With Ashley Mowers
Prior to the pandemic, a lot of us lacked any capacity for online ministry. It wasn’t a part of our DNA. Our buildings weren’t equipped for it. Our budgets couldn’t accommodate the costs involved. We thought our demographic didn’t require it. And all of those reasons were bolstered by the theological conviction that virtual ministry lacked an incarnational element.
Or so we thought.
But Covid-19 and a lot of really bad planning that assumed spiritual needs were non-essential have landed many of us in a very different world. We have worked to hold our communities together through through virtual worship, online formation, pastoral care using video conferencing, and we have held a wide variety of meetings to deal with visioning and governance. Along the way we also attracted the interest of people in other parts of the country and the world.
Some of us assume that we can let that all go as we return to face-to-face activities. But we can’t. There are several reasons and my friend and colleague, Ashley Mowers – who is a good deal younger and helped sharpen my thinking on that score. Here are some things to remember:
One: Online community is real community.
Online communities may lack some of the benefits of face-to-face encounters: shared space, the ability to communicate with more than words and facial expressions, the tactile dimension of shared experiences (like “passing the peace”). But that doesn’t mean that that online communities are not real communities. We are still able to exchange ideas. The interactions are often incredibly intense. Interaction is often more frequent, and the down-time involved in travel can mean that more time is spent in community than might be possible with an hour or more of transit time.
Two: The Church is about reaching people with God and the Gospel. It’s not just about getting people into pews.
No one involved in ministry seriously thinks that being present in church is without importance. If online community is real community, it is also true that human interaction is never complete without face-to-face interaction. That said, getting people into physical spaces is not the ultimate goal.
The mission of the church is the healing of relationships with God and with others. If what we have been doing online has helped serve that goal, then it is work that is worth continuing.
Three: The pandemic has forced us to embrace an incredible gift.
Two things are now possible that were not easily accomplished in the past: “the preaching of the Gospel to the ends of the world” and soul care in real time. Connecting with that kind of work labored against technological limitations, and they were tied all but completely to personal contact. Now, we have a new opportunity.
Does that technology have its limitations? Yes. Is the new, online world a substitute for face-to-face interaction? Of course not. But there is good reason to continue the good work and the new opportunities we have been given.