We're going through a global crisis in which most churches have been required to stop gathering, forcing them online due to necessity. Though this is an incredibly difficult time, there has been a silver-lining. It has been encouraging to see so many churches begin live streaming for the first time and to see others who were already doing so vastly improve in quality.
If we're being honest, many churches have been slow to adapt to new technology. You probably have been in a Sunday School room recently that still has a cassette player or a copy of VeggieTales on VHS. We still use cash and checks as our primary giving medium, even though we rarely use either outside of church. Through most of us watch live video and are on social media, the majority of churches have stayed away from broadcasting on Facebook and Youtube, until now.
There are good reasons why pastors are hesitant to put their services online. They worry that it wrongly communicates that one does not have to be physically present in the gathering of God's people. Let me be clear, live streaming cannot replace the local gathering because not everything we do is about receiving. We do physical things like take the Lord's supper and though we can mimic some of the social interactions in a comment section, nothing can replace a warm embrace and a face-to-face conversation. Though some will misuse a live stream by choosing to stay home when they could be there physically, we shouldn't make our decisions based on outlier situations or potential abuse. Instead, we should base it on the good purpose that we intend. I want to highlight three blessings that live streaming a church service provides in hopes that churches continue the practice long after we start meeting together in-person again.
1. A Blessing to the Sick and Infirmed
In 2017, I was diagnosed with cancer and spent two full months bedridden. One of the most difficult things for me during that time was being apart from my local church. I missed them and couldn't be physically present with them. I would have loved during that time to watch the church service (if they had one) to help keep me connected. I would have loved to pray along with their prayers, to be encouraged from the same passages of Scripture, to sing to God off-key with them, and even see the back of a head or a raised hand by my brothers and sisters who I missed so much. It was painful to be away from them for so long and live streaming would have helped me to feel more connected during that time. Though most people won't have to miss months of church like I did, there are weeks of sickness that we all face and the elderly and disabled face it much more. Live streaming church services are a way to serve your members who want to be there but cannot.
2. A Blessing to Those Who Serve
A second group of people that live streamed services help are those who serve during various parts of the service. There are many Sunday school teachers, nursery workers, and security personnel who have to miss a portion of the service on a regular basis or who might have to miss a complete service on a rotating schedule. My local church had way more kids than they had workers to help and thus my wife was needed to volunteer fairly regularly. I was thankful she was doing such an important job, but was saddened that she had to miss so many services. Having a live streamed service is a way to bless your church members who are there, but have to miss out because they are serving.
3. A Blessing to Non-Christians
The third group of people that live streamed services help are non-Christians. There are many people who are interested in matters of faith but coming to an actual church gathering is a frightening prospect or just a bigger commitment than they're ready for. Though we have an "all are welcome" policy (it's often on our church sign), most will not come to a service unless invited by a trusted friend. It is even less likely the more introverted a person is or if there are social struggles that make an unfamiliar group setting sound unbearable. Having a live streamed service allows you to preach the gospel to non-Christians and have an influence in their lives. It also allows the curious to understand how a typical service looks and feels so that they can be more comfortable if they start coming later (which is the hope).
The COVID-19 crisis has forced the church to temporarily stop gathering and, for most, it has brought them online due to necessity. For the first time, many churches are adopting the latest technology and engaging in the public squares of Facebook and Youtube. Though we all are looking forward to a return to normal when we can gather again in person, let's not forget the good that live streaming does. Hopefully churches will keep the stream going even after the pews are filled once again.