There’s a lot of debate nowadays about people who watch livestreams of church services instead of attending in person. Some say they are “forsaking the assembly” while others say that they should stay home if they have pre-existing conditions that may make attending dangerous for them because of COVID.
For the record, I totally support those who want to stay home. I don’t believe that Hebrews 10:25 has anything to do with church attendance, so using it to condemn/ shame those who are watching from home is a misapplication of the passage.
That being said, I think that if we had a better understanding of the church and what its function is that we wouldn’t even be having this debate.
From the way some Christians talk, it is as if it is the church’s duty to simply assemble each week, go through five acts of worship, and go home. In other words, church attendance is mandatory and is the focus of Sunday morning. And I think that’s where the problem lies.
Church is not something you attend; it is something you are.
We assemble, not to check off a list of acts of worship, but to encourage, empower, and strengthen one another to live out the gospel every other day of the week and to celebrate God’s love for us. At the end of the day, the number of people in attendance doesn’t really matter. Showing up on Sunday takes hardly any effort for most people (my friends with depression and social anxiety, I feel you. I’m not talking about you. You got this.). But what does take effort is showing up everyday.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a really good way to measure that for the church attendance books.
So, what does this have to do with livestreams?
Well, while it is true that you miss out on a lot by watching from home, but if watching the livestream, singing along with the songs, listening to the sermon, and even taking communion from your home leads you to serve Jesus every day of the week, you are part of the church.
The person who is living out the gospel in their lives even though they watch from home is better off than someone who has perfect attendance, goes through the motions, and doesn’t experience any real change the rest of the week.
When we just focus on church attendance, the person who shows up is doing what they are supposed to do. But if we broaden that to “showing up” for Jesus every other day of the week, then those who have to watch online are just as much a faithful, valuable, and dedicated member of the church as those who are able to come on Sundays.
Church isn’t something you attend; it is something you are part of. We don’t need spectators; we need participants. And Christians can do that whether they watch online or attend in person.
Hopefully one day they can come back to be with us in person, but until that day comes, we can still fully endorse the extra precautions they are taking and work with them as fellow servants in God’s good news revolution.
Thanks to Brian McLaren’s book “The Story We Find Ourselves In” for the language of attendance versus participation.