And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)
One of the things that changed for many Jesus followers during the COVID pandemic was our “meeting together.” Our local gathering, like most others, moved to produce weekly worship online. I don’t think I’ll ever forget delivering messages to an empty auditorium and a camera.
Like everything in life, there were both opportunities and challenges with staying home and watching worship online. I confess that it was nice to enjoy a lazy morning sitting on the couch in my pajamas. Likewise, I know a lot of families who took advantage of online church to consciously make it a family event. “When life gives you lemons,” as they say.
Our community has been back in regular meeting mode for a long time, though we’re still broadcasting worship online each week. Data from the Institute for Family Studies revealed that the number of regular attenders is down in every demographic while the number of “never attend” is up by similar percentages. There are a number of factors to this decline. Some have legitimate health concerns and a reason to continue being cautious. There are other reasons, however, including those who simply found that they prefer watching, on their couch, in their pajamas.
I thought about this as I read the author of Hebrews encouragement to “not give up meeting together.” For the author, the decline in regular in-person participation was very different. He is writing to Hebrew believers who had gone back to the Jewish synagogue and the sacrificial system of Moses. It’s why he has written so much, and so passionately, about the old system becoming obsolete as Christ ushered in an entirely new spiritual reality. Some couldn’t, or wouldn’t, make the change. They walked away and went back. Old habits die hard.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself mulling over both the opportunities and challenges I’ve experienced in the return to a new “normal.” Since in-person meetings opened back up again, Wendy and I have chosen a couple of times to stay home together and watch online. It was a bit of a sabbath from the routine, and it was good for the soul. We also have loved being able to watch online when we travel or are at the lake, and it’s kept us more connected when we’re away.
At the same time, I have personally found that there’s no substitute for meeting together in person. This is also true in business, as the work world has embraced video meetings as a substitute for in-person meetings. What I’ve observed is that there is so much relationship, connection, and conversation that happens around the meetings themselves. Just this past Sunday I caught up with so many friends who are going through different struggles and circumstances in life. I get to hug them, hear how things are going, and learn how I can pray more specifically for them and their situation.
I thought this morning about every personal interaction and conversation I had with individuals before and after our last meeting together. I made a list in my head, pictured the individuals, and considered what we talked about. I then asked myself if those interactions were beneficial for me, for my life, and my relationships, and whether I would have been missing something had I stayed home and watched on the couch in my pajamas. For me, there’s no doubt about the answer. Those personal interactions are as vital and life-giving as anything that happened within the meeting itself.
Things change, and I’m sure that COVID has changed life in ways that we’ll be sorting out for decades to come. Reading about these changes in the media, I observe that the take is often the way the media enjoys simplifying things into binary choices: good or bad. When it comes to people not returning to in-person worship I find it a “yes, and.” There are both good things and bad things that have resulted in the change. C’est la vie.
As for me, I know that spurring fellow believers on and being spurred on by them, encouraging and being encouraged, and loving and being loved don’t happen in equal measure when I’m sitting on the couch watching in my pajamas.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.