Some people have expressed concern that the forced social distancing that has resulted in churches livestreaming services and Bible Studies will discourage physical church attendance once states lift bans on public assemblies. I understand that the concern.
Ever since services have been televised, small numbers of professing Christians have opted out of attending church, finding it so much more convenient to fire up their TV, computer, tablet or smart phone and watch church in their jammies. Those who have experienced hurt from their church families find this long-distance approach to worship particularly soothing. How nice to hear God’s Word preached without the messiness of accountability and/or difficult relationships!
Others feel frustrated by the lack of churches that preach sound doctrine. Not too many of years ago, I despaired of finding a good church in our area, and seriously contemplated getting my spiritual nourishment online. Thankfully, my godly husband nixed that idea and the Lord brought us to a church that faithfully preaches His Word. Still, I understand the temptation to let online services substitute for actual church attendance.
So yes, some people probably will continue watching services from home long after COVID-19 fades into memory.
But I have reason to believe that most Christians will return to church enthusiastically, appreciating it more than our ever precisely because this pandemic has deprived us of opportunities to worship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. I base this belief firstly on Scripture, remembering that love for other believers is one mark of genuine salvation.
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. ~~1 John 3:14 (ESV)
Loving the brothers includes a desire for fellowship with them. Furthermore, the practical application of love can’t happen apart from knowing each other well enough to serve each other. Continuing to watch sermons from the comfort of our living rooms when we have the opportunity to gather with fellow Christians robs us of the joy of loving each other through mutual service.
Participation in a local church helps us see how intimately connected we are to each other.
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. ~~Romans 12:3-8 (ESV)
Because I belong to a local church, the Lord allows me to use my spiritual gifts for the benefit of the brothers and sisters in that church. And I benefit from their spiritual gifts. None of us is independent of the rest of the body. I love the fact that everyone in that church has a claim on me, and I have a claim on each of them. Those mutually beneficial relationships simply can’t happen without gathering together with each other.
In addition to Scripture’s testimony to the joy of physically attending church services, I can attest from personal experience that forced separation from church only increases the joy of reuniting with the body. Due to the effects that New England winters have on our disabilities, John and I miss several months of church every year. Consequently, we treasure every Sunday that God allows us to be there.
I believe that when our churches reopen, we will return with the type of joy that John and I get to experience each spring. Take it from someone who knows — people will be more than happy to trade livestreamed services for the real thing!