Do you go to the Internet for church? Cathy Lynn Grossman of
USA Today reported this week on the increasing use of digital
technology by churches. This trend is not new, of course, but
some of the developments she traces are fresh and innovative.
She begins with a look at Christ Fellowship in McKinney, Texas -
a church Grossman describes as "on board with almost every
high-tech gambit under heaven." She then writes:
"Find the church by going online - the 21st-century version of
sighting a steeple on the horizon. Beyond their website, Christ
Fellowship has a Facebook page to give it a friendly presence in
social media. You can download the worship program by scanning their customized-with-a-cross QR code. The worship services are streamed online from their Internet campus - with live chat running so you can share spiritual insights in real time.
Afterward, says senior Pastor Bruce Miller, 'someone will ask
you, 'How did it go? Did God help you, today? How can we help
you?' Just like we do when people come to our building in
McKinney. We are here to help people find and follow Christ,
wherever they are starting out from.' And wherever they are in the digital world."
There is something good, healthy, and Great Commission-
minded about the eager use of new communication technologies.
Digital technologies and social media have transformed our
world, redefining how human beings engage one another and
how we all access information. A church without a digital
presence is a church that, to many people, simply doesn't exist.
I am very thankful for the ability to access massive sermon
libraries in audio or video form from preachers of the past and
from pulpit titans of the present as well. Go online and you can
read the sermons of Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, and a host
of others. Preachers in churches of any size can establish a
global reach for their ministry. Digital technologies allow the
collapse of distance and time and these platforms also allow the
Gospel to jump geographical and political barriers.
For all this we should be thankful. I eagerly use online Bible
programs and do research through digital media. I am thankful
for the platforms for ministry and communication represented by social media. I am grateful for these new tools and technologies and I make use of them to reach people around the world.
At the same time, there are dangers. John Mark Reynolds of
Biola University is cited within the article, and he addressed the
danger inherent in these technologies: "How can the Christian
Church utilize the tools media has given us without being
subsumed by them? You don't want delivery to become
That is a crucial issue. But the challenge should not be
addressed only to churches. Research indicates that a
significant number of Christians are tempted to allow these
technologies to serve as a substitute for participation in a local
church. This is deadly and dangerous for believers.
Christ clearly intends for his people to be gathered together into
congregations. The fellowship of the saints is a vital means of
grace for the disciple of Christ. We can be enriched by means of
listening to sermons online and by delving deeply into the ocean
of knowledge found within Christian websites, but these cannot
replace the authenticity that comes only by means of the local
church and its ministry.
Believers need the accountability found only within the local
church. We need to hear sermons preached by flesh-and-blood
preachers in the real-time experience of Christian worship. We
need to confess the faith together through the ordinances of
baptism and the Lord's Supper. We need to confess our sins and
declare forgiveness by the blood of Christ together. We need to
be deployed for service in Christ's name together.
Without apology, we can learn much from preaching heard or
seen over the Internet. Churches should engage digital
technologies with the same eagerness that we use jet aircraft,
copy machines, the printing press, and the telephone. At the
same time, none of these can replace the fellowship of the
saints and the centrality of the local church.
A digital preacher will not preach your funeral. The deep
limitations of digital technologies become evident where the
church is most needed. Don't allow the Internet to become your
congregation. YouTube is a horrible place to go to church.
It may be true that most people in this culture are, as Cathy Lynn
Grossman observes, "in the digital world." Just don't forget that
we are all in the real flesh-and-blood world, too - and that is
where we go to church.