In an age when most of us get the majority of our news, communication and entertainment from the Internet, it’s understandable that many young Christians are attracted to the idea of attending church online as well.
Many churches now offer live-streaming of their services as an alternative to physically attending in a church building. Several ministries even offer worship via an entirely online platform, complete with a live chat with other viewers and church volunteers.
Many online church initiatives claim they are preventing members of the 18-29 age group from completely leaving the church after they leave home. According to a 2007 study by LifeWay Research, 70 percent of young people leave the church for at least a year during college. But by offering them a watered-down, casual experience with little opportunity for fellowship, these websites are doing more harm than good, giving young believers a skewed view of the Church.
By “going to church” on the Internet, members don’t have to deal with personal conflicts that often arise in churches because all of their interactions with others are virtual. As columnist Colleen Campbell pointed out in the New York Times, “You can confide in them your deepest fears, hopes and dreams, then unfriend them instantly if they prove annoying.”
But face-to-face interaction with other Christians is vital for our spiritual growth. Hebrews 10:25 instructs us not to forsake the “assembling of ourselves together.” Actually meeting with other believers provides accountability, opportunities to participate in baptism and communion, chances to exercise our spirtitual gifts, and the ability to disciple and be discipled by others.
Certainly there is a place for technology in the church. Appropriate use of social media and an attractive website can encourage people to visit our churches. Online Bible study aids and sermon audio files can be a blessing to church members throughout the week. Even streaming services can be profitable for those who may be sick and unable to attend.
But logging onto a website rather than attending church should never become a habit just for convenience’s sake. Yes, it can be tempting to pull out your laptop on Sunday morning and “go to church” in your pajamas, but nothing can replace the encouragement that comes from actually meeting with brothers and sisters in Christ to worship the Lord together.