Online Church: And the Spiritual Decay that Ensues

Being a Christian in Manhattan is…quite a “salmon swimming upstream” kind of existence. And when it comes to actually going to church, it’s a pretty anonymous experience. For starters, the church is always on the brink of empty. You can count the people there on one hand. And you never really see anyone twice…except for “the regulars”…who are also there alone – always significantly older, and always “in and out” – no sticking around before or after.

There’s no community feeling. And it was really a shame. Because there’s nothing more spiritually nourishing than seeing familiar faces at church.

And the priests, they were great, holy men. But it’s not like they’re preaching to their congregation of familiar faces. So, sometimes, it felt like they were just providing a service to a transitory congregation. Some didn’t even go to the back to greet people on the way out. It just was…impersonal.

So moving back home, and going to church with the same priest gave me my first communion, confirmation, etc…(and is also marrying us)…it’s an entirely different Mass experience all together. We feel seen at Mass. We feel at home. We feel welcomed and loved, and supported personally in our walk with Christ.

In fact, last weekend, Steven and I were at a party, and three of the six couples there were ALSO married by this same priest that we will be married by. It’s just…people are living in community. And it’s beautiful.

So on Sunday, his homily was incredibly powerful, about – not just the world’s spiritual disinterest — we all know that ship sailed years ago. But rather, about spiritual sloth that is seen among Christians today. And it really made me think and do some internal reflection, so I thought I’d share the takeaways here.

The pandemic really did a number on what’s left of the “church attenders” across the country. Why? Because we introduced “living room church.” AKA: live streaming Mass from the comfort of our homes, from our pajamas on the couch, at our own preferred time, while sipping coffee and checking our phones. It was a double edged sword, because for as helpful and a “God-send” as it was for us during the pandemic to help keep our faith alive, it has now become the thing that is making people become spiritually apathetic, and perhaps even spiritually red-lined.

Watching church on TV — it’s great. Believe me, Steven and I did that a lot. We loved listening to Fr. Mike Schmitz’s mass, and in fact, after lockdown ended and we were heading back to mass in-person, we would come back and listen to his homily on TV, simply because we “got” so much more out of his homilies than the priests in NYC who were preaching to a church of 15 people, most of whom will never return to that same church again.

But here’s the thing. Live-streaming church is leading to the slow decay and death of our churches and people of faith. Is there a time and a place for it? Yes, of course, absolutely. For the sick and homebound, it is absolutely a blessing. But there’s so much you can’t get from a screen that you get in the actual church.

For starters, the Eucharist. But more broadly for my non-Catholic friends, the biggest thing that you can’t get from a screen…is the community that is sitting in the pews around you.

The convenience of live streamed church has inadvertently put us all on our own little faith islands. And what do you feel when you’re on an island? ALONE.

And what is the enemy’s tactic for demise? Isolate you and get you alone, so he can tear you down, uninhibited.

Going from NYC, where there’s a lack of community already at the churches there, now to Cincinnati, where we’re literally greeted with hugs at the door…there is just no comparison to the lift you get in your spirit when surrounded by fellow believers.

Because being a Christ-follower is hard enough in this fallen world. Trying to do it alone, without the support of a community around you…that is a darn-near impossible task.

So anyway. Take it from someone who, for the first time in 12 years is really feeling like church is home…aka, the way church is supposed to feel…it’s such a beautiful thing.

Do you have a faith community? What do you find helpful to foster community in your area, and any tips for “new comers” getting involved?

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27 responses to “Online Church: And the Spiritual Decay that Ensues”

  1. Wow Caralyn, this post hits me in the face. I have been watching my church online too and have thought about going back to the brick and mortar church. Your examples of faith islands hits hard. Thank you for this post. ❤️✝️🙏🏻

  2. I think the same holds true for family relationships and friendships as well ~ face to face events create stronger connections and bonds than zooming or FaceTime, as nice as those are when they’re the only options ❤️

  3. It’s pretty sad that people are choosing to stay home. The pandemic caused so much isolation and heartache for so many people. It seems like Satan’s little workshop of ironic situations is hard at work to entice people to continue to stay isolated from one another simply because it’s easier than showing up where you can be spiritually, mentally, and socially fed and strengthened. The cure to so much pain is found in Christ and in becoming part of the body of Christ, but it’s so easy to be blind to that.

  4. The church is the Body of Christ, Paul says that “the Lord puts the parts of the Body exactly where He wants them”. We are meant to encourage one another, even correct and rebuke. Church authority is meant to hold us accountable. That’s not Zoomable.
    True Christianity was never convenient or comfortable but we have made it so. Yes, it may have a place with the shut-ins but instead of watching a screen, we’re supposed to be bringing the word of God to them ourselves! That’s fellowship and love.
    Press on sister, we will too. May the Lord stir our hearts and lead us in serving His precious Body.

  5. So right! This is truth here. Our church family is amazing and growing a lot, but so many churches around us have closed or have those few people there, most people having never returned after their justified copout. We never closed. And we have grown by 35 families last year and more this year so far. The good side is that the pew-warmers are gone and those who are there are the church, all in, passionately in love with Christ. It is beautiful!!😃❤️

  6. Great post. You’re right! There’s a time and place for living room church (pandemic), but that’s over now and people should start going back to church. I’ve been struggling with that lately. Finally went two weeks in a row and it felt great! Glad you’re getting that community feeling there 😊

  7. Amen, Caralyn. I first came to Christ in a church fellowship that the genuine affection and one-another-ness was palpable. Let’s just say, what started as a fellowship of believers in small group ‘house’ churches who met together on Sundays never quite recovered from the Zoom pandemic services. Smaller and remaining active in one another’s lives, bible studies, potlucks, confession, etc is how we help this lost generation.

