17 questions for online church.

Streaming your church service online right now is very popular right now. Why? Because Internet.

But we’re still working out a lot of the kinks. There are still questions. Lots of them, like these:

1. If I’m watching a sermon online and I open up another window and answer some emails at the same time, is that a sin? Isn’t that the cyber equivalent of doodling in your bulletin? If I have a really big monitor, does that change your answer?

2. What if the emails are from people I’m in a Bible Study with, so technically speaking, I’m participating in fellowship? I’m not multitasking, we’re doing life together!

3. Do I have to stand up when the worship leader calls us to our feet? If you’re my neighbor and you’re walking your dog, is it weird seeing me stand up and down in my living room?

4. If I don’t like the worship songs that day, can I DJ myself with some songs I like from iTunes?

5. If I have a bad connection or the wrong version of flash or my computer crashes, is it safe to assume that I can blame that on the devil? If so, can I put him on notice?

6. How long can I pause the sermon, go do chores/answer the phone/find more comfortable socks to wear etc. and then come back without it seeming like I’ve left church?

7. There are only two occasions in which I wear a belt: A business meeting at work where I want to look smart and church. Do I have to wear a belt to attend online church?

8. Is it weird if I’m still shy about singing with my hands raised during online church? Should I still be doing the ninja in my own home? Is that something a counselor can help me with?

9. If I watch the sermon on a podcast, do you mind if I fast forward through the first few minutes of the sermon where you recap last week’s message for the people that weren’t there? I was there. I remember. I don’t need the recap.

10. Someone once told me they consider eating at Chick-Fil-A to be tithing. Now that I’m using my computer to attend church, can I consider a new Mac purchase to be like one big, silvery cool tithe?

11. Will you please not cut off the podcast before or in the middle of the closing prayer? People at home like closing prayers too. (I’m talking to you Matt Chandler.)

12. Is there anyway that you could create a frame around the video player that has a graphic of someone giving someone else a back massage during churchsomeone coughing and the heads of the tall family I inevitably manage to sit behind every Sunday so that the experience will feel more authentic?

13. If you ask us to hold hands with the person next to us for the closing prayer, should I extend my hands out like a mime, or instead hold my own hand?

14. Can you please stop telling me hello at the beginning? I know you know I’m here online. You built an entire website, hired a streaming company, timed your sermon perfectly and told me that this was available. At this point, I am well aware that you like me and know I exist. We’re good.

15. What do we do we communion? You can’t make communion jokes. That’s in the book of Joel, so I’m just going to leave it right there.

16. Should I mill about in the foyer of our house with my family to recreate the after church conversations you always have.

17. I usually lose a fair amount of the grace I gained in the sermon trying to get out of the church parking lot. To recreate that, should I just go sit in my car in the driveway and yell a little?

Those are the questions I have.

Does your church have an online version?

Would you have asked something different than me?

What do you do online when it comes to church? Blogs? Podcasts? Video sermons?

Are you currently doing anything church related online?

So many questions!

What would you ask your pastor about online church?

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  1. says

    Since I’m not actually using the church building and facilities (lights, a/c, chairs, etc.), do I still have to tithe the same amount as when I attend in person?

          • Leah says

            Please read Malachi 3:8-11. God asks for the tithe as an act of obedience. God blesses obedience that stems from a love for Him. However, I do not understand why your tithe would fluctuate. It’s a fixed 10% whether you are in the building or not. Perhaps your offering might, but certainly not your tithe.

            It is an honor that God would trust us with His gifts and wealth. Will he not bless you for your adherence to His Word? Surely those who are good stewards of what God has given them will be blessed with more (Matthew 25; Luke 12:42-48, 16:10-13)

          • Hannah says

            Um…you’re getting .Jesus Juked left and right! good grief …how can people not understand this is supposed to be funny…

          • Randy says

            Maybe because online church is something not everyone thinks is ripe for satire. Some people depend on online church and don’t understand how it could be used for humor. I’m just guessing here.

