Home Voices Online Church is a Tool, Not the Goal— Embodied Community is the...

Online Church is a Tool, Not the Goal— Embodied Community is the Goal

An online church should not be the ultimate goal of the church. Scripture supports this idea. “Though I have many things to write to you, I don’t want to do so with paper and ink. Instead, I hope to be with you and talk face to face so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 1:12). 

Think about it this way. If you have ever been separated from a friend or loved one for an extended period, you likely have exchanged letters (though, maybe not recently!), emails, phone calls, etc. Whenever I travel, I stay in touch with my family over the phone or video calls. But nothing—and I mean nothing—beats finally being reunited in person.

Just like phone calls and texts can get you by when you can’t be with the ones you love, so Church Online can be a substitute when you cannot physically be present.

But when we take the Lord’s Supper together, pray for one another and confess our sins to one another, it is better done in physical community with online enhancement or augmentation, not online replacement.

So, in my view, an online church can be an alternative option, but should not be the ultimate goal of a local church’s online presence.

4. What is the Point of Church Online?

Your church should be online, but I don’t think a church’s online presence fully meets the New Testament definition of a church. But what then is the point of church online?

I think of church online like a rest stop as you’re traveling on the highway. If you’ve ever been on a long road trip, you know what a welcomed sight those rest stops can be. They allow weary travelers a place to stretch their legs, grab a snack, use the restroom, etc. But their purpose is not for you to set up camp and stay indefinitely. They’re meant to be a respite for travelers on their way to their destination.

Additionally, nobody (at least, that I’ve met!) seeks out a rest stop when they’re not traveling. When figuring out dinner plans with a friend or colleague, I’ve never suggested that we hit up the vending machine at a rest stop off I-94. I’ve never been in the comfort of my own home and thought to myself, “Ugh, if only I were at a rest stop right now!” That’s ridiculous. But why? Because rest stops serve a functional purpose and are only valuable when people’s circumstances fit that function.

Church Online might best be considered the same way. 

Church Online should be a welcomed respite for a victim of church hurt that wants to stay connected to a church body but needs some time before showing up again. It should be a nourishment and healing to someone who can’t get to church because of illness. It should be a well of living water to someone who is living in a country where access to the gospel is restricted. And, if the last two years have taught us anything, it should be an option for churches to respond to circumstances that prevent physical meetings or when doing so would threaten the health and safety of vulnerable people.

Further, it’s important to remember that persons with disabilities or who are unable to leave their homes are in a different situation. For many, this is not a rest stop, but a permanent place. And, for 2000 years, churches have brought the physical community to them. And, we can still—seeing online as a tool, but also making the harder choices to visit, in person, those who cannot come.  

But, for most, it can be a rest stop. And just like a rest stop’s purpose is to move people toward their destination, so too the best way to do Church Online is to intentionally work to move everyone from being alone on the screen toward being in community with others. Those participants matter to God. They are real people.