Church Reductionism

I was very happily reading this article on the innovative church Lifechurch.tv and their new “free group chat translation tool” called Bablewith.me.  From the article:

LifeChurch.tv staff members recently rolled out BabelWith.me, a free group chat translation tool that allows participants to communicate in real-time using up to 45 languages. Developed in-house as a Web-based Google app, BabelWith.me isn’t just for LifeChurch.tv members, but can be used by any business, church, mission group or individuals hoping to expand its message globally—or simply to communicate more effectively in such languages as Chinese, Arabic, Hebrew, Hindi and Spanish.

That sound cool, though I can’t think of an immediate application for myself.  Then I got to the very end of the article to read this, which really has nothing to do with the above new tool, but with streaming services on iphone or ipod:

“We are always looking for ways that we can leverage technology to reach people where they are at,” said Peter Thourson, New Hope’s interactive developer. “[Now] users across the globe will be able to continue to attend church regardless of where they are.”

It’s not the first sentence that is troublesome, but the second.  This would seem to reduce what the church is and is about to attendance at a worship service (whether in person or online).    Now, I believe that this is enough of a problem without new technology, but this certainly doesn’t help.  When we reduce church to this level, then we will lose our ability to carry out our comission.  We will lose our ability to establish authentic community in a fragmented world.  We will lose our ability to call people to live for something much greater than themselves.  I can see some application for the homebound and the ill, but so much more needs to be said.  Without accountability, we will do what pleases us and what makes us comfortable.  Church, without reducing it to only worship service attendance, will not always please us and should make us uncomfortable.

Thoughts?  Am I being too harsh or ungracious?

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Not knowing the guys at NewHope, I can’t speak for them. I do “know” several of the guys that create the online environment for Lifechurch and the soon to be coming Northpointonline.tv. To them, local assemblies are still very important, but the online environment that they provide allows nonchurched and dischurched a “safe” place to get connected or reconnected with the global church. They are also very aware of the need of physical authentic community. Several of them doing mission projects to help foster this.

    It is a strange but interesting place we are going. We’ve come a long way from “house churches. I do feel that there are good examples of online community and gathering of believers. I’ve been to some that seem to be a glorified chatroom, but others are as intimate as any prayer service that I’ve been a part of.

    Reply

  2. Adam, you’re absolutely right. Worship is central to our identity as Christians and as the church– but it is not exclusively the total of our identity. The church is inherently organic, and anything less than an organic connecting together of believers falls short of the biblical description of “church”.

    Does that mean that online community is impossible? No– but while online communities complement, and perhaps even supplement, the organic church, they cannot replace it altogether.

    What I fear is that, in fact, your portrayal is too optimistic! You suggest that what is described is the reduction of church to worship either in person or online. While I’m sure there are some churches that stream their whole worship service (think the 21st century version of having a worship service broadcast on TV), most churches with an online presence (mine included) offer only the sermon. The idea of putting the whole worship service up is foreign.

    I have heard comments from my own congregation, and certainly heard and seen it in others, that the only reason folks are there is the sermon. This reduction is as dangerous as the first (from the whole of church to merely worship). If this is essentially all that church is, then we who pastor smaller churches should save our program budgets and buy our folks iPods, then point them toward good podcasts.

    Reply

  3. Andy: thanks for your thoughts and experiences.

    Ed: I hadn’t thought of the worship/sermon distinction, but you are right. There is no doubt the problem of church reductionism isn’t a problem solely to be associated with “innovation”, but as tool of the evil one within Christianity as a whole.

    Reply

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