Chinese Church Voices

In-Person vs Online Church Gatherings (1)

Chinese Church Voices is a weekly column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.


In this article from OC Behold, Pastor Zhong Rongkai talks about the importance of online church gatherings during quarantine. Pastor Zhong says Christians should take advantage of this time to “practice readiness” for future outreach and ministry. Zhong gives practical advice on how churches can prepare for such future opportunities.

Because of the length, this article is divided into two parts. This is part one.

How to Think About Traditional Church and Online Gatherings
An Interview with Zhong Rongkai

Forward

The novel coronavirus runs rampant, and the pandemic is affecting the entire world. Churches in countries all over the world are going online, connecting with one another through the internet and continuing in their gatherings. That church meetings are happening online forces us to reflect on our original understandings of “church.”

Church” in the traditional sense is a group of people who live nearby in a region, gathered in one place to build fellowship and worship God together. But online church has broken the regional boundaries; in online church, as long as there is an online platform, people who cannot gather in person—living in various corners of the world—can still gather in spirit on the online platform, worshiping God together.

Since we can gather together, study the Bible, and worship God together through the internet, unlimited by geography, then will online gatherings become the new model of “church”? Can it replace traditional church? Can internet platforms replace traditional church buildings or other physical buildings of gathering?

I would like to explore the relationship between traditional church and online gatherings in this article, and analyze the direction of future gatherings in the church.

The benefits and disadvantages of online gatherings

Without a doubt, online gatherings have their benefits. They facilitate church meetings taking place within homes. They create the possibility for churches to continue gathering in a severe pandemic, when the entire nation is on lockdown. They are not bound by geographical restrictions, and can connect members from the entire world, so that brothers and sisters from Asia, Europe, Americas, Australia, etc., can gather online and worship God together. They make it easy to invite new people and provide those friends who are not yet believers with a simple opportunity to join. As a result, the number of people attending online gatherings of churches multiplied.

But online gatherings have their disadvantages as well. One is how casual worship is.

Older Christians all know that when they used to go to church, they would definitely bring a Bible. This expressed a sense of attentiveness. More recently everyone has a phone in hand, and thus has all the scriptures they are searching for at any time at their fingertips. But in reality, many people use their phones to check Facebook or scroll through friend circles while listening to the sermon. Not bringing a Bible already shows a lack of attentiveness, but since we are still going to church, we need to brush our hair, wash our faces, and dress ourselves appropriately, as these things speak to respect for worship.

But today, with online gatherings, more than a few people are joining gatherings while lying in bed, or listening to the pastor’s sermon with other internet browsers opened, or while they go about pickling radishes, or cooking lunch. Although there are many people who still hold worship in proper respect; human nature is weak after all. Over time, if everyone becomes used to the lazy, neglectful mode of worship at home, then worship will become casual. Therefore, it is very dangerous for anyone, in the name of “breaking down physical walls of the church, and realizing worship among all peoples and nations,” to call for online gatherings in the place of traditional church.

Secondly, online gatherings are not sufficient to maintain warm relationships.

During quarantine, we try not to come in physical contact with other people to prevent the spread of the virus. But the pandemic will end. God did not create man for him to be alone. Genesis 2:18 records that the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” It is not good for man to live alone; it is better to have two people. Furthermore, the two people should not be unrelated individuals, but should have a relationship of mutual assistance. This relationship of mutual assistance and mutual realization is also the most basic element of the church.

Take two people who were not originally related in anyway—when one person steps out to help the other, then they start to build a relationship. Only when there is assistance is there a relationship. Only when there are actions of love will the relationship grow warmer. Relationships that are only sustained via the internet, without fellowshipping in real life, do not have much warmth. Without warm relationships, the church will not be church. Although online gatherings can be a very good addition to traditional church, it cannot replace the physical church.

The crisis of losing warm relationships can bring opportunity

Because of the quarantine, many people have experienced pain and despair brought on by a lack of warm relationships. Some are unable to gather with friends because of stay-at-home orders. Others have contracted the virus, and are alone in isolation, unable to see family, and can only drown their loneliness with tears. There are also medical personnel on the front lines, who make the painful choice to be separate from their spouse and children so as to prevent spreading the virus. Some die alone in the isolation ward, while their family is helplessly unable to do anything, losing even the chance to stay by their side in the last moments of life.

People are suppressing their desire for relationships. Therefore, once the pandemic relents and quarantine is lifted, people will rush out in a swarm. There will be two places where people gravitate to the most: one is the restaurant, and the other is the church.

People need warmth. Everyone misses the time they spent dining together with three or five friends at a restaurant, and will want to relive the good old times. And the other place that people might think of to bring warmth back into relationships is the church. Additionally, having faced life and death in all seriousness in the pandemic, and having reflected on questions of life, many people will be encouraged to walk into a church.

After the pandemic, there is an opportunity for the church when people are willing to walk in and learn about our faith. Are we prepared then to offer the warm relationships they need and desire? Can we extend to them the joy and peace that come from God and help them understand that the gospel is God’s great power? Will our church be a home full of warmth and love, or a disappointing icehouse?

Author biography:

Pastor Zhong Rongkai: Host of “It Is Good To Know You” of Far East Broadcasting Company and “Nine O’clock Hotline” of South California AM1300, began serving in full-time ministry in 2007, and is now the lead pastor of Forward Church.

Original Article: 如何看传统教会与网络聚会by OC Behold (WeChat ID: FollowChrist)

Image Credit: Samantha Borges on Unsplash.
ChinaSource Team

ChinaSource Team

Written or edited by members of the ChinaSource staff.          View Full Bio


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