Important But Inadequate: Navigating The Paradox Of Online Church

Online church is extremely important, but it is also woefully inadequate. This is a paradox we need to embrace. The downsides are real, but the upsides are worth it. So how do we take advantage of the good while reducing the bad? Here are a few ideas. Mountain Through Phone

Online church is here to stay. And I’m glad it is.

Recently, I’ve written and taught about the importance of churches continuing to offer an online church alternative, even when we’re able to fully gather in person again.

Several readers have challenged me on this, pointing out some of the downsides of online church. I appreciate the feedback (it’s all been constructive) but I’m sticking with my main premise, which is this:

It’s not necessary for every church to have an online alternative, but if you started an online service during the lockdowns, you should keep doing it.

After all, if you learned a new skill and gained a new tool for spreading the gospel, why wouldn’t you keep using it?

The Good And Bad Of The Online Church Option

Certainly there are downsides to online church, just as there are downsides to every idea.

In fact, I’ve become convinced of two truths about online church which run simultaneously.

Online church is extremely important, but it is also woefully inadequate. This is a paradox. But it’s one that we need to embrace.

In other words, the downsides are real, but the upsides are worth it.

So how do we take advantage of the good while reducing the bad? Here are a few ideas:

1. Have A Personal Online Presence

One of the greatest downsides to online church is the passive nature of it. And the only way I know to encourage participation is to create an opportunity for relationship.

The best way to do that is to have a personal online presence – someone who represents the church well by engaging with online viewers.

If your church service has a live-stream, assign a church leader to engage people in the chat feature. This is available on just about every platform, including Facebook and YouTube.

If you record your service then run it later, set a premiere date and announce the start time on social media. This has the advantage of allowing the pastor to be personally available on the chat.

Then, for later viewers, make sure to check back regularly (once a day is enough) to answer any questions that come in.

2. Emphasize Engagement More Than Attendance

Getting people to engage in the life of the church instead of just sitting in a service has always been a challenge. Getting them to engage from their seats at home is even tougher.

But a passive observer sitting in church is no better than a passive observer sitting at home.

So how do we emphasize engagement for someone who’s watching a screen?

When you interact with your online audience, whether in the chat or from the pulpit, it’s always good to invite them to a live service, of course. But it’s even better to ask them to join with the church body for events that require their presence through active participation.

An encouragement to “Join us this Saturday as we box up food for homeless families” is more likely to get a response than an invitation to leave the house and sit in a service that they’re already watching.

3. Treat Attendance (In-Person And Online) As A Pipeline To Discipleship

Getting people to attending a church service is not the goal.

Making disciples is.

But when we emphasize attendance as much as we do, it can leave the wrong impression. Why should someone leave their house to attend a service if the only difference is watching the same thing in a roomful of people?

We’re called to make disciples. That requires relationship. This leads to another interesting paradox.

When a church treats attendance as the endgame, they actually make attendance less appealing. But when a church sees attendance as one of several steps in following Jesus more closely, it becomes more attractive.

We need to treat in-person and online church attendance the same way – not as a goal, but as a step towards further discipleship. That’s what this is all about, anyway.

(Photo by Dan Cook | Unsplash)

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