"Going to church" has gotten a lot easier thanks to the Internet.
"Going to church" has gotten a lot easier thanks to the Internet. Without ever leaving home, people can:
--observe worship services,
--listen to sermons,
--study the Bible,
--listen to a variety of Christian music, from classical to contemporary,
--send and receive prayer requests,
--"chat" with other Christians,
--e-mail doctrinal questions to pastors and get answers and advice,
--read devotional and inspirational material,
--"tour" church worship and educational facilities,
--read church newsletters,
--and a whole lot more.
A 2001 report by the Pew Foundation found that 25 percent of Internet users that year sought online religious or spiritual material. The report, titled "Cyberfaith: How Americans Pursue Religion Online," also indicated that "spiritual browsing" is a more popular online activity than online gambling, stock trading, banking or dating services.
For some people, the online approach represents the totality of their "church" experience. They never attend a Bible study, worship service or other activity with an assembled body of believers.
Demographer George Barna predicts the Internet will fundamentally change the nature of worship among Christians, and by decade's end millions of people with no faith community will worship and practice their religion on the Web.
Other people seem never to miss anything at church--Sunday school, worship service, Wednesday evening activities, choir practice or committee meetings. Their days and weeks are scheduled around what they attend at church.
But whether they experience church exclusively online or they show up every time the church doors are open, Christians run the risk of missing the full meaning of church if they view it only as a place to meet.
Church, the real church, is contained neither by the Internet or a building. Church happens in its truest sense when the computer is off and the church doors are locked--when members take to the streets and make a difference among hurting people.
It's essential and biblical that the church gather to learn, pray, worship, fellowship and share. The earliest church met often to eat together, celebrate the Lord's Supper, pray and share what they had.
They modeled church as relationship, both with God and with each other. People who experience church only at their computers miss this kind of relationship. But so can those who become so busy attending meetings and activities that they don't take the time or energy to nurture relationships.
Real church doesn't stop there, though. It doesn't end at the conclusion of the last worship service on Sunday. In fact, it doesn't end at all.
After the gathering, the worship, the fellowship, the sharing, the real church disperses to serve.
Service, or ministry, with no strings attached: that's how the world knows the church has something different to offer hurting and needy people with questions and fears.
Going to church is a way of life for a lot of people, but many still miss the point. Until we leave the comfort of our buildings and discover people who need our offers of hospitality and concern, we really won't experience church as a way of life. And neither will those who are still waiting for their very first invitation.
Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.
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