This is not a post for my friends who are pastors. They’re working overtime thinking about church online. This is for you, whether you go to church or you don’t. This is especially for those who don’t currently belong to a church and might be open to a sneak peak at church while we are all in lockdown. This is the first of a two part blog series. The next one will be focused on how to make the most of church on line for those who go regularly.
What should you look for? What do you have to do?
Confession time. I’ve never been a fan of TV, video, or streaming church. I still bear scars from my days of taxi driving when I’d get home fully-wired in the early hours of a Sunday morning, having driven for 15 hours straight, unable to to sleep, turning the tele on, and there they are. The likes of Jimmy Baker, Benny Hinn, Jimmy Swaggart. Urgh! Talk about cringe. I’m an Aussie—we don’t do that stuff. Not to mention the appalling teaching, false promises, fraud, and corruption.
I’ve never been a fan of people online shopping for church either, whether it’s early morning TV, or podcasting your favourite preacher. It’s tough enough in ministry without having my preaching compared with the likes of the ‘great ones’. I reckon church is about the people. It’s about gathering and connecting. It’s about humility and learning together. It’s about caring for others, meeting needs, spurring each other on, supporting one another in crises, praying for one another. It’s about shared joys, shared grief, shared ministry. It wasn’t meant to be a consumer experience, a form of entertainment, or even a place to get fed or topped up for the week.
Enough ranting. If you’re looking for church now, you can’t drive around, and don’t try the yellow pages. Look online. Google ‘church’. I suggest a few search words will be helpful. Try typing in your location and “church” to start with. God forbid this COVID crisis goes on for ever, and it might just be that you want to stay in touch with the church after it’s over. Hey, you might even recognise some neighbours or make friendships with others in the church community.
I also recommend adding the words “Christian” and “evangelical” to your search box. Don’t take anything for granted. You might be thinking Billy Graham or tele-evangelists when you read the word ‘evangelical’, but in Australia it means something else. It’s a good shorthand for the church being on about Jesus, the Bible, and seeking to shape what they do with God’s will. In other words, it’s about fair-dinkum church versus a whole bunch of other stuff. By contrast, if you were to type in ‘liberal church’ there’s a pretty good chance you wouldn’t get much about Jesus or the Bible at all, so don’t waste your time. It’s probably worth seeing what comes up when you type in “Jesus”, “Bible”, “Prayer”, “Beliefs”, and more.
However, far better than asking Google, is to ask a friend. Do you know someone in a local church? Call them. Ask them about it. See if you can check it out. If they’re not willing to help, or they say “You wouldn’t want to come to my church!”, then take that as a free warning!
Now there are two main ways churches are currently getting organised online. The first is fairly passive from the participants perspective. They livestream or play a recorded ‘service’ from their church website, or FaceBook, or YouTube. There may be some minimal interaction with comments in the sidebar, but you can stay pretty much anonymous.
The second approach is purposefully interactive. This might be a preferred option among smaller churches. but some larger ones have mastered the tech and give a pretty good experience. This is what we’re doing at my local church: Salt Community Church in Bonny Hills, NSW. We use a teleconference program called Zoom. People can log into our church meeting by typing in a meeting ID assigned to our church meeting. It works best from a computer, tablet, or smart phone with a built in camera. People can see you on their screens and you can see them. Our church have loved the experience of everyone seeing each other after a week of isolation.
Now you might be thinking you’d like a more anonymous way of checking out church and the streaming option seems safer. And I guess you can sit back and no one needs to know you’re there. But I suggest another approach. Say you wanted to check out the church and you log into zoom. Someone will need to give you the meeting ID. You can turn off your video, mute your microphone, and only engage with others when you’re ready.
Anyway, if someone has shared this with you, then I hope you will accept their invitation and take the time to check out their church. You won’t need to dress up, you won’t be asked to say or do anything, and you get the opportunity for a sneaky look. Who knows, maybe you’ll love what you see and hear and want to keep coming. And maybe one day you’ll turn up and get to meet the people in person.