This is the first post-pandemic Christmas Sunday we’ve had and the rules have changed – much has changed since 2016! This year we could meet together but our church leaders decided to go virtual for worship this Christmas. It was a unanimous decision among our leadership, but despite our familiarity (or maybe because of it) it has been met with some controversy. I get it! I like worshipping together as a congregation on Sundays, but I see six compelling reasons to go virtual for worship this Christmas Sunday.
The internet allows us to provide a relevant and excellent worship service to homes.
Streaming allows us to equip people to worship in their homes together with family and friends. This means people who feel uncomfortable leading in prayer, teaching from scripture, or singing, can have worship guided by their church leaders. You could maybe even argue this fits a New Testament pattern of having the church meet in homes. Technology allows one leader to preach simultaneously in multiple places as opposed to traveling from house to house. Yes, I know there is more to ministry than preaching, but it’s the main event for a pastor on Sunday mornings.
Attendance patterns have changed.
The last time Christmas fell on a Sunday we met. We gathered with a very light crowd and shared in worship. There weren’t enough volunteers for the worship team or greeting team, so we closed Kids’ Place to keep families together. We did the best we could to present a worship service fitting for the Prince of Peace, but it fell short. Today with many families worshipping in a hybrid pattern (one Sunday in-person, the next online) we knew our attendance and volunteer pool would be even less.
We can do better with more time, preparation, and people.
We thought we could do better than having a mediocre piano player (it was me) and two vocalists sing. We have all of this new technology that allows us to stream a high-quality, pre-produced, pre-recorded service live for streaming at home. (Yes…our pre-recorded service will still show up as “LIVE” on Facebook and YouTube.) Recording this ahead of time allowed us to work within the schedules of volunteers, record/re-record until it was right, and we still had time to polish it!
In case you’re wondering, it’s not about our staff or our convenience. As a pastor I plan on being at church for Christmas Eve (every year) and for Christmas when it comes on Sundays. It’s my job and I’m glad to do it. In fact, it would be easier to meet in-person. The time, planning, writing, scheduling, and editing needed to put together a high-quality at-home experience is far greater than for a plunk-it-out-on-a-piano service together at our building. Like I said, we wanted to do better than what we had previously cobbled together on Christmas morning!
It’s better for visiting families.
Besides the quality of the programming it is more approachable for those who don’t go to church. For those visiting family, trying to rush everyone out the door after presents and breakfast might be impossible. For those with visiting family, inviting your non-church-attending relatives to sit on the couch, sing carols, and drink some coffee in your home is a much easier ask! It might even be the first time they’ve heard the Christmas story in years.
We’ll be where everyone is already!
Kids wake up at 6:00AM. Coffee is brewed and presents are opened by 7:00AM. After breakfast is made and batteries are installed people will head to Facebook! They’ll post their pictures from Sunday morning and see what everyone is doing. Around that time, our church services will be going live! They’ll scroll and we’ll be there…right in their home. It’s more comfortable than a block party and more convenient than a neighborhood church.
This will be a good equipping tool for our families.
It is our hope that this service gives families a reminder you don’t have to be in church to worship! Today families travel frequently on the weekends for vacations or club-sports for their kids. I’d rather have them engage with church while they travel than ignore it all together. It teaches their kids church is important and that there is no excuse to miss it.
These are our reasons to try virtual. We’re trying it, not marrying it! After debating whether this was acceptable or not., we decided there was no clear-cut command in scripture to meet in-person instead of stream online. We may decide we hate it! If so, we’ll never do it this way again. We may decide we love it! If so, we’ll plan a new experience when Christmas falls on Sunday again in 2033. Although by then we might be able to meet virtually in the meta-verse and decide to try once more.