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.

Rupert Ward


  1. Danielle de Zeeuw on June 20, 2020 at 5:18 pm

    Thank you for the post Rupert. It’s nice to read that Billy Kennedy would place CCE’s online meetings in the high tech camp!

    Your question of what church is echoes many of my own ponderings, not just during lockdown but over the last few years. I never appreciated what community meant, nor its necessity, until we moved to the other side of the world. Previously I was one to frequently slide my awkward self out the building as soon as a service finished. Now I’m convinced that church without community is not church at all.

    I’m so grateful for the internet and how it can keep us connected during times apart. There are many advantages and new possibilities for reaching people. It’s also very comfortable, especially for introverts like me. Maybe too comfortable? After all, it’s easy to love people from afar.

    For me, I know that much of God’s work in my heart has happened through messy, honest, inescapable face to face community. That’s also where I’ve seen God weave unity amongst the most diverse and unlikely group of people, giving a feeling of home and belonging.

    I’m sure God has special lessons for us during this time, but I’m glad it’s temporary, and that I can look forward to (as Rupert put it) the church community being embodied once again.

  2. Steve Hibbert on June 26, 2020 at 2:21 pm

    Before Covid-19, it hardly occurred to me that church could happen without community; now, I thank God that it can!
    We all need to be open, IMHO, to all the possibilities offered by new innovations. My viewpoint is informed as much as anything by being partially disabled. Being personally present at a gathering is not an option, and I would now feel excluded if online access was not available.
    There are many advantages to online, as Billy’s wise blog comments emphasise. In future, we should embrace the availability of the new media and integrate them into as many events as possible.

  3. Rupert Ward on July 4, 2020 at 1:50 pm

    Steve and Dani – thanks for both your comments.

    Steve, this is so helpful to have your perspective here, and I’m glad that online has helped you connect, and I’d love to see how that can continue. Hearing your experience is so important and strengthens my resolve to see how we can do that.

    Dani, such a good insight and learning. Thanks for sharing your story. I really love the journey you have been on, your learning and the richness of your experience. Thanks so much for sharing.

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