It seems as if a new wave is rising in Cayman of young people streaming Sunday services from their houses. You ask them what church they attend and they timidly confess (because Cayman is a bit behind on the times) they watch church from home. These aren’t naïve new Christians afraid of church discipline. These are passionate disciples of Jesus who just can’t seem to find what they’re looking for in the local congregation.
But what happens when every passionate Christian has traded the biblical command to continue meeting with one another for viewing individual Sunday services from other countries in their homes? Will it cause the death of the local church? The answer is a complex one – one that I don’t have totally worked out nor have the space to fully answer here but the answer lies in our response to the question of what “the church” is and what “the church” does.
If “church” was a chapel or cathedral we visit weekly to pay our respects to God, sing songs, and listen to a sermon then yes the local church might be in danger of getting outsourced. But “the church” is more than that. Yes, part of church is worshipping God through music, teaching, and prayer but the church is a family of other believers, the local expression of it being a community you are loved by, held accountable to, and speak life into your circumstances. Sitting in your house streaming church by yourself falls short for a few reasons. First, you can’t be community by yourself and second, it bypasses the horizontal aspect of following Jesus. While it may be a convenient way to avoid church politics, a huge part of our discipleship happens in the context of community. We can listen to a ten-week series on the theological significance of loving our neighbor as ourselves, we can even be taught how to do it, but the discipleship cycle isn’t complete until we’ve actually loved someone.
But more than loving other Christians, church is also where you are equipped and sent to love the lost. Whereas community challenges our individualism, mission defies our consumerism. To skip out on Sundays because our individual needs aren’t being met implies the church exists for us; and though we are part of the church, the church has a mission it’s trying to accomplish, a place it’s trying to reach. Sitting at home alone doesn’t catapult into God’s redemptive work in the world nor does it provide people to share in that mission with. Few things disciple believers being on the front lines.
If church, at its core, is about worship, community, mission, and discipleship, my fear for this generation is it settling for a cheap imitation of church convincing ourselves it’s the real deal. Church is, and must be, more than us individually streaming Sunday services in our living room. It must be more than Sunday services in general.
However, because the church is a people and not a building, I believe “the church” is much more fluid than we think. While technology could hurt us (our weaknesses are our strengths used less than optimally), I don’t believe it will. We still long to be part of something bigger ourselves. However, I do believe technology will transform what church looks like. And that, my friends, is for another post.