Let’s begin by removing the word virtual from our vocabulary when it comes to watching worship online. Virtual assumes it is less than real, not quite authentic and somewhat simulated. We know that for those watching online during this quarantine, it is none of that. Online worship is authentic, engaging, real and a legitimate expression of the church. I can’t tell you how many people have sent me pictures of their altars with wine and bread, a picture of the TV and how meaningful it has been to serve one another communion. We may be separated by a germ, but we are united by Christ.
I am so grateful that we have been offering online worship for years, and several months before the quarantine, launched our fourth campus, Christ Online. We are so far ahead of the curve in terms of technology and engagement. We were well positioned for this shelter order.
At Christ Lutheran, depending on the service, we have seen our views online increase five, seven, even tenfold during this time. Some may scoff at these numbers, calling them exaggerated, three-second views on Facebook, but the point is, we are reaching people, we are scattering the seeds, the Word is being heard—if only for three seconds! Who is to say that you who sit in the pew each Sunday are completely engaged, singing all the hymns and can recite all three points to the sermon? Let’s not quibble about the numbers; let’s celebrate the win. People are engaging with worship online more than ever before.
And the responses regarding home communion have been outstanding. People are not just OK with home communion; they are thrilled with it. The elderly couple holding hands, giving each other a sip of wine and a taste of bread. The young family who never really spoke church language at home, find themselves saying the words, “The body of Christ shed for you.” Even single people watching alone speak of an intimacy with the other brothers and sisters in Christ that they sometimes do not experience in the sanctuary.
So what happens post-quarantine?
Those churches who shut down their online worship and expect people to be back in their place on Sunday morning will be missing a huge opportunity. Online worship is not going to diminish. It is an authentic, legitimate expression of the church. The question will be, what’s next? Will people come rushing back to the church after the ban is lifted, or have they grown accustom to waking up ten minutes before worship and sitting on the couch? Will people begin inviting friends and family over for Sunday worship, followed by a lively discussion and lunch? When people are on vacation or at a soccer tournament, will they still pull out wine and bread and gather around the computer?
You are going to have to tell me what post-quarantine worship looks like.
I certainly hope that people will come rushing back to church to celebrate a reunion of the fellowship of believers. We are in the people gathering business. The body of Christ is best experienced together. But I suspect that some will be slow to do so for a variety of reasons.
Therefore, we will continue to make online worship dynamic, engaging and an authentic expression of the Church. We will scatter the seed just as often and in a variety of ways, knowing that the Spirit will bring forth the growth.
There’s nothing virtual about that!