As I’ve tried to process the weirdness of having to move much of life – and therefore church - online, I’ve been really struck by 2 John 11: “I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.”
Christians have always had to compromise in the way we connect with one another. In Bible times, geographical separation was even more profound and so the apostles had to write letters if they wanted to connect with other believers. I find it so helpful the way John made use of the benefits of paper and ink, whilst longing for more.
Lockdown has helped me to see afresh how essential it is to connect with others, even via ‘inferior’ methods of pen, paper, email and video conferencing, whilst longing for more. In this article I give six reasons why I’m grateful for the inferior methods of communication afforded online. And then a seventh – why I am longing for more!
1. Church – where otherwise there would be none. I’ve been in so many conversations with church members about how hard zoom is, but let’s not overlook the fact that if this pandemic had happened even five years ago, any sort of service would have been almost impossible.
2. Accessibility - A couple of weeks into lockdown, Jonty was able to preach to around 600 medical workers on one Zoom call. The accessibility and flexibility afforded by being online meant that many more on the frontline could be reached than would ever have been possible in a physical gathering.
3. Inclusivity – My elderly neighbour was completely housebound prior to lockdown, so I had never entertained thoughts of getting her along to church. But church online has proved wonderfully inclusive as she has been able to tune in. Admittedly for the first ten weeks she was watching without sound, but since the speakers have been fixed, she’s been able to hear the gospel!
4. Ease of recording – The recording feature has facilitated us recording online webinars, small group Bible studies for our shift workers to catch up on, not to mention interviews with missionaries, frontline workers and ordinary church members that have formed the backbone of the second half of our online services.
5. Easy to share – I will never forget my (not yet a believer) Dad telling me how he insisted that his neighbour should watch our church online. To which the neighbour responded, ‘I’m not the religious type.’ My Dad replied ‘oh you don’t need to be religious to watch it!’ Turns out church online is so easy to share that even unbelievers can do it!
6. Intentionality - Sermons have had a far deeper and more lasting impact on me throughout lockdown than ever before because of the intentionality that comes with a video call. We’ve always gathered after church over a meal, but I find it so hard to talk about much more than the weather. But when you’re online, plunged into a breakout room with a random group with the instruction ‘share and pray’, the entire conversation becomes much more intentional. I can honestly say I’ve thought way more deeply about the sermon and have derived so much benefit from having to articulate what I’ve learned – and so much encouragement in hearing others pray for me to put it into practice.
But above all, the seventh reason I’m grateful for these inferior methods, is because now I can meet up with people again, I feel like I’m experiencing for the first time what John describes as the ‘complete joy’ of seeing other believers face to face! Where church had become a diary entry in my week, it’s become an event I anticipate with excitement. Where meeting other believers had become a way of life, now it is a source of joy. Where meals together had become a habit, now they are laced with the delight of sharing my newfound (lockdown-boredom-induced-baking) recipes with friends!