Can you imagine what would have happened had this pandemic come fifteen years ago? There would have been no Zoom, no easy way to Livestream our church service, and no Netflix. How would we have survived? I mean, after a stressful day dealing with the pandemic, I’m not sure how I could have coped without binge watching a TV show. Just kidding. Kind of…
This year has been rough, but the technology in place has certainly made it easier to bear. I’ll never forget the scramble to get our Livestream up and running. It looked so bootleg for the first few weeks, and then we gradually got better and better over time. Praise God for the hard work of many as they made it possible for us to continue to have Worship Services uninterrupted when everything was shut down and we were scrambling to figure out what to do.
However, I’ll never forget the first in person Worship Service that we did outside. Seeing people’s faces, looking into their eyes, and talking face to face was life giving. If you came out to our beautiful Easter Service, you probably felt the difference of being together in person. Assembling feels different and is different. The Livestream only allows you to view a service, but attending in person allows you to experience all the riches God has for us in the church.
The word church means “the assembly.” The church is, by definition, the assembling together of people in worship of Christ. And so whether it is the ability to engage with someone who is coming out to church for the first time, to pray for a friend, to look into a fellow brother or sister’s eyes and share what’s weighing on your heart, to hear each other’s voice sing truths to our Savior, to sit under the preaching of God’s word, or to serve in our Sunday Service to help others engage with God, we feel a fundamental difference in being with the church instead of being in our homes by ourselves.
For these reasons, we can see why we are told by our Lord to “not neglect our meeting together” (Heb 10:25). The word “meeting” also gets translated as “church.” Being together, in person, as the church is not an optional activity. It is the command of Christ for our spiritual well-being. This is why we went to extraordinary effort to start meeting outside and then doing massive renovations, so we could meet inside. Our Livestream was always meant to be a temporary holdover until we could gather again, not a substitute for our gathering.
Therefore, as vaccination numbers increase, COVID numbers continue to decline rapidly, and almost the whole country is fully reopened (yay for Philly being reopened on June 2nd!), we need to consider whether we should continue our Livestream. While I am grateful for the role it has played, I am concerned that moving forward, our Livestream could begin to enable a lack of genuine involvement in the church. As a pastor charged by God to watch over people’s souls (Hebrews 13:17), I do not want to support the unbiblical narrative that we can be isolated, alone, and still okay spiritually. I do not want to support the breaking of God’s command to be together in worship. I understand that we might enjoy watching a Sunday Service or sermon on Youtube and be edified by them. But Biblically, we are not experiencing church through our TV screens. We are not gathering together and seeing our brothers and sisters face to face. We are not hearing each other’s voices sing our Lord’s praise. We are not greeting each other with the welcome of Christ. We are not praying for each other and bearing one another’s burdens. We are not celebrating the Lord’s supper. We are not being the church.
So does this mean that our Livestream should go away? Our leadership team has certainly considered pulling the plug. We do not want our Livestream to become an excuse for someone to choose the convenience of being at home, watching the service in their pj’s, and thinking they are still engaging in church. We feel the weight of responsibility to whatever we can to prevent that unbiblical thinking, and the effect of that disconnection takes on one’s soul. So it certainly could seem reasonable to stop our Livestream at this point.
However, there do seem to be some benefits for continuing to offer our Livestream. First, for members who cannot attend in person due to sickness, physical limitations, or particular vulnerabilities, the Livestream remains a means for them to continue to experience the church’s ministry, albeit in a restricted and limited fashion. Second, the new norm has become for visitors to check out our worship service first via Livestream before attending in person. It reminds me of 20 years ago when the internet took off. Back then a church that didn’t have a website was not really considered legitimate by many who were looking for a church. People wanted to “check things out” online before coming in person. The same idea seems to be true now for a church having Livestream, and so we want to give people the ability to check us out before coming in person. Third, we have seen our Livestream reach people in other parts of the country and world. While the focus of our ministry is on our local area, we rejoice in how the gospel is going forth and want to help those people connect to local churches near where they live.
So for these reasons, we think it is wise to continue Livestreaming our Sunday Service, at least for now. However, we do not want to see people choosing the Livestream out of convenience at the expense of their soul. The Livestream is not what we should default to if the weather is bad, or we don’t feel like looking for parking, or we are tired and want to sleep in, or we just don’t feel up to going. To grow as God wants, we need to follow the path God prescribes of being present with the church. So, for the good of our souls and the church’s health as a whole, we should be eager to be together.
So the Livestream is staying, but please-unless you have extraordinary and unique circumstances, don’t tune into it, but prioritize being present with the church.
Hope to see you on the best day of the week!