Online worship - bringing in new people! cuncon@pixabay.
Not too long ago, the church world was all in a kerfuffle about the “right” kind of music to play during worship. The purists wanted traditional hymns and an organ. The cutting edge-types wanted praise music and drums. Diatribes were written about hymnals versus projecting words on a screen. Arguments were made about the theology of the old standards being superior to praise music. Heels dug in.
The outside world just shook their heads in collective dismay.
Now comes a similar but new kerfuffle (say it with me, kerfuffle): should online worship stay or go? As if there wasn’t enough to divide us, I became aware of this new controversy by way of the New York Times. In her opinion piece, “Why Churches Should Drop Their Online Services,” Tish Harrison Warren, a priest in the Anglican Church in North America, made her case why online worship was inferior and less spiritual than in-person worship.
She made some valid points:
- The initial reason for going online is diminishing. Save for a possible new variant somewhere down the road, COVID’s grip on us is waning. Time to encourage and celebrate being back in the sanctuary.
- Christians, like everyone, are called to be in community. In the best of all worlds, that community happens in person. Warren quotes from another NYT’s “let’s get back to in-person church” opinion piece by Collin Hansen “Christians need to hear babies crying in church. They need to see the reddened eyes of a friend across the aisle… They need to chat with the recovering drug addict who shows up early but still sits in the back row. They need to taste the bread and wine. They need to feel the choir crescendo toward the assurance of hope in what our senses can’t yet perceive.”
These are good points to support in-person worship.
Then I take offense.
Warren argues that offering both in-person and online church makes it seem that both have equal value. Which is wrong because it’s clear (to her) that in-person worship is superior. Excuse me while I roll my eyes.
Most problematic is her breezy, “…no longer offering a streaming option will unfortunately mean that those who are homebound or sick will not be able to participate in a service. This, however, is not a new problem for the church. For centuries, churches have handled this inevitability by visiting these people at home in person.”
The irony is that online worship has been an incredible boon precisely to this population. People, primarily the elderly and homebound – the church’s backbone for decades when they were spry and its most dedicated givers – can now be connected to their churches again. They can experience worship. Every. Single. Week.
Is it perfect? No. Would those people prefer to be in church? Undoubtedly. Is it realistic that they can get there? Unlikely. Online worship can be a lifeline for our respected and revered elders.
In addition, because of online worship:
- People who are immune-compromised can worship.
- Folks who have a short-term illness can experience the Spirit and hear the Word.
- People on vacation or those working the night shift can be a part of their local congregation.
- Seekers who may have been harmed by the church or who are just curious can experience the church in a way that isn’t necessarily terrifying or stress-inducing.
Online church is not easy to produce. It takes valuable time and technical expertise. It costs – in funds and in hours. Those are some very practical things to consider.
But to say that in person worship is superior to online? That takes me right back to the old music wars. When someone would go on (and on) about the inferiority of praise music, I’d think about the days when hymnals were controversial. When there was no organ. When there was no amplified sound. Each of those new-fangled things introduced in the church back in the day were seen as “less than.”
If you can swing it, online worship is here to stay. And that’s a good thing. Let’s celebrate it, embrace it and vow to not see it as somehow inferior. In the end, it’s yet another necessary evolution in bringing people the life-giving and affirming Good News of Christ.
P.S. Webinar opportunity! Some of you may remember that I did an interview with Mark Elsdon, the author of We Aren’t Broken (one of my favorite books of 2021). The Cascadia District Extension Society of the OR-ID Annual Conference of the UMC (a committee I serve on) has invited Mark to speak. And…you’re invited! Thursday, February 24, 10-11am (PST). Sign-up here. For more information, check out the flyer.