Online Church – not the same

Today was the first Sunday I was away from Northridge since June. I'm on my annual study break. During my study break, I plan ahead for six to twelve months of series and individual sermons. This year, my primary goal is to be ready for the topics and passages I plan to teach through April (at least).If it goes really well, maybe I'll be ready through June with the topics.

I do this because it takes a huge amount of pressure off week-to-week. I'll explain it sometime…

Anyway, I don't like to miss Northridge Church. It just isn't the same being somewhere else. This morning I decided to visit two churches online. More and more churches are offering their service LIVE online.  I decided to visit two church services, and although I enjoyed them, I'm not a big fan of online church (practically or theologically).

I know that it is becoming more popular and my grandkids will probably tell me how old-fashioned I am and how I'm confusing preference and conviction (although Hebrew 10:25 seems pretty strong to me). I don't know how you can obey the command to "meet together" without "meeting together." But anyway, I definitely am not a fan of "online church" and I'm just sitting here missing my Northridge family.

I can't wait to get back to Ephesians next Sunday. 

And – I can't wait to watch the entire service online later this week. Although I certainly won't say that I "went" to church (here at the desk where I'm sitting). I will just watch what others experienced when they went to church. And by the way, I don't think the problem with online church is that you "watch" the sermon on a screen instead of "live" in the room.  I think the problem is – you can't BE the Church… alone.

What do you think? Is "watching" church online really church?

12 comments
  1. I think that the term “on-line church” is a misnomer. “On-line sermon” or “on-line teaching” would be far more accurate. The early church was charged with providing both care and accountability. Hard to do that without some sort of interaction.

    To put it plainly, I am not qualified to play quarterback just because I watch Monday Night Football.

  2. Like you, there are time when my wife and I cannot be there. In these cases, having the services online is invaluable. That said, the experience is much less compelling in our opinion.

  3. I agree.As much as I like *re-playing * the service…it comes no where near to what it is like when I am sitting right there!! No interruptions, or hitting the pause button. In church you are just totally engulfed on worshiping God. And nothing beats worshiping with fellow believers!!

  4. Well. I agree that online church is NOT really church, not the way we are Biblically called to have church. But the sermon itself is just as easily absorbed online as it is in person. The fact is, Northridge has become so large, it has lost its ability to make being at church in person unique from watching it on a TV or computer. Sure, you may shake a hand or two and make small talk with a few folks in between coming and going; but the accountability, edifying relationships, and pastoral care you may find at the service of a smaller church just isn’t possible in a such a large service. So, my reasoning here is that whether you make it to the service in person or not, your “church” experience can not be complete at Northridge (or any other church that has grown so) without involvement in a small group.

  5. Melissa –

    Great point, and I agree. I guess my assumption is – that someone who watches church online on a regular basis probably doesnt attend a small group.  And if they do – then I would question why someone would attend the small group, but not the church gathering.

    Anyway – good thought.

  6. David-

    I believe there are people who(if they had to choose) would attend small group over the service. This points back to personal preference issues around the new building and recent changes. But I agree, it does seem more common for folks to be missing out on the small group experience- especially shut-ins. These folks have no choice but to watch the sermon online and never benefit from a group. I wonder what is in place at Northridge to be sure that the needs of these folks are being met?

  7. I like the discussion you guys are having (Melissa and David), but I’d like to interject a comment about the value of attending “large group”. While I agree, that there is no value inherent in viewing the sermon in person over online, I’d have to disagree with the following comment:

    “Sure, you may shake a hand or two and make small talk with a few folks in between coming and going; but the accountability, edifying relationships, and pastoral care you may find at the service of a smaller church just isn’t possible in a such a large service.”

    I actually find that Sunday morning greatly enhance the work done in my small group. The “small talk” actually often turns to checking up on people in my small group and seeing how their prayer requests and accountability issues are panning out. It gives me a chance to interact with people that I serve with in various capacities. Overall, it gives me a sense of how the body is functioning… almost like a spiritual pulse. It’s riveting to people connecting, meeting, conversing, serving and sharing… all in one place!

    In fact, I see no difference between this and a smaller church. I’ve attended at least three other churches with attendances fewer than 100, and I didn’t see any greater amount of fellowship and accountability. Sure, I knew 100% of the people (while I might know or recognize only 10-15% of the people on a Sunday at Northridge), but knowing a greater proportion never resulted in greater spiritual growth. Actually, the opposite would often result… I wasn’t used to seeing a church grow, so I saw little incentive to pursue the Gospel with friends who didn’t know Christ…

    For the larger church settings to be productive, you have to pursue it. Many people can just come and go without interacting (I know a few who do this…), so just watching online is all you need, if you are so inclined.

  8. Josh –

    Well said. I couldnt agree more. I would also add to it – that seeing people every week that i dont know (which happens to me several times a week) – reminds us of the mission – to make more and better disciples.

    I better get back to my studies…

  9. Hi Josh,

    I am glad that big church enhances your small group experience, and vice versa! As it should be! 🙂 However, I think you were kind of making my point with me rather than opposing my view. I meant to point out that “big church” at a church as big as Northridge can not be complete WITHOUT the small group experience. I do not believe that the “spiritual pulse” you speak of makes any sense to someone who is not “linked in” in some capacity; mainly through small group (but also through serving.) The bottom line: viewing the sermon online is no different than going live IF you are not connected in some capacity other than the sermon… and it is this condition of not being connected in some capacity other than the sermon that makes it not really church done the Biblical way. 🙂

  10. Good point Melissa.

    So I think this makes the case that every person that steps through the door at a church like Northridge needs to feel welcome and immediately invited into community!

  11. Watching on line is good if you really can’t get to church but there is a lot to be gained by contact with other believers. By this contact there is a give and take relationship and a feeling of continuity and cohesiveness with them. Volunteering is important which really can’t be done otherwise on line. I think it’s necessary to be there.

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