          • LJ says

            Leah, that is not correct. In the Old Testament, there were multiple tithes, the total of which added up to somewhere around 23%. No New Testament author reaffirms a fixed tithe; on the contrary, we are to “give as we are able.” Interestingly enough, the support I usually hear for the 10% number comes from the story of Abraham giving 10% of his net worth – NOT his monthly income, pre- or post-tax – to Melchizedek. I am bothered by how often pastors take this verse out of context (along with the verses in Malachi) to command Christians to give 10% to their local church today. (Of course, giving 7% to the local church and 3% to a mission is not allowed, and no, of course there isn’t any conflict of interest or bias there! Why would you think that?)

          • says

            I leave for 5 minutes and this is what happens. Apparently God ran out of room on the stone tablets for the 11th commandment,
            “Thou shall not be funny.” Or maybe it’s written on the back and Moses just forgot to flip the tablet over.

          • Tiffany says

            LJ, I thought we get the 10% from the word “Tithe.” Doesn’t “Tithe” mean 10%??

          • LJ says

            Tiffany, a tithe often does refer to 10%. But just because many churches today teach that we should give “tithes and offerings,” meaning a 10% mandatory minimum gift plus a [highly recommended] additional gift, it does not mean that the New Testament authors ever taught such a practice. In my reading of the NT, I’ve never gotten anything out of it other than a practice of generous giving as one is able. Many Bible scholars – who are, needless to say, much smarter than I am – reached the same conclusion before I ever existed.

  2. says

    Sat in my living room and watched church yesterday, it was -22° here…..Yesterday marked the first time, I’ve ever watched church from my couch in my comfies!

    My boys couldn’t figure out why I was doing the arm pinch in our living room, I save that for the sanctuary! They thought mom was off her rocker!

    I think we’ll go back to the the real church next week, I need the head in front of me, and to practice the extra measure of grace in the parking lot! ♥

  3. Derp says

    3. Do I have to stand up when the worship leader calls us to our feet? If your my neighbor and you’re walking your dog, is it weird seeing me stand up and down in my living room?

    If my your neighbor? Or did you mean “if you’re my neighbor”?

    We need a SCL on Grammar Nazism.

      • Abigail says

        yes. i cannot wait to instagram the rapture. depending on the colors, i think ill probably use the “valencia” filter. #omgitstherapturelol

  4. pcg says

    Can I tweet my song suggestions for Sunday evening service? (Or was my small CoC the only one that took requests on the occasional Sunday evening?)

    Can the church supply some looky-loo to watch over my shoulder to make sure I’m actually using the BIBLE app on my phone and not Googling pro/con arguments about what the preacher just said?

  5. JeTorn says

    I am trying to figure out #15, I am thinking you unintentionally made that funny and may need to repent. Do we do we doo. ;-)

    • LJ says

      Are you sure about that reference? I could have sworn that I just saw that prohibition in 2nd Hesitations…

  6. Kyrie says

    Can you please make the services downloadable and not just streaming so that those of us still on dial up don’t have to deal with a 6 hour long church service? Besides it’s too easy to lose your concentration when the service stops to rebuffer every 15 seconds!

      • LJ says

        I don’t know where Kyrie lives, but I can speak for the United States, which, contrary to what the politicians, pundits, and industry moguls tell us, our broadband is relatively terrible outside of large cities. If you live in the country, dial-up or a sluggish, bandwidth-restricted wireless connection may still be a part of your life.

        Another pet peeve of mine is when church streams don’t work on mobile devices, or are limited to Apple devices only. While I’d listen on my computer for myself (though I never do, because I’m the guy who mixes the broadcast at my church for all of y’all), a growing number of people who are poor and previously didn’t have internet now have cellular internet, because they need phones, though they can’t afford a fixed connection at home. Since most low-end phones are Android, it is, I feel, a failure to reach out to “the least of these” when we worship at the altar of the iDevice and fail to make our services broadly accessible.

