Missing Meeting Together

As we enter the sixth month of dealing with COVID-19 restrictions, several things have changed at Chisholm Baptist Church. The most significant difference is that numerous people who are part of our congregation have not been attending the worship services at the church. Our Sunday morning attendance has been about two thirds of what it was before the pandemic. Some folks are staying home because they believe the virus poses a serious health risk to themselves or someone close to them. Others stay home because it is more convenient, especially with small children, to watch the worship service online. In recent weeks, some are choosing to stay home because they do not want to wear a mask in church as the Governor’s mandate says they are to do. Fortunately, almost all these folks have been watching the worship services online or on local cable television. In fact, many make it a priority to view the live stream Sunday morning at 9:00 so they can feel like they are part of the worship service.
It is important, however, to realize that the online worship experience is not equivalent to a “being there” experience. Sometimes it is a necessary substitute, but it is always second best. Why? When Christians gather for a worship service on Sunday mornings there are three primary goals. We desire to have God speak to us through His Word, we want to express our praise and adoration to Him, and we want to encourage each other through fellowship. The first can be accomplished almost as well digitally as it can be in person. Though listening to a sermon online is not identical to being in the same room as a live preacher, the differences often seem minimal.
Corporate worship, joining others in expressing praise and adoration to the Lord, can be replicated to some degree in an online experience. Singing along in one’s living room as the congregation sings “How Great Thou Art” can truly be worship, but it is not quite the same as being surrounded by fellow believers singing that hymn.
Fellowship, however, is not something that can really be replicated online. Yes, there are many ways to communicate from a distance, but it is not the same as in-person communication. It is nice to get an email from a family member, talk to her the phone, or converse with him during a Zoom meeting, but it is not the same as being in the same room with that person and being able to give him or her a hug. The Biblical commands to love one another, serve, comfort, admonish, encourage, and forgive one another, cannot be accomplished nearly as well from a distance as they can be when meeting together in the same room.
Friends, each of us needs to decide whether health risks, convenience, or another factor makes watching a worship service online a better option than attending the service at church. However, all of us should be aware that we pay a spiritual price when we choose to forgo meeting in person with other believers on Sunday mornings. Whether the price is worth it is something each of us needs to determine, and we must be careful about judging each other for choices made in this especially confused and confusing time. We should be grateful for the options we have to worship from a distance, but we all should long for the time when we are once again able to gather for worship and fellowship as the Lord intends.
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Dan Erickson