Virtual Worship

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. For January and February, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a month of reflections on technology, faith, and church. Join the conversation here or on Facebook.

By Jessica Tate

Our church has just started to livestream its Sunday worship services. A few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to take advantage of it and participate in the worship service from the comfort of our couch.

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Some things were exactly the same:

  •  We were five minutes late. (Apparently we can’t really blame the metro.)
  • Though we were removed from them, we felt the energy of the children during the conversation with children.
  •  We enjoyed the anthems and hummed along with the hymns, singing when we knew the words.
  •  We prayed.
  •  We listened to the sermon – more up-close-and-personal than we are when we’re halfway back in the sanctuary.
  • Our offering had been given online already, just like usual.

Some things were different:

  • We didn’t get to chat with our pew-mates, meet someone new, or catch up with friends.
  • Seeing only the chancel area on our screen made worship seem more formal than it does when we’re in the room, surrounded by people who move about, sneeze, cough, shush children, and what have you.
  • Normally on the way home, my husband and I share tidbits about who we spoke with, what activities are coming up in the life of the church, what we’ll have for lunch. This time, we spent a good bit of time reflecting together on the sermon –what we’d each heard, what moved us, how it challenged us.

The only moment that was awkward was communion. We prayed the liturgy along with the congregation, and then watched as they streamed up to the table to eat and drink together. At one point my husband looked over and said, “should I go get some bread?” We didn’t, but I felt it, too. We were missing something.

This little reflection isn’t intended to offer a verdict one way or another on the validity of livestreaming one’s worship experience. Watching online can’t take the place of actually showing up in the same space together, but it did provide a point of connection in a week when we otherwise would have completely disconnected. For a city like ours where people are stationed around the world for various amounts of time, live-streaming worship could be a very meaningful tie to a church family they would otherwise completely miss. I wondered if those homebound members for whom we pray every week might watch – and if their spirits might be lifted, hearing their names prayed over week after week; they are not forgotten.

Clearly, a long and deep debate can be had about virtual worship and the incarnate worship and community experience to which we are called, but I am more and more convinced that in a busy, diverse and increasingly, online culture, a touch point is a touch point. To the extent we can continually connect – in whatever means – the more ability we have to live out our call as Christ’s community.

Jessica Tate1Jessica Tate is the Director of NEXT Church.


2 replies
  1. Matt Gough
    Matt Gough says:

    our church started web casting for a member who was home bound with MS. Thanks to a techie volunteer it’s really developed. It’s now enjoyed by several home bound members who we also visit and take communion too. They are so grateful for it.
    Interestingly, it has also become an outreach tool. We have members who found us through our streaming, using it as a way to “church shop”.
    Lots of our retired members who spend winters elsewhere also use it.
    Once you set up the equipment, and if the church already has a high bandwidth internet service streaming services are not expensive (we pay $25 a month) and there are free services like You Tube if you’re ok with ads.

    Great post!

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