we are required to have online services for a while, there are a few key things I think we need to be aware of:
Consumerism Christianity Could Easily Become The Norm
I’ve actually seen many posts and articles claiming that online church services will help eliminate “Consumerism Christianity” (where you simply attend a service, walk away, and don’t serve, give, or participate in any sacrificial way). However, I think we need to be on guard against consumerism Christianity becoming even more normal than it already is.
For years, pastors have warned against not just sitting in the congregation and trying to have church just be a place where you “consume” sermons and worship but one where you build community, serve, give, and exercise spiritual gifts… but in the context of online church, these natural problems will only be magnified.
It will be so much easier to simply watch services over the next 3 or so months without coming in contact with another church member or feeling obligated to do anything but spend an hour or so once a week watching a service.
And if too many previously active Christians suddenly fall into the routine of “Consumer Christianity,” this could become a massive problem once in-person services become possible again.
Online Church Can More Easily Become About “Me”
This issue is a specific off-shoot of “Consumer Christianity” where it will become very common for many Christians to stop attending the online services of their home church whenever it doesn’t fit what they like or “need” in the moment and go to other online churches. This type of online “church hopping” will also contribute to consumer Christianity specifically in the context of thinking of church as what it can do for you, instead of a body of believers you are to engage with and be a part of.
This “all about me” is easy to fall into when all church attendance options are online, because at that point there’s no other people to be serving or considering and so it’s easy to forget that you’re part of something larger than yourself and your tv; thus leading to focusing inward towards ourselves instead of upward towards Jesus.
We (As Christians) Naturally Lose Some Of Our Greatest Witness When We Gather Online Rather Than In Person
When Jesus said “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” in John 13:35, He was making it clear that being in a community of believers gives a greater Gospel Witness than being separate believers. As we have online services and are social distancing from everyone, including other believers, a lot of this witness will naturally not be present unless intentionally sought after.
Spiritual Disciplines And Accountability Could Easily Fall Away
One of the greatest aspects of gathering together is the realization that we all have problems and sin and that we’re to engage with each other to promote godliness and forgiveness in and towards each other.
We’re not meant to simply listen to sermons and sing songs, we are meant to be engaged with each other and with God, to be filled with His Spirit for the work of the ministry both inwardly towards other believers and outwardly towards the world.
But when we are online only, a lot of this will naturally stop happening, as the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind.
The Solution (What You And I Can Do About It)
I don’t write all of this to say that churches should still have in person services, but more to bring awareness of some of the natural problems that will come from only offering online services. Below are a few things I encourage every Christian to do during this time to help fight against the problems that online services create.
Find Ways To Serve In Your Church From A Distance
As I wrote about in my post “8 Ways You Can Live Out Your Faith In Jesus Even When You’re Stuck At Home” a great way to remember that you’re to be part of the church and not a spectator is to find ways to serve. I wrote more ideas in that post, but I encourage you to reach out to your church leadership and find where the needs are. It might be shopping for at risk families in the church, or joining the prayer team, or something else entirely.
Continue To Give And Support Your Church And Others Around You
Even in the midst of the pandemic, God desires us to put our trust in Him in all areas of our life, including our finances. By giving to your church and others in need, you will continue to put your faith in God as the first priority of your life rather than your comfort or security.
Purposefully Connect With A Few Other Christians
This is a lot easier if you already had a community or home group that you were part of before everything went online, but you can still reach out to a few people to be in online community with even if you didn’t have something beforehand.
Regardless, find a way to be intentionally connected with a group of Christians. This may be through a weekly online call, or an app like Marco Polo, the important thing is that you have a group of people you can be real with and live life with.
This group should be a place where you confess sin, ask for prayer, encourage each other with things God is teaching you, and are held accountable for the things God has put on your heart to do.
Be Intentionally In God’s Word And In Prayer
This isn’t something that’s unique to a time of social distancing and online church, but it’s something that I feel necessary to mention because it is of upmost importance to the Christian life.
We get to know God and hear from in His Word and one of the most powerful ways we engage with Him is through prayer. The importance of being in God’s Word and prayer cannot be overstated.
If you need help in these two areas, here are a couple blog posts I’ve written on the subject:
God has redeemed us from the burden of sin and death, its earned reward, and He has filled us with His Holy Spirit to live a new life that reflects Himself.
A massive part of this is living in community with Him and His Church (other Christians), so in the midst of social distancing, I encourage you to not simply watch online services, but to find ways to live out the Christian life by seeking God daily, serving others in any way you can and finding Christian community that will uplift you in prayer, encouragement and accountability and for whom you can do the same.