Thanks to the COVID-19 Virus, our lives have been drastically changed and that certainly includes our gathering together as church families. While there are many opinions about this virus and our government leaders’ response, I can assure you that this virus is real. Seeing the impact of the virus on my family gave firsthand confirmation that churches have been wise in not gathering large groups for long periods in close proximity. Today, many churches are live-streaming or posting prerecorded messages. For the past six Sundays worshippers have been able to watch church in their PJs while sipping coffee or enjoying breakfast. Some might be asking the question, why do we need to attend church anyway?
One day I would like to go and visit the “Land of Giants.” That is what I have heard people call the redwood forest outside of San Francisco, California. It is hard for me to imagine a large forest of trees so tall that they would extend past the length of a football field. The trunks of those trees are large enough to hide one of the school buses being used to deliver meals to children in our communities. In the Armstrong Redwoods National State Reserve, there is a tree that experts estimate to be 1,400 years old! In recent weeks we have seen severe storms come through the Upstate uprooting many trees and causing a great deal of damage. That makes me wonder how those redwoods stand so tall and in 1,400 years never been uprooted by a storm? The secret to their stability through the storms lies in their root system. The root system of a redwood tree extends outward 150 feet, interlocking with other trees in the forest. They have been able to grow tall and stand resilient because they were physically interlocked.
The Bible teaches that God has designed Christians to live together in community (Hebrews 10:24-25). The only way that we can withstand the storms and struggles of life is when we are interlocked and bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:1-2). We need to be close in heart and we need to be close in proximity. We are designed to live authentically and interdependently with one another in biblical community. No redwood tree has survived the elements for centuries without the help of other redwood trees and no Christian will thrive in their walk with God and work for God outside of the community of other believers. Virtual church is unable to provide the interlocking fellowship that is vital to our spiritual growth and survival.
I have heard many church attendees express how live-streaming and prerecorded messages are a delight to them. I have talked to preachers who brag about the hundreds or maybe even thousands that viewed their virtual messages. The sunrise sermon that I preached on Easter was viewed by more than 4,000 people on Facebook. You can imagine how my bubble was burst when I found out that more than half of those stopped watching after three seconds and only a handful endured till the end.
Do not get me wrong. We should continue to use our new technology well, but we must also use it wisely. Watching church from home when you are able to attend is dangerous. Being a part of a church hundreds or thousands of miles away through technology doesn’t provide the authentic and interdependent biblical community that enables us grow while weathering storms. We need to be wise and not reopen our churches too soon. Yet, we must also realize that we need the interlocking that comes through physical proximity. I have learned more than ever that I need my church and you need yours too.