By Dn Tan Sze Wee
For those of us in the workplace, a common greeting now is “Are you working from home?”
Exiting from the pandemic, many organisations have moved to offer flexible work arrangements, having experienced that certain jobs may be performed remotely.
For the church, a similar question looms: should we continue with worship from home (WFH) or online services now that we can congregate (and sing!)?
What is Church anyway?
Acts 2 shows us that when the apostles gathered publicly with the first Christians, they did four things: they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42).
Can these four activities be done remotely? Should these four activities be done remotely?
How are churches responding?
Globally, churches have taken different positions on this.
On one end, a few churches have ignored government mandates and fought against online services right from the start. At the other end, there are churches that have given up their physical spaces and moved entirely online.
Many churches are acknowledging that online services are the ‘new front door’, enabling them to reach people across continents, reaching some who may never step into a physical church. This makes the new door hard to close.
For the record, online services are not new for some churches - one US church has been providing this for 3 decades because it believes that was and continues to be the only way it can reach certain populations.
To WFH or not?
For churches that were forced to bring worship services online during the pandemic, the reasons for continuing to provide online worship need to be examined now that restrictions are lifted. Would online worship services continue to be an option for everyone or would online worship be provided as an extension of the churches’ ministries to those who cannot attend services in person?
The question is also for individuals who are now able to come for physical services. Do I come back to onsite services or WFH?
For many worshippers, coming back to onsite services is a given. It was not so for me and my initial reluctance to come back onsite surprised myself. There was some fear of catching the virus but my inertia stemmed largely from having to return to big group socialization.
As I committed these emotions to God, I was presented with an experience that helped me appreciate onsite corporate worship. I was in Shanghai with Hong Kian and Sonja for 2 months. This was before the current lockdown in the city.
We were logging on to The Bible Church’s services and I was glad to be able to continue worshiping with our church via our online services. It was convenient and I didn't need to step out into the cold. But I knew that my greatest comfort was not having to meet new people.
For the sake of Sonja who would be there for the next few years, we prayed for a local church and were led by different individuals to one. In that first visit, I had to do the newcomer drill and there was also the “share with the person on your left something about yourself” activity before the service started. I dreaded but survived all of that.
Once the singing started though, I knew what I had missed and what I would miss if I continued to WFH.
The Fire in Corporate Worship
In that gathered assembly of believers, even though they were strangers to me, we were united in praising God together. Our hearts and minds were collectively turned to experience the power and grace of God and with that, I found the fire to burn through my discomforts.
It was as what Martin Luther had said: “at home, in my own house, there is no warmth or vigor in me, but in the church when the multitude is gathered together, a fire is kindled in my heart and it breaks its way through.”
Will we continue with WFH?
Because of the pandemic, our church has had to totally change the way we worship for a season. As we enter a new season, one of the things the church leaders discussed at our recent retreat was whether we should continue with the online services.
We are aware that our online services are reaching some of our members who are not able to join us onsite. We are excited that we are reaching people we would never have been able to reach without these platforms. At the same time, we are concerned that online worship may become the norm and all that church is for some.
As we consider the way forward, pray along with us to be led by God as we discern if, when, why and for whom we would continue streaming online services.