Sunday, August 2, 2015
Is digital worship real worship?
I was reading a blog post about digital worship and read a clear, cogent, and calm argument why digital worship is real worship but the author is just plain wrong. There is no such thing as a digital substitute for the Sacraments or a digital version of worship or a virtual church that satisfies either Scripture or the Confessions.
Millennials in particular like to romp in the digital playground — they read Scripture on their phones, check out a church’s website before they visit, watch online videos about faith and/or spirituality, search for spiritual content online, and even “go” to worship via live stream services (FUN FACT: Young married couples [ages 24-34] who recently moved to a new town will watch a live streamed service six times on average before visiting a church physically). Should your church service go digital? Should you live stream your worship and encourage people to “attend” online? Will something vital be lost? Will something valuable be gained?
I do not have a problem with reading the Bible on my phone (or the catechism for that matter) and I can see using the hymnal on tablet format (especially for those who find it hard to hold a weighty hymnal) but this is not nearly the same thing as going to worship via live streaming services. Remember here the question here is not whether this is possible or easy or even cheap but whether it is worship. I watch worship services on line but it is not the same as being there. I cannot receive the body of Christ digitally nor can I experience the fellowship of the faithful online. I can hear a sermon but it is not the same as hearing it in the company of the faithful and in the context of the Divine Service in which I will receive the flesh and blood of Christ.
There are valid concerns about digital worship, but the practical and positive consequences for live streaming worship far outweigh the “good problems” you will have to face. And when you consider that the average cost of live streaming is cheaper than a typical monthly cell phone bill, you can begin to see how offering live streaming just makes sense (and “cents” for that matter, as well).
Special events (seminary call service) and special circumstances (the home bound) lend themselves to live streaming but the benefit is not the same as being there and the digital experience is not the equivalent of the live. We need to be careful here. Worship is by nature inconvenient. Anytime I stop thinking about myself and focus elsewhere it is inconvenient to my sinful nature. Worship is by nature sacrificial but what is the sacrifice of remaining in my bathrobe and tuning in and out of the video and audio content of a service in which I am not participating? There is no equivalence between personal and digital choices of the same event.