The pandemic is not over yet, but for at least one house of worship, post-pandemic church will remain a virtual-only experience.
I recently sat in on an online discussion of Christians. The topics ranged from keeping one’s faith during COVID-19 to when churches can safely reopen. One pastor who also attended said they’ve decided to keep post-pandemic church as an online presentation only.
I was a little surprised by that. After all, some churches refused to close their doors at all. They foolishly claimed God would protect them from pandemic. They even scoffed at the illness itself, claiming it was a hoax. (Yet they quickly praise President Donald Trump for speeding up the process that got the vaccine created. But some still continue to believe it’s a hoax, while remaining incapable of seeing their own double standard.)
But the pastor said the members of his small church have enjoyed the online experience. They’re able to connect with one another through their chat program in ways they may not be able to even if they were in person. Somehow, the church managed to build a stronger sense of community online than people seemed to form organically when face to face.
Would you prefer an online-only church?
For me, I think it depends.
Are we talking about a church that offers both in-person services and a live stream so people who don’t wish to attend in person or who are homebound can also watch? Or are we talking about a church that literally only offers the livestream version of church.
If we’re talking about the latter, I think I would prefer that. It makes everyone equal in a way the in-person experience can’t, I think. For those of us who are more introverted, it’s easy to walk into a church and feel immediately alone. Most people in church, just like everywhere else, form their own little cliques. If you’re not part of that click, you’re not part of most of their interactions. It’s not that they’re bad people. They just don’t seem to be as sensitive to it as those of us who are introverted by nature. For introverts like me, it’s magnified.
Church pastors and worship pastors in particular like to offer forced interactions. They’ll tell everyone, “Before you sit down, greet the people around your seat.” They might give some phrase like, “God loves you” or “I’m glad you’re here” to speak to those around you. They may even get particularly bold and instruct people to get and leave their row and speak to someone a few rows away.
But all of this forced interaction is just that: forced.
Those of us who aren’t comfortable in big groups to begin with aren’t fooled by that. That’s mainly because when there’s no forced interaction, we experience no interaction. It has happened to me in church after church.
It feels wrong to me, even in a church setting, to be a first-time visitor and just walk up to people and strike up a conversation like I’m a founding member. That goes against my nature. It always has and it probably always will.
An online-only church, though, seems different.
You can’t easily have cliques when everyone’s at a separate computer in their own home. You can’t sit together with your friends. You’re all in the same big chat room.
You may not be as comfortable typing up a greeting. But you also won’t be ignored anymore than anyone else is being ignored.
The online-only church, to me, seems more of an equalizer for those of us who aren’t as comfortable with face-to-face interactions.
Some will argue it’s the sense of community that makes church special. I would argue there’s still community in the commonality of online attendance. I would also argue that the lack of interaction with strangers and introverted regulars defeats the sense of community at many churches, large and small.
I’ve felt perfectly ignored in churches with hundreds in attendance and in churches with fewer than 75 in the pews.
If you’re not an introvert, you may never have experienced this. You’ll just have to take my word for it.
A post-pandemic church that seeks to equalize everyone into the same space, to me, is appealing.
The pastor remarked that his congregation seems to be more comfortable in the virtual experience.
A church that adapts to make its congregation feel welcome so they can worship together — however that worship unfolds — seems like a church that’s on the right track.