In some states, Covid restrictions are beginning to lift, and life is beginning to return to something resembling “normal.” However, for churches, this “normal” includes reduced numbers, less giving, and discouraged ministry leaders. The events of the past year may feel like the final straw that broke the church. In a culture where faith is already struggling to survive, this can feel devastating. Quick access to church services has made church, for some, a little too “easy,” and some people do not see the need to return to church in person.
As ministry leaders, we know that being a member of a church is about so much more than listening to a sermon. Being in church is about fellowshipping with other believers and serving alongside them not just in the church, but in the community and the world. It can seem like the ability to stream services is killing church attendance and ultimately making it too easy to become a “consumer” of Christianity rather than an active servant of Christ.
At the same time, streaming services is beneficial for many who cannot otherwise attend for health reasons or other extenuating circumstances. Perhaps someone has contracted Covid and is quarantined or perhaps an elderly person is in a nursing home yet still feels attached to a particular church body. Streaming services can allow these people to still feel connected to a church when they otherwise might not have the ability.
So where should the line be drawn? Should a church continue streaming services if it kills active participation in the church? Should the good of the few be prioritized over the potential detriment to the many?
It is important to remember that the kingdom of God is not about numbers. The “few” are still human beings who are created in the image of God and their needs are no less significant just because the “many” do not require the assistance the few may require. The answer is not as simple as “majority rules.”
Yet at the same time, Christ calls us to be in fellowship with one another and to serve others. How can we do this if we are only observing worship leaders and pastors from a computer screen?
The answer for every church will be different, as every church is affected by this new social situation in different ways.
I, personally, do not believe the answer lies in ceasing streaming altogether. Streaming is accessibility for so many people who would not otherwise have access to a church community, and streaming is an outreach tool that may make its way into homes that otherwise would not hear the message of the Gospel.
However, the church must find new ways to emphasize the necessity of participation in the body of Christ in person as restrictions are lifted and people become vaccinated and protected from Covid. In reality, the solution to this problem probably lies in doing more, not in doing less.
What does this look like? Perhaps is means taking meals to those who watch services exclusively online and visiting with them (if possible) so that they can remain connected with the church. Perhaps it means planning a “renewal day” of fellowship and service at the church. Perhaps it means planning service projects that require in person attendance. Perhaps it means having someone actively chatting with online attendees to allow them to share prayer requests, ask questions, etc.
Whatever solutions your church finds, may the Holy Spirit bless it and use it to grow the Kingdom of God.