How to bring back fellowship to our online services.
After experiencing a couple of weeks of church online I happened to interact with one of our congregants on Monday. As much as he appreciated the lengths we are going to as a church to come up with an alternative in our current situation, he said something that I, for one, take very much for granted. As a single person, he mentioned that he misses being with real people when worshiping. Watching it alone is only partially fulfilling the role of worship in the face of the need we have as humans created in God’s image; our need for relationship. We are wired for relationship, even as the Triune God is in perfect relationship with himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We get a glimpse into the worship life of the Early Church in Acts 2:42, where Luke tells us that they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer”, (NIV). These four elements of worship have remained a constant throughout the history of the Church when it gathers, across denominations, across cultures, and across time. The word liturgy (Gk. leitourgia) actually means the work of the people. In other words, worship is an activity that we do together. So it’s no surprise that when we take away one of the elements that reflects our human longing for being with others (whether large or small groups), worship just doesn’t seem the same.
Some churches have kept their online services streaming at the usual appointed times for gathering, so that people can share in a corporate experience even when not in the same place. Yet, the body of Christ transcends time and space. In fact, in 1969, Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin, then an elder at Webster Presbyterian Church near Houston, received permission from his church to take some of its bread and wine from their communion service into space. As he recalls, before he and Armstrong did their moonwalk, Aldrin muted the microphones, then he read scripture and partook of the elements there on the moon. It was an act of both worship and of unity with his congregation, whom he would not be worshipping with that week. For more, see https://www.history.com/news/buzz-aldrin-communion-apollo-11-nasa.
At our church, for several decades we have been a multi-service congregation, and value giving believers who have difficult work schedules several chances to gather and worship across the weekend. That is one reason we have not elected to do live streaming. But just like Buzz Aldrin, we know that participating online at any time, knowing that others have or will be, helps us to a certain extent to know that we are participating together, even though alone.
But what of that aching and longing for community? Even though we will be watching on our own, I would offer some suggestions on how we might take advantage of the technology that we have to use in our isolation and restore our sense of fellowship.
Why not agree to go on line at an appointed time with others and find creative ways to rebuild that sense of fellowship back into worship? Try doing a group call or online chat directly afterward to discuss something that stood out or spoke to you. Start a group chat and take time to share and pray for each other’s needs.
In this way, perhaps we can keep from devolving into silos, and help those who look to their weekly interaction with other worshippers as their source of human connection. May we always be reminded that the social nature of gathering is medicine to the many who are lonely. So, let’s reach out with invitations to cyber-participate together and so be Jesus to one other! Let’s not ‘go’ to church. Let’s BE the church!