Is Watching Church Online Really the Same as Going in Person?

by Janet Thompson from
Jan 10, 2018

It’s Sunday morning and hubby is sick! If our steep driveway wasn’t covered in ice, that wouldn’t be a big deal. I’d hop in the car and head off to church by myself. But I haven't driven our new car in snow and ice and didn’t want my first off-roading attempt to be without him.
I could stay home and watch church online or on television. I’d done that for more Sundays than I’d care to remember last year when a concussion, kidney surgery, and two eye surgeries kept me home and missing church. With another upcoming eye surgery and again missing church, I was desperate to go to church.
Whew, friends with a jeep rescued me that Sunday.
Why was it so important to go to church? While homebound, I’d watched a number of excellent church services online and on TV . . . but it’s not the same as worshipping together with my church family.
Many people can’t attend church because they're out of town, working, they need to stay home with a sick family member, or due to physical or transportation issues, and praise God they can experience “church” via technology. It’s a wonderful tool in an emergency.
But for those with no restrictive issues, here are five reasons I feel God wants us to worship together in His house and follow the example of the first church. “On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place” (Acts 2:1).
5 Reasons to Be in Church Together:
1. Fellowship and Relationships
“All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals . . . with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42, Acts 46-47).
The early church, a template for today’s church, understood that believers meeting together create community. Many churches today, including ours, have a fellowship hall where church attenders eat together and enjoy events and activities that can be an outreach to the unchurched. Our church is starting the New Year with a potluck in our fellowship hall after church the last Sunday of the month. We only have one service, but we’re growing so fast the elders are considering adding more chairs. If you have more than one service at your church, you could have a fellowship night once a month to share a meal together and invite friends.
You can find good teaching and truth online, but you need to be in church to experience the fellowship of fellow believers and develop relationships within the church body.
2. Taking Communion, Worshipping, and Praying Together
“All the believers devoted themselves to . . . sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. They worshiped together at the Temple each day . . . all the while praising God . . . . (Acts 2:42, 46-47).
Churches share communion together. Our church has communion the last Sunday of the month. We also have a time of Prayer, Praise, and Share every Sunday where the congregation can ask for prayer and share praises. Many churches list in the bulletin or announce those in need of prayer so the church can pray for each other and celebrate praises together. “But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him” (Acts 12:15). And what a joy to worship and sing praise songs to the Lord in unison. “Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts” (Colossians 3:16).
3. Our Family of God
And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need (Acts 2:44-45).
Church is not a building—it’s people. “Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body” (Colossians 1:18). “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27), using the spiritual gifts and talents the Lord has given us (1 Corinthians 12:12-22).
We need each other. The church needs us to serve. Church isn’t taking in selfishly; it's giving out selflessly. We don't attend church solely for our own benefit. We’re also to serve the body of Christ, our spiritual family, caring more about others than our own convenience. Watching church from the outside is like being an observer instead of a participant.
4. Accountability and Mentoring
“Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives” (Colossians 3:16).
There’s going to be a time when we can’t make it to church, but it should be the exception, not the rule. The tendency today is to isolate ourselves in front of electronics where we interact with a screen instead of each other. A clicker or mouse replaces a friendly hug, handshake, or face-to-face interaction. I’ve heard testimonies of people saved by watching a preacher on television or online, but one of the surest ways to stay true to your faith as a believer is joining a church to spiritually grow and mature with other believers who encourage us and keep us accountable.
Church is more than listening to a sermon; it’s an experience and an exchange with other believers. It’s where you help others grow, partake in ministries, serve, give of your talents and spiritual gifts, mentor and receive mentoring.

5. Role Model for Children
So yes, you can watch a service online anonymously and probably get something out of it, but what are you putting first in your life that seeks out convenience instead of commitment? It takes more effort to get dressed and drive to church than to flip on the computer or television screen. Your children and grandchildren are learning by your actions what takes priority in your life: God’s house or your house? Teach by example that church is a privilege we should never take for granted.
As a child, I remember in Sunday school intertwining our fingers on the outside of our hands, putting our forefingers together, and opening our hands, saying the jingle: Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the door, and where’s all the people? But intertwining fingers inside our hand and opening: Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the door and there’s all the people!
“And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).
*All Scriptures are from the New Living Translation, with emphasis added.
Photo credit: Unsplash

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