Main point summary
Christians encourage one another most faithfully by regularly meeting together in person.
And z let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,
a not neglecting to meet together,
as is the habit of some,
but encouraging one another,
and b all the more as you see c the Day drawing near.
A couple years ago our church began livestreaming our Sunday morning and evening worship services. Livestreaming has been a blessing to many in our congregation. Families with sick children no longer have to miss out on everything from Sunday mornings. Shut-in members are able to observe some of the elements of gathered worship along with the rest of our members. Those who have experienced recent surgeries are able to keep up with a sermon series while remaining immobile. However, with all of the positives, regularly livestreaming services also comes with several downsides. The purpose of this article is to highlight the downsides of livestreamed worship services. My goal is not for this to result in a discontinuation of livestreaming. Rather, my hope is that this article will lead to our members using the livestream in the best way possible and not as a replacement for regular, active participation in our weekly worship. A question that is necessary in this discussion is, "Why do we gather in the first place?" And further, "Is gathering necessary for Christians?" If the answer to the first question is, "I don't know," and if the answer to the second question is, "No," then there is no downside. However, Hebrews 10:24-25 makes a compelling case that regular gatherings for God's people are important and necessary. So, I'll point out the positives of this text by looking at a couple negatives of livestreamed worship. 1. We stay home more often. "not neglecting to meet together" Hebrews 10:25 makes the case that meeting together is necessary for church health. The first place the writer goes when considering how to encourage believers towards love and good works towards each other is an exhortation to meet together. Is it possible to love and encourage over the phone? Or text? Or email? Or Zoom call? For sure. But each of those misses out on the subtleties of in-person loving words and actions: the facial expression that registers discouragement, the arm-around-the-shoulder that signals she's not alone, the handshake or hug that demonstrates deep unity and trust, the random and unexpected interactions that provide timely encouragement. "as is the habit of some" Apparently some people made it a habit of skipping out on gatherings of the church. Maybe they feel they didn't need it. This seems to exclude those who are not able to meet out of necessity (eg. shut-ins, those with health issues, etc.). Some chose this habitually. Perhaps it was inconvenience. Maybe it required too much energy or effort. Could be that some were focused on other tasks when the church gathered. Whatever the reason, it's clear that this was the wrong choice. One thing I've noticed about offering a livestreamed worship service is that it seems to create a habit in some not to gather. Prior to livestream, members would usually make as much effort as possible to make it to our corporate gatherings, even if it meant keeping a runny-nosed child out of his class and holding him in the lobby or overflow room. We knew we were missing out on something special by not gathering with the local church family on Sundays. Now, when a simple runny nose enters our family, we can be quick to respond, “You go with the other kids. I’ll stay home and livestream.” It’s almost as if livestream is the quick answer for any Sunday ailment within the family. Wake up with a headache on Sunday morning? We have the answer! Livestream. If I wake up a little extra tired, I've got a simple answer. Livestream. If I just don't feel like interacting with people this week, at least there's livestream. As a parent of four, I understand the risk of putting sick children in children's classes (I get this line of thinking). But most churches have other options, such as an overflow room or lobby area. Is it possible that livestreamed worship has created a habit in some to lose sight of the importance of meeting together in person? 2. We think we've served our home-bound members. "let us consider how to stir one another up to love and good works" "but encouraging one another" Hebrews 10:25 makes an important point about the purpose of regular, in-person gatherings. The goal is not just gathering for the sake of gathering ("You have to show up every time the church doors are open!"). The goal of gathering is "to stir one another up to love and good works" and to "encourage one another." And the point is that this happens uniquely during in-person gatherings in a way that it simply can't happen elsewhere. And this means, when it comes to those who simply can't gather in person, we need to get creative in how to serve them. In short, we need to "consider" how to stir them up to love and good works. However, increasingly, livestreaming is suggested as the way to serve these members who are unable to regularly gather with God’s people. If a shut-in member is feeling disconnected, we think through how to find them a laptop on which to watch our Sunday services. If someone is going to be out for several months for health reasons, we make sure they have the capability to livestream. But watching or observing what happens on a stage is not the goal of regularly gathering. The goal is encouragement. The goal is love. The goal is service. The goal is true, biblical fellowship. We need to spend some time thinking more creatively about how to connect with our shut-in members so that they sense they are still an active part of the local church to the end of their days. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help them livestream weekly worship. But it does mean that we shouldn’t be satisfied that we’ve adequately served our home-bound members just because we’ve helped them observe what is happening on this one day of the week. Ultimately, the church is not a place to merely come, sit, receive, and leave. If it was, then livestream would provide an adequate replacement. However, not only does one fail to receive direct encouragement from other members while at home, but one also fails to be in a position to give direct encouragement to others while at home. Yes, this encouragement can (and should) happen via text and other forms of less-personal communication. But members should sense that they are missing out on something special when livestreaming a worship service, when they are not a present, active participant. Because they are. They are missing out on something incredibly important. It hurts. As it should. So in conclusion, while I thank God for the measure of encouragement that livestream brings to those who are not able to attend weekly, I als o hope that our livestreaming will not hinder our members from making every effort to gather weekly with our local church to serve and be served. And further, I hope we make every effort to personally connect with our members who are unable to regularly attend our weekly gathering. Recognizing these potential downsides to our livestreaming should place us in a better position to use it in such a way that promotes (rather than works against) the biblical exhortations of Hebrews 10:24-25.