I was unable to go to church today (an eye infection that would make you weep probably wasn't the sort of fellowship my friends were after) so I decided to give "internet church" a go.
Each week our church broadcasts our two services live. All you need to do is go the website of the church, click the link, and hey presto - there it is.
The technology setup is pretty simple. A single camera, an audio feed and a relatively high speed broadband connection.
So what was it like?
*The quality of the video and audio was fine. There were probably 4 or 5 "freezes" of 1 or 2 seconds during the 2 hr broadcast, but thats about it.
*No fancy broadcast technology was needed. A strategically placed video camera and a direct audio feed made everything fine.
*I could hear everything that happened at church - the sermon, Bible reading, singing, announcements. This means I know what is going on, I was able to hear the testimonies which people gave, and if I have the chance to talk to people from church later in the week, I'll be able to say something about the sermon.
*It was much better watching it live than watching a recording. I wasn't tempted to press pause and go and do something else.
*I was an observer rather than a participant in the singing. Even if I was brave enough to sing along (which I'm not, I think I'd feel a bit weird doing that) I couldn't see the words on the screen.
*I had to twiddle my thumbs while the 'welcome time' happened.
* there was no chance to speak to anyone before, during or after church. ie: no fellowship.
* no one had the chance to speak to me.
* not being there meant I didn't have the opportunity to spontaneously serve (like help a Sunday school class whose teacher has not turned up)
* I didn't have the opportunity to give money. Sure I can 'make up' next week, but will I remember?
* the opportunity for the random or strategic ministry conversation didn't happen.
In the long, I think it was useful but it wasn't church. Rather than being an active participant, I was a consumer or an observer.
As I read passages like Ephesian 4, Hebrews 10, 1 Corinthians 11, it seems to me that personal proximity (ie: being there) is critical for "doing church". I find it difficult to imagine how I can serve others, be served by others, build others up, encourage one another as the day approaches .... if I m sitting by myself in front of a screen. Maybe I could tweet or blog or facebook or whatever about the experience, even setup some sort of online community, but still, it is nothing like the real thing.
I guess I was thinking about "extreme moments" like a funeral or a wedding. Would you want your wedding or the funeral of a friend to be an internet affair? Of course not. There is something significant about presence, proximity, being together. God designed us to be relational and communal creatures, and in my humble (and perhaps dinosaur-ish) opinion, electronic "community" doesn't cut it.
Today I didn't have a choice whether to go or not. But if I did, I think that 'internet church' is not a viable option. We need to be people who are in the habit of meeting together (for real)!