The Internet will not save your church (or your youth group)

Neither will live-streaming your service.

Who wouldn’t love to gather together with their church family this Sunday and participate in corporate worship again? (You hardcore introverts can put your hand down right now.) Singing songs to God, hearing the bible read aloud, praying for each other, sharing in communion, having the Word preached, being challenged to participate in God’s mission…these are just some of the great things that we do when we come together as Christ’s body (usually) on a Sunday.

Then COVID-19 turned up and stopped all that.

We’re feeling it even more acutely now because we know how painful it is to go into lockdown, how hard it is to maintain community while in lockdown, and how frustrating those gatherings are due to the understandable limitations once we are allowed to ease out of lockdown.

Some churches have started/are continuing the streaming of their services (either pre-recorded or live) and that’s great.

It’s a brilliant opportunity to connect with your congregation, allow others to join in from across the state/country/world, and even allow people to ‘taste test’ your church. See if it’s for them when you do come back together.

There are burgeoning communities online that have enjoyed the opportunity to gather via Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Discord (for example) that are finding great comfort in their conversations and tribal communion.

So much of IRL (in real life) has been transformed into a digital/online experience that it’s easy to think this new way of gathering should be considered our new normal.

The catch is: online communities or church are no replacement for IRL gatherings, and we should never expect them to be.

“BUT MOLK!” I hear you cry. “I’m a part of an online community and I have some of the best friendships with these people and we’ve never met in person ever.” You might well do, and that’s great.

Don’t get me wrong. Before I became a professional Christian I worked in IT support and management for 20 years, and have been a part of growing online communities for 12 years. I understand the benefits and development that come from investing in online community and the glorious friendships you can gain from them.

If you only have an online relationship, it’s not a real relationship.

Seeing people in the flesh makes all the difference. The very nature of online community allows for us to hide things from each other, be they physical ailments, emotional problems, or spiritual pain. The masks we can wear in public are much thicker and far easier to hide behind when we’re only looking at a two-dimensional collection of pixels on a monitor or phone. After all, for most of the time we’re only seeing your head and shoulders, and not all of the real you.

The physicality of the IRL relationship means we get to see and appreciate the other person for the wonderful creation God made them to be. As imperfect as we all are it is very difficult to maintain the fraud of a perfect life when we engage in regular/weekly gathering. We see the awkward stance and posture. We come to understand so much more by taking in the complete picture of the other. The gentle touch on the arm or hug that makes all the difference in knowing you are understood and accepted. We affect each other’s lives through the sheer physicality of our interactions.

This is the stuff of a gloriously real community. The fabulous mess of the church. Knowing who we are, and together recognising God is always at work with us individually and as a community. Deeply investing in each other’s lives by participating in each other’s lives.

An online community can encourage you, support you through a difficult time, and be with you for a season.

A real life community can help you move house, share a meal with you, hear you share your hopes/troubles/dreams, and will be with you for life.

Your community, and especially your young people, need the comfort, welcome, and accountability of a warm, face-to-face community. Until we can do that, continue to support each other as best you can. Gather on Zoom for church, prayer, or home group. Call or text each other to see how things are. Continue to make plans for when you can see each other again because it will make all the difference in the online and offline world.

Use your online communities to help you get through all this…remembering they don’t replace the necessary face-to-face gatherings that allow us to imprint our lives on each other.

The internet will not save your church…being a warm, welcoming, empathetic IRL community will.

Remember you can keep in touch with PULSE by signing up for our monthly newsletter, or for further information contact our team via email, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok.

Molk is the Senior Field Officer (North), and Young Adult ministry leader as a part of the PULSE team.

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