Over the last few weeks and months, when our church buildings are closed, some fundamental questions are being asked about what is church. Is church a gathering on a Sunday with a sermon and 30-40 of sung worship? Can we go to church? Can you have “online church”? And many more…
I heard one pastor (admittedly not from the UK, I leave you to guess where!) saying that he no intention of ever meeting again in person, in a building, so “successful” had online church been. At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve heard people lament that our buildings have been closed, for private prayer and corporate sung worship, and that closure questions the very nature of church.
In the midst of all this I want to point you to two articles or blogs that I have found helpful and articulates something of what I believe about church.
The first is a brilliant article in the Independent, from one of their journalists, who describes her experience of church (and specifically the gathering of the church). She articulates the importance of a diverse (and sometimes difficult) bunch of people coming together to worship. That is something I long for, and online is no substitute for the nitty gritty, sometimes frustrating, often brilliant, meeting together to worship, pray, learn and connect together. It is an embodied experience, where we hug, and offer hands or touch of consolations, where we lift hands in worship, and kneel is surrender. Perhaps this is a time where we reconnect with the beauty of what we have become so accustomed to and taken for granted?
The second is a helpful blog from our friend Billy Kennedy, who affirms the importance of meeting together, while exploring what we are learning now about the place of “online” for the church. He suggests that we stand at one of moments in history where the church needs to pivot and embrace the appropriate place of the online world. I found his dating analogy incredible helpful. As Billy states, online is here to stay, and we need to grapple with that looks like and what that means.
The church has thrived for 2000 years, in all kinds of different circumstances and situations, sometimes in very unpromising places. It has adapted and morphed into different structures and ways of meeting, all the while remaining true to the heartbeat of the church: people coming into God’s presence in worship and prayer; people coming together in fellowship or community; people engaging and participating in God’s mission; and people engaging with Scripture for formation, growth and discipleship.
We must remain committed to these four things, while remaining open to what God is saying about the form & structure they take.