Living in rural America the past couple of years, I have almost become immune to all of the empty storefronts of days of old. As a society, it is just what we have come to accept as progress. The big box stores have long replaced the mom and pop businesses. It is actually more surprising when you find one still in operation that has survived the changing economy.
Should it be surprising then that local churches are also disappearing? I have noticed more and more church buildings that show little to no sign of life. Signs that are no longer maintained and no evidence of traffic in the parking lots are becoming commonplace. Where are all the people going?
Being a Christian and moving to a new town, churches are of particular interest to me. As I surveyed the area to locate a church home, I began to notice that if a parking lot was not completely empty on a Sunday morning that it was certainly not unusual to see only a handful of cars. I began to see a stark contrast to the larger churches with parking attendants and overflow parking available that I normally attend.
While shopping one day, I asked the clerk where she attended church and she proceeded to tell me with the disclaimer that it was very traditional and that the same people have attended there for years. In other words, newcomers would be frowned upon thereby giving me at least one explanation for the death of many local churches.
Where do people like me attend church? I prefer some degree of anonymity. When I attend church, I prefer not to be one of twelve people in attendance. I do not want to be judged for what I wear, what I tithe or if I attend the potluck or not. Let’s not forget the drama! I can certainly do without that. Certainly fellowship with others is an important aspect of a church community but it seems even that has been successfully redefined.
I am a part of a new generation of churchgoers far removed from those of the days of my youth. My church community far extends the brick and mortar walls of a traditional church. I attend church online. I live in Virginia and attend a church based in Georgia thanks to some forward thinking believers on a mission to reach the unchurched. I can worship God in the comfort of my own living room wherever that might be.
Some might attempt to theorize that the cause of the decline in church attendance can be attributed to the availability of these non-traditional churches. Perhaps, in some instances that might be true. However, for people like myself without alternatives, I would not be attending church at all.
Are these new churches able to meet the traditional needs of a church family? What exactly does an online church offer to its attendees? Music? Check. Sermons? Check. Group Bible studies? Check. Prayer Requests? Check. The ability to tithe and support missions? Check. Let’s not forget that many also offer live streaming in additional to previously recorded services for those with non-traditional work schedules or other commitments.
Sadly, I find another aspect of attending church online of great appeal. I do not have to worry about some crazed lunatic walking into a church sanctuary with a gun and shooting my family members and me. Yes, that is a real concern in today’s society.
My husband and I did actually find a church located about an hour and a half away from our home. Church being important to us we gave it an honest try. The very first Sunday that we attended they were live steaming the church that we had previously attended online. We could have done that at home and saved a total of three hours of driving time. Additionally, my fear of being gunned down at church seemed to be validated by the hired security at every entrance and exit of the church.
The days of the little white churches with the steeple seem to be quickly becoming a thing of the past. I am not so sure that is entirely a bad thing. I feel the same sentimental feeling when I drive by one as I do when I pass an old corner store. I feel warmth inside as I contemplate the life that once filled it but am truly grateful for progress and for people who had to he forethought to help me meet God right where I am.
The advantages of online church cannot be denied. It seems that “church” is not a building at all but rather the community that gathers for a common purpose. My church community just happens to meet online and spans the globe!
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Until Next Time,
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