Building Christian Community in the 21st Century
using technology to further the kingdom
The church I pastor has a foot on each end of the spectrum of styles of Christian community. On one end, we are 186 year old congregation meeting in a 130 year old building with wooden pews and stained glass windows. On the other end, all of our messages are streamed by Facebook Live and the number one way that visitors find us is Google.
There is debate as to the nature of worship and Christian community. Does it need to be in a traditional form, meeting physically together in a church building? Can it be online, taking advantage of the latest technology? Or do we have to choose between the two?
The danger is that churches embrace something just because it is the new thing. Significant resources can be wasted simply in following the latest trend.
What do we find in the early church?
Obviously they weren’t using the internet, but they did take advantage of the available technology. One of the reasons that the church was able to spread as quickly as it did was the efficient Roman roads. Christians were also some of the first to embrace the transition from scrolls to codices to spread their message.
Even the epistles that form much of our New Testament was the taking over of the current method of distance communication. We have hundreds of contemporary epistles on mundane matters to compare with the biblical epistles. We see that the basic structure was used but common aspects were filled with new theological meaning.
The use of the epistle, especially by the Apostle Paul, is of particular relevance to the use of information technology by the modern church.
Paul would have preferred to have been present with the various churches to help them in their discipleship (Galatians 4:20). Since that was not always possible, Paul wrote to various churches to encourage, rebuke and point them to Jesus.
What does this tell us about modern technology? The biblical principle is that we are to use the available technology to spread the kingdom of God. This includes the use of websites, podcasts, social media and video streaming. If the information technology available to us will help us accomplish our mission, then it should be used.
But how does this inform our understanding of the nature of Christian worship and community? Is it sufficient to stay home and listen to Christian music and sermons on our computers?
While the use of technology is encouraged in the Bible, so is the importance of the gathering of the saints (Hebrews 10:25). There is something special that happens when followers of Jesus gather together in a physical space to worship God and learn from his Word. Christians should seek to experience corporate worship as often as able.
So why bother using streaming services?
While corporate worship is the ideal, it may not always be realistic. There are those with disabilities or other limitations that may prevent them from attending physically. We had a young man with mental illness whose social anxiety prevented him from joining is on Sunday mornings. He was so thankful that we posted our sermons online as he had a desire to grow spiritually.
An online presence is also useful for outreach. As we move further into a post-Christian culture, worship services become more of a mystery to the unchurched. Online worship can be one of the tools to remove obstacles for non-Christians to visit a church.
The ideal will always be for followers of Jesus to join together to worship and grow in our knowledge of Christ. However, technology is a helpful addition to that experience, allowing us to share the story of salvation with those who need to hear it.
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