When the pandemic first swept across the globe forcing us to transition everything online, including virtual church services, it seemed at best like a fun challenge and at worst a necessary inconvenience. Now that we’re settling into this new normal and meeting online is a regular part of how we connect, it’s important to find ways to make the most out of these gatherings even if they’re not under ideal circumstances.
Attending church and meeting together with other Christians is a fundamental practice, and yet it has been a struggle to find sustainable and effective ways to connect with other believers.
How do we make authentic connections with others when we can’t meet in person? Is there a way to develop meaningful relationships without being physically together?
Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.Hebrews 10:24-25
Gathering online is different than we’re used to, for sure. But it doesn’t have to mean the end of meeting together, encouraging one another or motivating one another to acts of love and good works.
While it’s tempting to be a passive consumer when watching a screen, it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are nine ways to get the most out of virtual church, so you and your fellow believers can benefit from this adjusted worship format.
Tips for Getting the Most Out of Virtual Church
Make Virtual Church an Event
It can be fun to attend church in your pyjamas and easy to stream the service while you’re cooking breakfast or doing dishes, but you’ll get more out of virtual church if you treat it like an event. Dress like you would for church, login or download the service ahead of time, and gather all the elements you’ll need for the service before it starts.
Create a Sacred Space
Think about ways you can make your online corporate worship time a sacred experience. Depending on your denomination you may find different ways to create this type of space including using colours to symbolize the events on the church holiday calendar, lighting candles, placing religious symbols like crosses on the table, opening your Bible to that day’s passage or clearing away clutter and creating a focused space where you can concentrate on worship.
Turn Off Distractions
Before the service begins, put away potential distractions. Turn your smartphone to silent, mute notifications and prepare to give your full attention to the service.
Bring Your Bible
Many of us have stopped using a physical Bible in favour of apps and digital Scriptures. However, since you’re consuming church online, having something tactile will help you connect with the service on a deeper level.
It’s easy to be a passive participant during online events, so while virtual church is streaming, make it a point to actively sing and pray along with the worship leaders. This could feel awkward at first but if you can push through it will increase your experience and help it feel more like worship.
If your church offers a way to chat or connect with others during the service make a point to reach out. Whether you’re saying hello, offering prayers or answering questions the speakers pose during the virtual worship, reaching out to the larger community in this way can help you feel connected and engaged. If you’re uncomfortable sharing personal prayer requests or reflections in a public setting, consider sending an email to the church leadership after the fact. The point is to make an effort to connect, and join in the larger community.
Another way we can get more out of an online worship service is by taking notes. The act of writing key points, Bible verses or thoughts you have while the pastor is speaking allows you to be an active participant and allows you to connect with the message on a deeper level. Your notes can also act as a reflection tool for you to meditate on later, to help you apply the lessons from the sermon long after the service has concluded.
Discuss Virtual Church
If you were physically attending a service you may very well linger after the service to chat with other churchgoers and have pleasant and uplifting conversations. Why not continue this tradition online? Some churches facilitate informal coffee or prayer times before and after the service. If this is the case with your church, consider joining in. It is so easy to feel disconnected and isolated but connecting with others in these small ways can make a remarkable difference.
Did your pastor issue a challenge for the week? Make a point to follow up throughout the week. See how you can continue applying the lessons you picked up in your day to day activities and conversations, and allow the Holy Spirit to continue working in you and through you.
Virtual church is a part of our reality for now, but one day in the future we can look forward to meeting without restrictions again. When that time comes it will be interesting to see how many churches switch fully to in-person worship and how many others maintain a hybrid online/offline experience. There are benefits and drawbacks to every style of worship, of course, but the important thing is to find ways to make the most out of your church experience so you can participate fully as a member of the body and give as much as you receive.