A View from the Pew: Lessons from Virtual Church

For regular church attenders, the isolation policies and shelter-in-place mandates of the COVID-19 pandemic have been felt most acutely on Sundays.

Instead of getting dressed for church, we are turning to computers and mobile phones to view some variation of the services we used to experience in person. Nowadays, everyone’s pastor is a TV preacher.

Let me say up front that I much prefer the live version of church, complete with hugs, handshakes, and friendly greetings. Smelling and tasting the hot coffee in Sunday school, making eye contact with those sharing prayer concerns, passing the offering plate and hearing the music live are just some of the components of worship that are difficult to replicate in the online world.

What I’m learning through this period of virtual church is that family worship requires effort and focus. It takes as much or more preparation than face-to-face church. For example, I need to get the laptop connected to the television, print orders of worship, get the Christ candle, and shift the tone for our family from brotherly harassment to reverence.

These are all components of worship planning our church staff goes through on a weekly basis, even if the steps aren’t exactly the same. Well, maybe they don’t have to threaten brothers to leave each other alone, but they definitely have to consider tone and setting. By taking on these added responsibilities I have learned to appreciate their work of ushering us into the presence of God each week, especially now that there are so many variables they cannot control.

Speaking of variables, I’ve learned that just as in the workplace, technology both facilitates and frustrates. Nothing kills the flow of our family worship more than an audio mix-up, pop-up ad, or disruptive YouTube clip immediately after a hymn or the sermon.

As much as those flubs make worship difficult, I have to acknowledge our ability to worship together while not in the same room is made possible by technology. What seemed unimaginable a few weeks ago has now become routine, and even the least tech savvy among us now can operate Zoom, FaceTime, Google hangouts, or all three.

Another facet of worship requiring more effort is interpersonal connection. Our church has resorted to Zoom for Wednesday night Bible study and prayer meeting. It’s nice to see each other, but we still can’t really communicate one-to-one. We can do that outside of the gathering, but that’s an extra Zoom meeting or FaceTime call. Extra means more time and intentionality.

While attire for church attendance has been trending more casual for several decades, what people wear to virtual church matters less than ever. If you angle your phone or laptop camera strategically, you can stay in your pajamas and no one would be the wiser. Brush your hair, wash your face, and wear a decent shirt or top, and you are fine to participate in an online service.

If your worship isn’t live, appearances matter even less. It is now truly “come as you are.”

Despite how unfamiliar all of this felt in the beginning, we are starting to get the hang of it. It’s an unfortunate new normal for churches, but hope is that it will help us find new meaning in our worship.

What has your virtual church experience been like? Please share your observations and unexpected epiphanies from worship in the time of COVID-19 by leaving a comment. May you and your loved ones be blessed with good health.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA. He earns a living in higher education communications.

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Comments

  1. Great job, Lance. Jeff aka Pastor/husband chastised me to the congregation Wednesday night during the live service because I was eating popcorn 😂 he was broadcasting from the living room. It just seemed normal! 😃

  2. The only advantage I have is that after watching our church service live, I can watch several other churches. I can watch Lyle’s church live since he is in a different time zone and I can watch other churches on Sunday afternoon.