We Never Have to Go to Church Again!

Posted on January 5, 2012


Turning heads since 2007.

I couldn’t go to church on New Year’s Sunday but I was able to attend live worship online through www.Lifechurch.tv.  As with every other worship service I attend, I wrote a review of the experience.  What WINDOWS allowed light to shine into my soul and which WALLS or obstacles left me in the dark?  You can read the entire review HERE.

Three Things Worth Trying:

1. Convenient Access

I have one child, a sixth-grader, who has homework every weeknight, school-Musical rehearsals Tuesday and Thursday, basketball practice on Fridays with games early Saturday morning.  Sunday morning is open for us.  This is not true for numerous families.  Churches which do not offer numerous options for involvement will be deserted for those which do.  I “attended” LifeChurch Sunday because my son was too sick to take out-of-the-house.   I invited a friend to attend and she shared with me via Facebook that her husband was also sick, so she also needed something like LifeChurch.

This particular Internet church was a poor substitute for a more contextual church experience.  For example, as clever as it seemed for the Chat room host to “pass out muffins”, it is nothing at all like standing over a table in a hall seeing, smelling and eating the muffins, knowing that the woman winking at you from the kitchen just made them and is deeply affirmed by the crumbs in your beard and your thumbs-up approval.  The Internet church struggles against everything Incarnational and Sacramental that a real muffin represents and I for one would hate to lose the neighborhood-based church (or muffin).  But the neighborhood church must stop resisting our heavily scheduled modern reality.  At the very least we can stop forcing people to attend board meetings when instead people can learn to use Skype and online document sharing.

2. Active Participation

Among numerous take-away insights I received from Kenda Creasy Dean’s 2010 book Almost Christian:  What The Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the America Church, is the realization that our teens are reflecting back to us the “limp god” we have painted for them for years.  They have adopted our “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” and have become consumer Christians.  I am troubled by the way LifeChurch caters to such consumers.  Still, while we work on confronting that reality in our churches we must recognize that a great majority of people now expect to have it their way–the burger, the salad, the car, the church.  Where we once demanded that people silence and stow their phones during worship we might now consider the potential for a scrolling chat bar allowing participants to ask the same sorts of questions which I did at LifeChurch.  What if we voted for the kind of music we want to hear from Sunday to Sunday?  What if we knew we could leave our seat in worship (pews have disappeared, because no-one can “leave” a pew) to either tend to a child, sit on the floor to stretch our legs or to go and get a cup of tea?  Would that be as heretical as the anti-choice church stares lead us to believe it would be?

3. Spiritually Deep Follow-Up

When the service ends we ask long-timers to abstain from talking with friends for at least five minutes choosing instead to connect with a newcomer or two.  We try to figure-out something we might have in common:  “Where do you live?  Any kids?  What do you do?  What’s with that mole on your cheek…”  Most of our questions actually create barriers.  Then we follow-up with visitors by sending coffee mugs, calendars, bread and, at the very least, an e-mail or greeting-card welcome.

I received a “Hi, DougRJ” from “Maria” at LifeChurch and I am sure I could have signed-up for the free Bible given to visitors.  But what attracted me most was a button I could have pressed for “Live Prayer.”  How many of our churches have such a button, not just on our websites (which isn’t a bad idea) but metaphorically speaking, near the worship participant?  She has come early to worship in order to have a good cry because she misses her dead husband.  Where’s the button?  He is doubting every-single-thing the preacher is saying about God and the Bible; where’s that prayer button?  He has felt something new from the closing song and he is not sure what it means or how even to talk about it; where’s the button?  What I mean by “button” is “Where is the chair beside that spiritual friend who can allow be to be an apprentice in faith?” She can offer language of prayer that I might use as I cry, or rage…or give my life to Jesus.

Three Things To Avoid:

1. Insincere Propaganda

Creflo Dollar tells millions via Cable TV each week that every challenge in his life is somehow resolved by God; it is “covered by the blood”.  With this language he connects Jesus’ bloody, sacrificial death on the cross to such things as a wayward teenager in my house, difficulty landing a job or an addiction to alcohol.  This sounds like a remix of Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking which sells millions of books precisely the same reason Starbucks sells millions of dollars worth of coffee–because it offers escape and euphoria that do not last, so we buy more.

Might people be attracted to a church community where leaders are honest about their disappointments and doubts?  Is it okay for a preacher or teacher to NOT preach/teach in a week where he or she has not quite found good news in scripture or anywhere else?

2. Unresponsive Gate-Keepers

At LifeChurch there was no triage of needs.  All chat hosts were involved with confronting inappropriate behavior or connecting with familiar chat participants.  Their responses to my five questions we conversational dead-ends.  What if one host was assigned the task of disruptive behaviors, another was assigned to familiar participants, and at least two others were on the look-out for new people and their concerns?

In local churches I can count on face-time with a greeter and an usher.  Those two mechanistic encounters generally leave me cold.  What would it look like for a church to assign four roles among returning participants:  1.  Distraction Shepherd (“I can show you where the bathroom is”), 2. Nurture Shepherd (“Hey, I heard that you got a job, how is that going?”), 3.  Newcomer Shepherd (“Hi, I’m Doug! I’ll look for you after worship in case you’d like to talk, okay?”), 4. Website chat Shepherd (@Barb, no, the pastor doesn’t have an artificial leg, he’s limping from a basketball game!).

3. A Show

At LifeChurch the screen went black at the end of the event.  How long do our candles burn after the last note from the band, the choir or the organ?  Maybe the candle is another metaphor.  Would it be okay for me to go up on stage to play that guitar through the sound system?  Or play the piano?  While the mics are on can we let this fourth grader hear her own voices reading a poem from the bulletin or from Sunday School?  At the very least do we have to exit while the “postlude” is playing?

CLICK HERE if you would like to read my review of LifeChurch.tv.   A 10 minute excerpt of John Maxwell’s New Year’s Day sermon is included on that page.  Watch the video and save $24.95 on the cost of his latest book!  Sweet deal!