My family was gathered in front of the TV, but no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get the online church service to play. The more I messed with the settings, the more my family’s attention span waned. My son was fidgeting. My wife was yawning. If I didn’t figure it out soon, I was going to lose everyone’s attention for good.
In a flash of inspiration, I decided to see if our old church offered services online. They did! I was glad so many churches now had a virtual church option, but as we lounged on the living room couch watching the service, I started to wonder if it had all become too convenient.
Why you prefer online church services
Sunday mornings used to be difficult. No matter how hard we tried to get out on time, everything in life seemed stacked against us. The minute we’d have to leave, one of our kids would inevitably misplace a shoe, my wallet would disappear, or someone would suddenly have to go to the bathroom.
Lionel Richie might be able to sing, “Easy Like Sunday Morning,” but we never could.
Can you relate? Here are a few reasons online church services seem so much easier and just what we might be missing out on when we skip being there in person.
1. It’s convenient.
When the weather is bad, the kids are sick, we’re traveling, or we’ve stayed up all night working on a project, the convenience of an online church can be an amazing thing. It can allow us to reconnect with God, worship, and be convicted by His Word in a way we might not otherwise get. But the Christian life is ultimately not one of convenience.
Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24). Jesus didn’t call His followers to simply listen to His teachings in the comfort of their homes. He called them to action. Following Jesus was a dangerous decision. Many would lose family, jobs, and even their lives. In some places in the world today, following Jesus is equally dangerous. Yet there we were, lounging on the couch in our pajamas. It made me wonder if we were missing the whole point.
2. We can get more done.
I suggested we do virtual church that Sunday because I had a lot to do that weekend. I had a room I needed to paint, and I thought if I could start painting early, I might get it done before Monday. But as I painted, I kept remembering the fourth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8).
There’s nothing evil about painting, I argued with myself. Besides, going to church online was certainly better than not going at all. While that might be true, I conveniently forgot the rest of the commandment, “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work” (Exodus 20:9-10).
I was honoring the Sabbath with one hand and dishonoring it with the other. By treating Sunday as just another day to get things done, I was missing out on the gift of sabbath rest God had for me. I was also perpetuating an unsustainable rhythm of busyness that could hurt my family down the road.
3. We’re too tired.
My hectic pace leaves me so exhausted at times that I long for a few extra hours of sleep on a Sunday morning. Online church services allow me the opportunity to get that sleep, but there’s one thing I’ve never been able to get from the screen—real community.
I attended the church’s virtual men’s group online for months. I met a lot of interesting guys. In many ways, it felt like there was community. Yet, no matter how great the conversations might have been, the relationships always stayed two-dimensional. When the call ended, so did the connection. The relationships never developed to the point where we shared real life with each other. Ironically, being too tired to go to where God’s people are means our tiredness increases. Doing life alone is exhausting.
Several years ago, I told the guys at my in-person men’s group about a termite problem I had been dealing with. The next Saturday, a team of men showed up with tools and lumber to help me repair the damage. A project which would have taken me weeks to do alone was completed in a few hours. But more than that, I knew I had people in my life I could count on—I had real community.
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
4. It’s easier on the kids.
I’m not the only one in my house with a busy schedule. I’ve recommended online church at least as many times for my kids’ sake as I have for my own. If they stayed up too late doing homework, got home too late from a part-time job, or simply had a really tough week, I might’ve suggested watching church online.
I thought I was holding up the value of regular church attendance, but what lesson was I really teaching when an extra two hours of minimum wage work on a Saturday night was seen as more important than two hours spent with God’s people on a Sunday morning?
Psalm 84:10 declares, “a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” Unfortunately, my actions have often shouted, “Better is anyplace else!”
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
5. It feels safer.
There have also been times when going to church felt unsafe. Like one week when my news feeds were bombarded with stories of violence against churches. There was vandalism and arson overnight and even reports of congregants being accosted on their way into the building.
To help us feel more comfortable, our church sent us an email explaining how security was being ramped up. It had the opposite effect. My immediate thought was to stay home and watch online because it felt safer.
Thankfully, whether facing the threat of death by disease or lion in the Colosseum, God’s people have historically not let such fears dictate their actions. During a plague in 249 AD, Christians stood out from the rest of the world with a radical, self-sacrificial love. They cared for others (without PPE). Many even died as a result, but that didn’t dissuade other Christians from following suit.
They showed unbounded love and loyalty, sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ.
The Christian heritage is one that shouts the words of Paul, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). So why is it so easy for me to let fears govern my behavior? What would the world look like if I let love for others trump my love for self?
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
Purpose of the church
In many ways, a church is like a hospital. It’s filled with a mix of those giving help and those in need of it. The only difference is that in a church, the patients also serve as medical staff. All believers, not just the “professional” ones, are there to minister aid to others.
We might be able to “watch” church alone, but we can’t be the church alone.
Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Christianity is not a spectator sport. There are people out there who need us. We just need to get off the couch first.
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Carlos Santiago is a senior writer for FamilyLife and has written and contributed to numerous articles, e-books, and devotionals. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in pastoral counseling. Carlos and his wife, Tanya, live in Orlando, Florida. You can learn more on their site, YourEverAfter.org.