When life hands you lemons, go ahead and make some lemonade. So goes the old saying. When the COVID-19 pandemic tragically limited churches’ ability to meet for in-person worship, many churches wisely harnessed livestream and online communication tools to gather virtually.
During the process, an encouraging trend emerged in that even the smallest churches were able to reach, not only their members, but also new audiences who might not otherwise participate in worship. Americans increasingly said “yes” to that high tech, “new-time religion” in these times.
In fact, a new Lifeway Research poll found that “45 percent of Americans say they have watched a Christian church service online during the COVID-19 pandemic, including some who say they don’t normally physically attend.”
Amid this encouraging trend, though, it was not all positive. The convenience of “doing church online” has made it a hard habit to break for many who previously did attend in person, as pastors and churches still struggle to regather congregations in the wake of the pandemic.
What’s more, a relational void has been created that virtual connections simply cannot fulfill. As the late Roy Moody once said, “The more high tech our churches become, the more ‘high touch’ we must become.”
His point is simple: People want and need in person connection. It is not hard to see why that is the case, when you stop to consider the example of the Lord Jesus Himself.
Think about how many hands-on things Jesus did during His earthy ministry. He healed by touching; He blessed and laid hands on in prayer; He washed feet; He broke bread; He walked on water; He gave His life on the cross.
You see, Jesus—God in the flesh—showed His followers that we must reach people up close and personal, not only from afar. Having personally worked in the communications field, and specifically in ministry communications for years, I can observe the overall effects of this emerging high tech, low-touch trend.
People tend to be more irritable and less forgiving toward those they know only behind a screen. People tend to be more quarrelsome in online spaces than they would be face-to-face. It does not take a social scientist to see that people in society today—sadly, Christians too—are suffering from even more ruptured relationships.
What can we do about it? First, we can and should thank the Lord for these tools of technology, allowing us to advance the Gospel and reach people who might never darken the door of a church. Next, we must remember that the best ministry occurs up close, life-on-life.
How can we balance this? C.S. Lewis once said that for every new book he reads, he would read more than one old book. His intent was to connect himself with the conversations that have been going on a long time, and to avoid getting consumed by the latest trends and conversations.
A good rule of thumb for churches is that, while we can and should utilize the Internet and social media to speak to and with people, we ought to use time-honored techniques, as well. We must all communicate and minister in a personal way.
As people seem to say, “Gimme that new-tech religion” over the old, we can balance what we do; and, above all, stay true to Christ and His command for us to love our neighbors. In doing this, we will be sharing a faith and religion that’s always good enough for Thee, O God.