Ten Reasons to Keep Online Church
There have been many calls (including a New York Times op-ed piece) for churches to cease offering service online because it’s time for people “to come back to church.” There is so much wrong with this way of thinking, I had to make a list. So here are my ten reasons churches should not give up their online presence.
The most obvious: you don’t want to be ableist. In case you’re not familiar with the term, ableism is “discrimination in favor of able-bodied people.” Going back to making church in-person only is straight-up ableism. No way around it.
People who want and are able to be back in person are going to come back in person. Taking away the online option is not going to “force” people into your pews.
Online church reaches people you might not otherwise reach. People in towns where your particular brand of church is not available. LGTBQ folks who live in places they don’t have a welcoming congregation. People who have moved away from the area and want to stay connected. You have never had so wide a reach to share the love of Jesus Christ. Why in #$%& would you give that up?
If I hear one more pastor blasting people for being too lazy to get their butts to church, I’m gonna start screaming. People are tired. Parents who have had to juggle kids and school and work from home are not lazy for not having the energy for getting everyone up, dressed and out the door on a rare day off. Healthcare workers were past exhausted several months ago and teachers who don’t know from one week to the next what “class” will look like are leaving education in droves. Small business owners are struggling to stay afloat without enough employees. GIVE THEM A BREAK. Take church to them instead of insisting they come to you.
People CAN serve from their sofa. The idea that “people can’t serve from the sofa” is a nicely-alliterative buzz phrase being tossed around a lot in this no-online-church movement. I call bull-#$&*. From the couch, you can pray. You can send notes. You can text and call to check in on people. You can Zoom in to teach a Bible study. You can organize the volunteer schedule for the upcoming food pantry. Can’t serve from the sofa. Nonsense.
Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all people, not set up shop and insist they come to us. As the church of Jesus Christ, we are called to meet people where they are…and people are on their phones.
Online can, indeed, be about on-boarding in some cases. Those of us who are throughly and happily “churched” cannot fathom the anxiety that entering the doors of a strange church can cause, but it can be a harrowing experience for people who have never been to church or have been badly hurt by the church. Online church gives them a chance to check out the church’s theology, people (is EVERYONE white?) and over all vibe so that coming through the doors in person doesn’t seem quite so scary.
Online community is real community. No, you can’t be baptized or celebrate communal communion online, but you can share joys and concerns, connect with people who share common interests and pray together. You can plan mission projects, fellowship events and opportunities to meet up with other families at the local park. Having close friends you only know online is not unusual. And while I am someone who much prefers in-person connection, I won’t deny the value and authenticity of those formed online.
Some people are never going to be able to show up on a Sunday morning because of work, caregiver responsibilities, children who travel for sports and a myriad of other reasons. Rather than chastise them for not creating a life that centers around attending worship on Sunday morning, let’s use these magical online tools we’ve been given to find ways to include them in the life of the church.
You are missing out on connecting with some faithful, fabulous and fierce community members who might never otherwise interact with your church. YOU (the church) will be lesser for it.
Giving up your online outreach won’t bring more people in, but it will shut more people out.
Rev. Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently based in New York City. Doubting Believer provides tools and encouragement for the rollercoaster ride of your faith journey. Follow me on Facebook , Instagram and YouTube. You can also follow on TikTok. Get emails to keep up with all that is happening.