Is “Online Church” Real Community?

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Have you ever heard the saying that family isn’t a word, it’s a sentence?

Right now within the Body of believers, I’m starting to believe that the word “community” is no different.

In our travels and in our own city it’s hard not to notice a deep divide that is certainly not new to Christianity or other faiths. This division is fully intentional and nearly always self-inflicted. Human beings who hold any religious beliefs at all are divided into two separate groups; those who practice alongside other people and those who do not. The Christians who do not participate with any other believers have been long-deemed the “unchurched” Church, while their counterparts worship, belong to or commune with other believers in some type of community setting (an established church, small group, faith community, etc.) The only real gray area to this divide are those who belong to digital communities: online churches. The message is real, the worship is real, but something critical is not. Community.

Are Online Communities Helpful?

I know there are plenty of legitimate reasons we have members of online churches and I will never condemn the modes that the Holy Spirit uses to spread the Gospel. We have many wonderful friends that we’ve met solely because of the online broadcast of the church we used to attend, and I believe that many of those connections will be lifelong because the Lord brought them about. Online communities serve a tremendous purpose within the church and they bring the Word to many who would otherwise have nothing. Praise the Lord for his provision.

But what about all the people who participate in online churches for the wrong reasons, namely to avoid the physical connection to a real community?

Created for Community

We are created to be members of physical social communities and are commanded not to neglect that responsibility (Heb. 10:25). We are given guidelines on who should lead (1Tim. 3), how we should follow (Heb. 13:7) and guidance on what we should be doing (Acts 2:42, 1Cor. 3:16) during times of worship. We are instructed to greet one another with a kiss and a song (1Cor. 16:20; Eph. 5:19) (disclaimer I’m a hugger in lieu of the kiss part, sorry 😉 and how we should treat one another when communing together (Rom. 12:10; Eph. 4:29-32; 1Peter 3:8-12)

So why do so many otherwise strong Christian brothers and sisters in the Lord choose to worship alone or (potentially worse) in the illusion of a community?

I brought up family first because I think that’s the closest tool we have to evaluate this phenomenon. My extended family, for example, has many members and many more problems. My family is a relentless reminder of why we need a Savior. I’m related to hundreds of people, good strong Bible-believing Christians and unbelievers alike. People I like and people I don’t like, people I talk to and people I may never see or hear from again. It’s beyond a word as basic as “complicated,” it’s more or less a total mess. But it’s my family. God gave me them and He gave them me and nothing’s going to change that. And the more Christians I meet and the more communities we visit I’m starting to see that the Body of Believers is absolutely no different. Communities have just as much craziness and dysfunction and hard-to-tolerate people as a large extended family like mine does. But what about all those brothers and sisters in the Lord that I don’t get to meet, particularly because they’ve chosen to stop being brothers and sisters to those in their own communities?

We use all sorts of excuses to get around our responsibility to our spiritual siblings. We depend on our differences in theology, incompatible work schedule, distaste for the people/worship/liturgy to reason away any guilt of our sin. Why bother with all the problems when we can just press play on someone we know we’ll agree with, who will never argue with us, show us our sin or bore us since we can easily mute them or skip ahead to the next sermon? That’s sin.

Why are Communities so Important?

Because we are sinful God gives us communities to hold us accountable. Nobody wants to be told that they are sinning. You and I and everyone else breathing this air that is nothing less than God’s Grace want nothing more than to be in our comfortable and safe places, far away from anything that challenges us to actually prove that we can love one another.

Specifically, it’s the sin of pride and self-righteousness, and the sin of neglecting the needs of our brothers and sisters in the Lord whom you cannot serve if you are not a regular physical presence in their lives. (Gal. 6:2)

It’s an avoidance of the complicated nature of being in relationships with other human beings. Being in community is sticky, it’s hard and you are commanded to love people whom you may not be able to stand. It’s work. And who wants to work on their day off? But the closer knit you become to those in your community, you begin to see that the Lord has called them just as He’s called you and those relationships aren’t an accident.

What Should We do About it?

I don’t even need to ask you if you know someone who says that they are a Christian but does not have any type of real, physical community. I KNOW you know someone who says that. And how sad is that? It should be heartbreaking for those of us who have been beyond blessed by the weekly presence of other individuals who love the Lord just as we do and who are cared for by our brothers and sisters in Christ to put ourselves in the shoes of someone who legitimately thinks they are doing just fine on their own.

I’d like to challenge you to take action in the person’s life that my example likely just brought to mind. Rather than calling out their sin, we should extend them grace. If you have someone in your life who may know the Lord but isn’t in community with other believers you have two jobs. First, pray for them. Pray that the Lord burdens their heart to see the need they have for other people AND the treasure it is to be in relationship with other Christians. Second, invite them to your church or community. They may never come if you don’t first invite them, so put it out there. If your invitation is declined, try again. Persistence wins over many a sinner, and I am one of them.

 

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Post Header by Konstantin Dyadyun

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