“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19
So much has changed for so many of us in the last few years. From an increase in our reliance on digital devices to a global pandemic, many of us are feeling confused, disconnected, and even isolated. While we often turn to social media to help us feel connected to our friends and families, the truth is that with all of the brands, celebrities, news, and other distractions, it can be an assault on our well-being rather than the connection we seek. It’s like eating cotton candy when what we want, and need is a meal.
Still, we must make time to sit at the table. Ask anyone who has a family, a job, hobbies, and other commitments, finding (or making) time for the things that are important to us can be difficult. We feel overscheduled and overwhelmed. But what if one of the things we blame for our disconnect actually presented a solution and was able to nourish us? In fact, online church, for many, has been just that solution.
- What is an Online Church?
- Is Online Church Really Church?
- Who Belongs to an Online Church?
- Benefits of Online Church
What is an Online Church?
It should come as no surprise to those in theological circles that there is some discussion and debate about what constitutes an online church. Some churches broadcast their services via streaming video while others create interactive services, allowing congregants and visitors to interact with ministers via Zoom or other technology. In short, there’s a physical building where some congregants attend, but others are only able to watch from afar.
In contrast, there’s virtual church. These organizations meet in digital spaces created specifically to allow multiple users to connect in a new virtual meeting room or church. They may don avatars or create another non-physical representation of participants, who may remain anonymous. In this way, they can interact with one another, but there is no real space visited or created.
Finally, there is online church. Online churches may include both broadcast or streaming services and virtual spaces but are often connected to a physical space as well. That is there’s a church, but to expand its community, it’s leveraging the digital world and space as well.
Online church works to create a digital or internet church space for a variety of interactions from small groups and pastor lead discussions to activities and one-on-one counseling. It’s all of the traditional church activities and interactions, just made far more accessible by modern technology.
Is Online Church Really Church?
For many of us who grew up attending traditional churches, it may seem foreign to even consider this. Afterall, is church really church if I don’t have to go on Sunday? If there are no pews? No lectern? No in-person pastor?
Obviously, again, in theological circles this becomes a much larger question like “What is church?” For some, it’s a building, others a community, and still others it is more about the connections we create within those walls and among those people.
Church is our desire to commune with God; to search for truth, meaning, and connection; to gather with our communities and share both our human and spiritual experiences; to receive guidance and comfort; to actively participate in service to others; and much more as, arguably, church can be an individual concept with different meanings for different congregants.
Can an online church meet these needs? Of course. And so, despite debate, given this understanding, it’s fair to assert that online church is, in fact, really church.
Who Belongs to an Online Church?
The short and simple answer is anyone who is looking for ways to fit church or church community into their life. While some believe online church is only for those who cannot physically, due to injury or ailment, attend a regular church, the reality is a bit more diverse than that.
Church attendance has, realistically, been dropping for some time. In fact, attendance fell below 50% for the first time in nearly half a century. Then, the pandemic came, and church attendance dropped even more over safety concerns. So, it has really been a time of reckoning for a lot of churches.
Arriving at a solution, however, requires asking the correct question. It’s easy to ask, “Why did people stop attending?” And for every individual out there, you’ll likely get a different answer. That’s a pretty difficult problem to solve. In contrast, what if we asked, “How could the church better meet its community where they are?” And, therein, we find an answer.
The benefits of online church, which we’ll get to in a moment, have to appeal to a cross-section of people who, for whatever reason, from time commitment to finding the right church community, ceased to attend. And then, we have to create a community that meets their spiritual needs. It’s one reason that an online church is more than just a broadcast or video of a sermon.
Benefits of Online Church
The first, and primary benefit, of an online church is that it creates the opportunity for individuals who cannot physically get to a church to still participate in a church community and gain all the benefits of church attendance from home. However, it goes beyond that. In fact, it addresses many of the objections Christians have to attending in-person church in the modern world.
- Members do not have to be geographically close
Many people love to attend and belong to church communities with friends and family who do not or no longer live nearby. Online churches allow those individuals to participate in the same online church.
Similarly, many people struggle to find a church that fits them, their lives, and their family. Online churches open the door to invite and welcome these individuals, regardless of where they live, and create a good spiritual fit.
- A home for those who cannot leave home
As mentioned above, whether it’s illness or injury or another challenge or obstacle that makes physically attending church difficult, online churches don’t leave these folks out of the church or church communities. There are many ways to participate and digitally or virtually is now one!
- Increase youth ministry
From overwhelming schedules to teen priorities, ministering to adolescents can be a challenge. And, if you’re like a lot of parents, you understand the value of church community in helping establish a framework for a life well-lived. Online church can tap into streaming trends and engage youth through the technology they’re most comfortable with.For example, NewChurch Live offers a daily 10 Minutes of Calm that can engage your entire family in church community, foster conversations and connection, all in just ten minutes. The added benefit? It can show your entire family how slowing down can enrich their day and relationships.
- Connect with community
From the homebound to those far from home, finding like-minded people can be difficult. An online church community can help you get connected with people who share your values, interests, and in some cases, activities. From volunteering to book clubs, online churches offer a lot more than just a digital landing spot.
- Church on the go
There was a time when traveling, for work or pleasure, meant disconnecting from church and God. Online church is available on your phone, tablet, or laptop. It’s like having church in your pocket…it goes where you go.
- It meets you where you are
One of the biggest fears about attending a new church or returning to church is finding where you fit. Online church allows you to engage at a level where you are comfortable and explore your relationship with God and spirituality not just from home, but from wherever you are on your journey. You participate as much, or as little, as you’d like.
For many people, church attendance stopped when other aspects of life got in the way. The schedule set by the church meant you were committed to attending when the church was open and where the church was located. Online church literally meets you where you are, when you need or want it, whenever and wherever that may be.
One of the best ways to combat the challenges of the modern world lies in, for many, finding a place and community. With our harried lives, demanding schedules, social obligations, and our personal struggles, finding that place can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be.
If you find yourself searching for community and connection, spiritual contemplation or guidance, understanding and peace, you just may be looking for an online church. Get in touch with the NewChurch Live team and welcome you and show you around.