  8. Yes, indeed! You are right on regarding being an active part of a church where faces matter! God wants us to be part of each other’s lives, an active part of the Body. Blessings!

  9. I’d say figure out what yours and Stephen’s spiritual gifts or interests are and go from there. You guys could teach Sunday school or help with a Bible study or visit shut-ins or do youth group or… lots of ways to serve your church and God. 🙂 And it’s always good for fellowship.
    So very happy for you to be home! 😊

  10. I’m glad you’re experiencing that kind of church community. And I feel like it’s something that has been missing from my life for a long time. I was spoiled by coming to Jesus at age 19 in the context of college groups that came with a built-in social life for me. By the time I was your age without having a spouse or family of my own, I had very little in common with anyone at any church around here… well, I have beliefs in common (unless you count churches that actually worship Woke Jesus) but nothing socially, or in the way that forms actual community. Maybe I’m just going into this with the wrong attitude, but that’s how it feels…

  11. There is so much truth in this post. During the pandemic, our church fought hard to stay open. We went online until Pentecost, which is when we resumed mass (that was not lost on me!) While we were watching from home in March and April, we all still dressed up, used our Magnificat to follow along, sang, and kneeled on the floor. The thing I missed most during that time was seeing my pastor and friends at church. And going to Adoration. The first day I went back to Adoration, I literally cried tears of joy. To be in a holy place and see my fellow parishoners praying lifted my heart.

    Luckily, we had many people return to church as soon as they could, and we are full at every mass on the weekend. It is a gift that I never take for granted. I pray for the souls that have become islands; that’s not what we are meant to feel like. As someone stated above, we are all part of His body. We function best when we are together, helping one another, supporting one another, praying for and with one another. I am praying that God will continue to leave the 99 to search for the 1 lost sheep. And He will rejoice when he finds that 1!

  12. Interesting reading Caralyn. As you may recall i’m epileptic and the only time I don’t attend The Salvation Army is if I take a seizure that morning and I watch a service by The Salvation Army on You tube

  13. While it is true that only attending online church is like watching a performance on TV, it can be a valuable supplement to Christ-followers who are involved with other Christ-followers in smaller venues.
    Anita and I no longer enjoy the worship in most evangelical churches which have become more “performance” than participatory, and so continue to attend the FAC services online, and appreciate the teaching of the sermons.
    However, we are also involved with a couple of “small groups” that run between 10 and 50 at various meetings: Boomers Group, Simple Church Alliance, and dinners at our home, for both fellowship and evangelism.
    Perhaps you and your family can invite priests from NY to visit Cincinatti to experience how to encourage parishioners in the City. NY reeeally needs Christ-followers to encourage each other and build the faith in one of the hardest “mission fields” here in America!
    ❤️&🙏, c.a.

    • Your experiences make me think of the first churches – small groups in people’s homes. And look at what they accomplished. Christianity and churches is not necessarily a “go big or go home” thing when it comes to the size or place of a gathering or community. Keep up the good work!

  14. Interesting that you’d bring this up, because I’ve been thinking that one of the *upsides* of the pandemic was the ability to hold church online. But it hasn’t been the way you experience it: when the pandemic shut churches down, a friend and I started inviting people to “church” on Zoom (I have a fair bit of experience with that technology) … meeting every Thursday evening, so’s not to try to compete with “Sunday” churches … and three years later, we’re still going. The group has gelled into one where we pray for one another and support one another … and our group has people from Australia, Saskatchewan, even northern Quebec, as well as all over British Columbia. Because of Zoom’s interactive nature, we can pray effectively for one another, since the Holy Spirit doesn’t recognize human distances. SO … online church isn’t all bad — it just depends on how it’s done. By the way, Jesus is alive and well in NYC — as an example, check out Real Life Church in The Bronx.

    • Thank you Drewdsnider!! I am working as pastor in a Catholic parish in Austria (Europe). Right now I am looking for “online church” in addition to “present church” on a Sunday mass. Would it be possible to join your Zoom group?

  15. I just watched a sermon on YouTube by Dr. David Jeremiah. One thing he said hit hard with its simplicity – Christianity is a bad hobby. And that’s all it is to so many. They may feel sincere on Sunday morning or feel good about putting in their time online, but it has to be every day and in community and done sacrificially.

    I attended online during the pandemic even though my church remained open, because everyone wore masks and hurried in at the last minute and out before the echo died. There was no community at all, and I figured I could experience the same thing online with out the very long drive each way.

    Community is what it’s all about – to share faith and to encourage one another.

    I commented on someone else’s comment above that I could see you and Steve as a great team to lead your youth ministry.

  16. Amen, Sister! In our church down here in Florida, over the last three weeks, we have seen an increase in people in the seats. It is very encouraging and we are believing it will be increasing. We’re not supposed to take the easy route to our Christian faith, but comfortable sure can be tempting. Unfortunately, as you have stated, it leaves you isolated which is no good for anyone. When you get off the couch, good things happen!

  17. A faith community?
    Yes and no… not a regular church atm, but a small network of Christian friends.
    (I am also stepping into new things – writing and worship – and hope to build friendships and community, here.)
    But not in my local area, unfortunately…

  18. “Because being a Christ-follower is hard enough in this fallen world” Oh yes it is indeed but God always leads us to the right people within His body. Spiritual declination is a real battle all over the world in regards to the church because of the false teachers who had no sort of strong knowledge in the word of God that use the Lord’s word to deceive and corrupt the minds of many leaving them spiritually confused. We need to pray for the churches restoration and personal revival with and to GOD. We can’t crave both the world and Christ at the same time. And this as well is a major problem. God bless and keep strong! <3

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