After a year of online worship, surely church members must be feeling their connection with God, and the faith community weakening, and are eager to return to on-site worship.
Yet attendance of on-site worship services is not exactly indicative that God’s people are thirsting for God, the living God. Anecdotal indications are that only 80-90% of possible seating are usually filled, some way or greatly below actual pre-covid-19 attendances. The reasons for members not rushing back to church is not rocket science, and easily spring to mind.
CONVENIENT AND COMFORTABLE
Look at the list of hassles members are free of when they stay home and worship online. They do not have to fight the alarm, rush to make breakfast, shout the kids to hurry, and hope there are seats in the train, or pray for a car park lot. Do not forget to add all the family members, especially kids, into the picture to get an idea of the exponentially reduced logistical headache. Instead, they save time and money, and free themselves from common pre-worship service tensions. They sit comfortably in plush sofas and armchairs hugging cushions or mobiles. They are dressed in their pyjamas and even multi-tasking too. At last, the pastor will not make any snide remarks about being late for worship service, or for irreverent usage of mobiles during it! Very convenient. Very comfortable.
Another reason God’s people are reluctant to rush back to on-site worship services is choice: they get to choose when they want to attend to the worship service, and what they want from it.
With on-site services, the time is fixed. Members have to show up on time and sit through the whole service from the alpha to the omega. With online worship, they can sleep in every Sunday, and even go out for a lazy breakfast and do marketing, and choose to tune to the online services as it fits their schedule that particular Sunday. They could even access it on Monday evening like microwaved leftover food.
Many members have certain parts of the service that they like more than others. Some members love congregational singing but not the sermon; others it’s the other way around. Still others do not like the “preliminaries” – the call to worship, the songs, the liturgy, the announcements, the offering. They prioritize the teaching of the word. They regard that as the core of worship. For others, it is the Holy Communion. In on-site worship services, they do not get to choose the bits they love, unless they deliberately arrive late every Sunday, or leave early every Sunday, which would be socially unacceptable. With online worship services, the members get to choose what want to consume. Hold the cursor and move it forward to skip whatever they do not like. They fulfil their duty in half the time.
“I’M OKAY LEH!”
It is indeed by the grace of God that despite less than ideal conditions we are spiritually okay in Christ – and faith, hope and love is sustained by online services and other means of grace. However, members who make their convenience, comfort and preferences the core values that determine their decisions and lifestyle often do not notice that they may be regressing ever so imperceptibly into a lukewarm state. This imperceptible regression happened in the church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:15-22), and it can happen today. There is something about embodied on-site worship and community that is sacramental and imparts God’s presence and life.
From a human standpoint all the above reasons sound good and reasonable and desirable. However, from a divine standpoint they can also be at odds with true discipleship and the values of the kingdom.
These are the watchwords of modern consumerism:
They have crept into Christendom. Members must watch for these words in their life of discipleship whenever they surface. Watch and pray to discern in what situations they are a help, and in what situations they are a curse; when they draw us closer to God, and when they lure us farther from him; when they increase faith, hope and love; and when they diminish faith, hope and love. If we are not alert to the danger, we will spiral into spiritual complacency.
WATCHWORD FOR TODAY’S CHURCH: OBEDIENCE
Certainly, the words of Jesus about what it means to be a disciple cuts across time and space, even cyberspace. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”(Matt 16:24,25).
Obedience to God is the watchword of disciple’s life, of a life of gratitude for God’s undeserved favour upon us (Eph 2:8-10). Obedience is not a nice abstract idea or thought but an embodied, down to earth, submission to the church leaders God has appointed to serve and watch over the faith community’s spiritual well-being. Since almost all churches in Singapore have called for a return to on-site worship services we should heed this call as God’s people. Members, or rather disciples whose churches have started online worship services must obey their leadership’s call to return to on-site worship services with urgency, energy and sacrifice. It will be inconvenient. It will be uncomfortable. It will be inflexible. But giving up our personal rights in obedience to God is essentially what Jesus called us to.
This is my considered opinion, but do feel free to give your comments so we can have a fuller conversation.