Getting the Most out of Online Church
The last few months have brought American believers a unique and unprecedented (for us) challenge. The centerpiece and heart of our lives together, the public worship service, has been widely cancelled and replaced with something that, while deeply meaningful and still containing many elements of what we love about “going to church,” is an incomplete shadow of the Biblically prescribed weekly gatherings of God’s people. Now, as conditions and regulations change, many congregations are moving toward in-person meetings again, which is a blessed and wonderful objective. But for some of us, whether due to family, health, or other considerations, meeting again in person isn’t something we can do right now, and possibly not for a while.
While continuing to worship from home isn’t ideal, we know the Lord will continue to supply for all of our needs. Our souls will continue to be fed by the spoken Word of God, the public prayers of the saints, the preaching of the Gospel, and the singing of timeless truths. Over the last few months, my family has learned through trial and error that while being at home in front of the TV for “church” isn’t ideal, there are certainly things we can do to make the experience more nourishing to our souls. Not all of these tips will apply to or help everyone, but here are some quick pointers that have helped our family of four (two adults, a first grader, and a five-year-old) make the most of our worship together on Sundays.
Our mid-week newsletter provides both the text of the preaching passage, and a playlist with songs that will be included in the Sunday service. I find that reading the scripture and listening to those songs is a good way to prepare my heart and mind for Sunday morning.
Participate in the Live Service
There’s something meaningful about worshiping with our brothers and sisters, even when we’re in different locations. Watching later is great, if that’s the better option for your family—but singing, praying, and listening along with the larger congregation can help fight feelings of distance and disconnection.
Shower & Get Dressed
Like brushing your teeth before a Zoom call, it will make you feel more prepared and promote a mindset that will help you leave everyday tasks behind and focus on an hour that is set apart. For those of us with kids, it’s also a helpful visual representation to them that we’re approaching an hour that is special and important.
Start Early and Reduce Distractions
This is probably about as realistic for most of us as getting to church on time. But for my family, I know that the earlier we start, the closer to on time we will be. So about ten minutes before church starts, we try to give the kids a five-minute warning that we’re about to call them in for worship, we print the liturgy, gather Bibles and pens, and mentally and spiritually collect ourselves.
Turn on the TV and Turn Up the Sound
We have found that it really helps to have the service on the big screen, and to have the sound turned up so that we can sing with gusto. It almost feels like I’m at the building on Green Springs Highway when I close my eyes and can hear the worship team over my own voice!
Stand Up to Sing (and otherwise pretend like you’re in church)
It has helped us (and our girls) to stay focused on worship when we follow the service leader’s verbal cues. Doing so is a sort of whole-body reminder that we are participating in something greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a good way to engage the kids, too. They are much more likely to join in if Mom and Dad participate as usual. Besides, it’s hard to sing while sitting down!
Have a Kids’ Program
A leader in another local congregation asked the parents of preschoolers: “What memories do you want your kids to have of worshiping at home during the pandemic?” I found this question challenging and thought-provoking. A lot of us will be staying home because our kids are the challenge with returning to church right now, but rather than resent the adjustment required, we can think creatively about how to share our love for the Church during this time. Additionally, making sure the kids are well occupied allows you to focus on worship!
Having kids be part of the service at all possible opportunities is a good goal. Mine are old enough to participate through the beginning of the sermon, and then we allow them to go to a different room to read a picture Bible, color, and do other quiet activities. But for younger kids, plan ahead and do what you can to make sure you can listen to the sermon as uninterrupted as possible. 40 minutes of time for you to listen to the sermon is a great use of screen time! But most importantly, you want to love your children well by modeling love of the Church in this time.
Revisit the Service Later in the Week
Just as usual, it is strengthening to our hearts and minds to review the sermon notes and liturgy during the week. Read through your service notes when you have a few moments, reread the Bible passage, and talk about the themes with your kids and other church members.
As a recovering perfectionist, a big theme of my life has been learning to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Worshiping at home has been a prime area in which I can apply this principle. While my heart will be with my brothers and sisters who are gathering at the building at Green Springs this Sunday, I can be grateful that modern technology allows me to participate from home. And while I don’t know how long this season will last, I can agree with James when he says that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).
Pandemics come and go, but Christ never changes. I find comfort in and grow closer to him as I pursue him through worship—even when an unusual season prevents me from gathering in person with the family of God. Like all good things in life, getting the most out of church during this time of social distancing takes a little work—but when I put the work in, I find God provides the harvest. "Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!" (2 Cor. 9:15).
More in The CFC Blog
July 6, 2020Planting Trees: Sowing Gospel Seeds in the Next Generation
July 3, 2020CFC Kids Summer Update
July 2, 2020CFC Worship Update