As members of Christ’s body, we should connect ourselves as members of a local expression of that body. Digital space disconnects us from our bodies, communities, and physical locations, and swirls us about in cyberspace, but the church roots us in reality, grounds us in love, and is ground zero for our life with Christ.
It’s no secret that the church is experiencing an institutional crisis. Forty million people have left over the last 20 years. Not everyone is leaving for the same reasons, and just because they’re leaving the church behind doesn’t mean they’re leaving God. About 50 percent of people who have “hardly any” trust in organized religion still believe in God “without a doubt.” And while the reasons for leaving the church are wide-ranging, it’d be naive not to look at our digital practices as the church to see in what ways we are contributing to it.
In their book, The Great Dechurching: Who’s Leaving, Why Are They Going, and What Will It Take to Bring Them Back?, Jim Davis and Michael Graham write,
“Most dechurched evangelicals still worship online (which is more common among evangelicals anyway), but they do so at their convenience. Many evangelical churches now call their online worship services ‘on demand,’ and that is exactly what people are choosing to do. What is intended as a new front door is often having the opposite effect by helping the dechurched leave through the back door. Our research showed that physically going to a church in our consumerist digital age has become inconvenient, and many people concluded that they had other priorities for their time and money.”
This doesn’t mean that you should shut down your live stream. That would need to be determined on a church-by-church basis, and there are good reasons to have a live stream. What this does mean is that we need to take a closer examination of our ecclesiology in a digital age. What are we communicating about the church in an age of institutional distrust and digital convenience? Can church really be “on demand”? Or have we lowered our ecclesiology to the lowest possible rung, happy to have views when Jesus called us to make disciples?
The proliferation not just of live streams but of Christian influencers and podcasts makes it easy to consume religious content and get the weekly dose of spirituality one feels one needs without the messy realities of dealing with a community of fellow sinners.