At Grace we have been live-streaming our services for several years now. I remember once I had done a wedding in the mountains, and we were driving back to Kinston on Sunday morning. We tuned in from the road; it was so great to be with the body—in some way—even though we were 300 miles apart.
We are seeing steady growth in the number of people who live-stream or watch the archived services. It’s a tremendous tool. Even two weeks ago, when the snow/ice/cold were a factor, almost three times the usual number joined in the gathering at 10:30 on Sunday from their homes. I love that folks were hungry to ‘be together’ even if they couldn’t get out of their driveways!
I rejoice in this use of technology and the internet for the gospel. It’s especially gratifying for Grace folks who work shifts, and now can grow with the rest of the body. Or, for newcomers who are wondering what kind of service and teaching we have. Live-streaming is a fantastic tool.
But I also have a question or two. I think there are good number of people who—when looking for spiritual teaching—rely almost solely on podcasts, web-based sermons, or other virtual church offerings. I’m not talking about ‘tuning in while returning from a trip’ or catching up because of shift work. I’m thinking of folks for whom the internet is the main connection to your church, or the main source of their Spiritual teaching.
I want to offer 4 reasons why being together at church really beats live-streaming the service. The other way to say this is, Why do we come to church?
First, We come to worship the Great King in the company of his people. When you enter the Sanctuary and the worship team is leading songs and Scripture that elevate Christ and ignite our worship of him… that just simply trumps my watching it on my tablet. God inhabits the praises of his people. He does that in your home as you worship him. But consider how much more of him can inhabit two or three hundred people! You experience God in greater degree as we worship him corporately.
Second, We come together in life-changing fellowship. The Body of Christ is an amazing thing. We are not Christian silos, pointing up and relating only to God. We are an interconnected network, a family, an organism. The more we are together, the more we are healthy and holy. You never know when you will have the conversation on a Sunday morning that will change your life or theirs. You cannot predict or orchestrate the multi-directional blessings that God gives to and through you. Fellowship—true, mutual, Christ-oriented & empowered relationship—is only found in one place: with God’s people. Get there and you will get life.
Third, We come to sit under the authority of God’s Word. When we stop everything else, open Scripture together and position ourselves so that God’s voice will be the greatest voice in our present, this is spiritual victory. The Christian life is a battle, and the enemy wants us distracted, multi-tasking, approaching God on our terms or in our comfort. He does not want us clearly hearing the Marching Orders from heaven! When we arrive in a church or chapel, and all of us together seek his truth in our lives, something powerful happens. Perhaps not all at once, but definitely over time: the Scriptures form us as we dwell in them, Marva Dawn has said.
Fourth, We change our character as we come to church consistently. When church attendance is a matter of my convenience, that will show through in the rest of my life. I’ll pursue Christ only when convenient… why? Because I’ve trained myself that convenience is the highest good. When I set the most important pieces in my weekly schedule as immoveable, and when one of those pieces is church and another is HouseChurch (small group), my life will trend in the God-pleasing direction. Our choices form our characters, and where we spend our time will make all the difference.
To those who make live-streaming their church, let me encourage you to consider these 4 insights. Let’s use live-streaming for what it is – a connection when you absolutely can’t be with the body of Christ. But, otherwise, let’s be together with the body as often as we can. This is where life is.