45-Independent (Online Church)

“COVID-19 has changed everything around us. We want you to know that we’re praying for you and we’re in your corner. Together — we’ll get through this.”

March 22, 2020 8 AM

Well, the proverbial sh__ has hit the fan. We are pretty much quarantined to our homes until further notice. The stock market has tanked, several times, most businesses are shuttered and schools have cancelled indefinitely. When my alma mater, West Point, suspends the rest of the academic year, you know it’s serious. Almost all travel plans, wedding plans, graduations–any event with more than ten people–has had to be postponed. We are living in a new era, only a mere twenty or so years after 9/11 ushered in a new era. Maybe we have come to the age where everything will change every couple of decades. Who knows? We are certainly living in un-certain times.

That’s why I went to an online church this time. I suppose there were a few churches still open for in-person worship, but it seemed irresponsible and maybe even dangerous to do that. Since a number churches made the (smart) decision to stream worship online, it helped make my decision easier.

I chose a large non-denominational church, which started in 2008 in a Philadelphia suburb movie theater. The About Us page on their website said this: they wanted to create and be part of a church… where normal people like them felt at home. I think they should re-word that last line as it seems to suggest that “abnormal people like others” may not feel at home. Oh well, just an observation.

I sat on my couch, still in PJs, coffee cup in hand and participated in their online church, which began right on time, I was pleased to see. It started with two young men, both pastors in the church, introducing themselves and explaining why they were having these online services (one at every hour from 8 am to noon and two more at night.) They both seemed comfortable and well-rehearsed in front of the camera. They told us to sign in the chat box and tell them where we were watching from. I did that, along with about twenty or thirty others. One of them read a scripture passage using his Iphone (I’m still not a fan of that…can’t they use a real Bible?) Then, he said, let’s worship in song.

We were directed to a four person band in an empty church playing a song. I’m copying the lyrics in its entirety because it was perfect choice for the current situation: (We Praise You, by Brandon Lake)

[Verse 1]
Let praise be a weapon that silences the enemy
Let praise be a weapon that conquers all anxiety
Let it rise, let praise arise
We sing Your name in the dark and it changes everything
We sing with all we are and we claim Your victory
Let it rise, let praise arise

[Chorus]
We’ll see You break down every wall
We’ll watch the giants fall
Oh, fear cannot survive when we praise You
The God of breakthrough’s on our side
Forever we lift Him high
With all creation cry, God, we praise You
Oh, we praise You
Oh, we praise You

[Verse 2]
Let faith be the song that overcomes the raging sea
Let faith be the song that calms the storm inside of me
Let it rise, let faith arise
Let faith be the song that overcomes the raging sea
Let faith be the song that calms the storm inside of me
Let it rise, let faith arise

After this ONE great song, we were shifted back to the two young men, who basically introduced the message time. I’ll get to that in a minute. But for once, I longed for more singing. I actually sang along on my couch and I was ready to do that for at least a few more minutes. The Spirit was moving (in me, anyway) and one or two more songs would have been nice.

We jumped to the pastor who sat in a chair with what looked like a music stand in front of him, holding his notes. He read his sermon, but it was conversational and relative to the situation. He used a passage in 2 Chronicles 20 to illustrate that in times of great stress and fear, we should follow the example of Jehoshaphat. 1) We remember who GOD IS. God is GREAT and God is GOOD. 2) We remember what God has done in the past. This is not God’s first rodeo–God has been with us in many other crises. 3) We look to God for help. We are scared and worried but God is our refuge. 4) We remember that the battle is God’s. We will not be overcome by fear. We will trust in God.

The pastor also said this was an opportunity for us to 1) to reset our relationship with God and others; and 2) to allow God to work a change in us–to move us and to use us. Overall, he gave a solid, helpful message about faith in a time of crisis. I appreciated his presentation which was both hopeful and anticipatory.

After the sermon, we went back to the two young men, who asked us to give online. I suppose that was the offering time. The entire service finished in under thirty minutes. Now, you know I’m not a fan of overly long worship services. But it seems to me that this one could have been greatly enhanced by adding a few more songs, a little bit of liturgy (maybe Psalm 23 or the Lord’s Prayer), a time of silent or communal prayer and a proper offering time. I wonder if they know that asking for offerings is part of worship? God has always asked that we come to worship with our gifts and offerings.

Overall, this felt like an active, vibrant church, with five locations in the Philly area. Their growth suggests they’re meeting the needs of many. While I cannot judge how I would feel at one of their regular worship services, their online service felt welcoming. They offered several ways to connect online and having seven online worship opportunities shows they are trying to maximize audience participation. Therefore, this church PASSED the WELCOME TEST.

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