A fellow pastor in my conference linked me to an article written by a social media pastor on Fox News entitled, “Church as We Know it is Over. Here’s What’s Next.” While the writer had good points and I agree with the premise that the church is in need of a shift to reach the lost, altogether the article shared an ideology that I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with in the church: take as much of it as you can online.
Now, in the author’s defense, he really just wants to partner church with online capabilities in successful and reasonable ways—he still thought that attending church once a week at a physical location was wise. And I can agree with his thoughts to some extent as I do something similar with the church I pastor. For example, after being unable to really get any attendance at church for extra events, I decided to host a weekly Bible study on our podcast so that people could listen at their own leisure.
But there’s still something about Internet Church that bothers me. And as someone who has used technology and the internet in the church more than most I know, and as someone who has a side job in communications for a network of churches, I think I have the right to voice my concern. And that concern is that Internet Church is incredibly dis-incarnational.
That is to say that if God had the audacity to put on flesh in the incarnation and come dwell among us as Jesus, how can we cheapen His demonstration by removing our flesh via the means of the internet? It, quite literally, puts no skin in the game. People become faceless and interaction often becomes less or nonexistent.
I won’t lie, such a concept of church can be tempting. You don’t have to get to know anyone personally and therefore you don’t have to deal with any kind of relational fallout. You also don’t have to deal with people holding you accountable or asking challenging questions to your face or checking in on you. All you need, is to find a pastor whose teaching you enjoy and then sit down and treat church as though it’s all about the information received rather than about being the body of Jesus while we wait for His second coming. God becomes data to download rather than a Spirit to embody in a community and we’re left to ourselves to figure this whole Christianity thing out on our own. We set our own standard as to what Christianity should look like and it becomes a private, not a public faith.
When we practice Internet Church and nothing else, then the church (that is, the people who make up the Bride of Christ) becomes a convenience that I can now finally fit into my life, rather than a necessary ingredient of Christianity that we need to organize our lives around. Church now revolves around us rather than us around it. And when we do church this way because it’s just how people live today, we choose to let our cultural obsessions with busyness and extracurricular activities shape how we do Church. I understand that the church is always making cultural adjustments, but we need to be wise as to what decisions we make to do so.
The article referenced used a lot of business facts in attempts to make their argument, but the church is not a business. We are not a brand. We are not trying to sell people stuff. We are not trying to make Christian mission easier or more convenient. Christianity costs your life either in breath or in blood and nothing less.
And on a final note, I haven’t seen Internet Church or Social Media Church to have much effect over the years. Hardly anyone comments on anything or likes any posts. Rarely does anyone send me a question based on a podcast episode, even when it’s encouraged in the episode to do so. The internet has its advantages, but I have yet to see it truly bring in any communal elements, which is what the Church is—a community. I imagine that the bigger your church is, the more interaction you’ll get online, but even that interaction is probably a minority of your church.
So in conclusion: I think the internet is great for many different church things. I’m just not too fond of it becoming an excuse to not have to get together or to see it as the equivalent of church. I’d say it’s a tool, not the tool.
Incarnate by Michael Frost