    • spacegal2003 says

      Actually, I agree with this one – I like to listen to sermons in the car, so if I can’t download the mp3 it’s harder to listen to.

  7. Kristin says

    As a HUGE supporter of online church (Facebook and online church brought me back to Christ. No, really.). I found this HILARIOUS!!!! To answer a couple of your questions- communion? Coffee and bagel or crackers. Symbolism. Of course, if you happen to have an open bottle of wine laying around, well then, there ya go. The ninja- it’s ok to do in your home. I am a counselor. I approve. No belt necessary. And I have out the devil in notice many a time. Including yesterday. Twice. Keep on keepin’ on, online church friends! It does make a difference!

  8. says

    I’m not sure what your point is but I think you need to watch this sermon from our church yesterday. You might find it enlightening.


    You are able to watch the sermon because I drove to this church in the snow, set up a tripod and video camera, edited it a bit at home, uploaded it to youtube and put the link on the church website I built for the church. And unlike tech directors in mega-churches I don’t get paid to do this. Nor do I expect to. It is my ministry. I can’t do all that if I stay home. Seriously, watch the video.

    • Randy says

      Its always a safe bet that Jon isn’t trying to make a “point” as much as he is just trying to pull humor out of something. That being said, I don’t really think its that funny, and I think what you did for your church goes thankless SO many times. So, thank you!

  9. says

    Do I need to clap during and at the end of each worship song? Will my neighbors think I’m weird for clapping in my living room? What are the rules with hand motions in worship songs? So many questions.

  10. says

    Great topic! As one who has moved from pastoring a brick-and-mortar church to an online congregation (Shalom Spiritual Community on Facebook) with nearly 500 *members*, you listed a bunch of funnies that impact online communities. That said, I offer these two thoughts:

    (1) Did Jesus ever instruct us to gather for worship as we traditionally do? Is maintaining a building and staff truly the best stewardship of the resources God has given us? Are the politics which infect nearly every church really edifying and uplifting to our Christian walks?

    (2) Please remember that many people — for myriad reasons: physical limitations; bad past experiences in church; lack of nearby churches whose theology and bully pulpit preaching they agree with; going to church for the wrong reasons (guilt, family pressure, tradition, etc. — can’t, don’t, or won’t go to the church down the street. There’s a rationale why some people are able to meet their creator much more comfortably through online and virtual churches.

    Now, here’s a third suggestion: Ready my newest book, The Gospel According to Facebook: Social Media and the Good News. Here’s a link to the book on amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Gospel-According-Facebook-Social-Media/dp/1621374483/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1393871394&sr=1-1&keywords=joffe+gospel+facebook

  11. Jodi D says

    Some of your questions: answered.

    1. No. Yes. Not really.
    3. Invite the neighbor to join you.
    4. Yes. It’s the equivalent of tipping the organ player to play your fav song next.
    6. As long as a normal restroom break would take during a service.
    7. Do you have to dress up for online classes?
    8. No. Yes. Probably not.
    10. If that’s the case, gas used to drive to church is tithing as well. I don’t think Pete would approve.
    12. Or the characters from Mystery Science Theater 3000.
    15. I don’t understand the question.

  12. Grace says

    Great timing! I’ve taken up a fun online project this season — I’m conducting a Lenten small group study via email for those of us who cannot commit to a fixed weekly time/meeting place due to work schedules, caretaking obligations, or transportation issues.

    I have a handful of volunteers who are willing to journey with me through the Lenten small group study guide — but instead of meeting in person once a week for seven weeks, I’m going to send out smaller sections from the study guide for reflection/discussion every day.

    If I were really savvy — I would’ve set up a blog or website to handle this — but just volunteering to facilitate the emails was a big step for me (and I have no idea how to set up a blog or website!). Hopefully it will turn into something more!

  13. Lora says

    When we greet our neighbors, are we supposed to shake hands with our family members, or actually go next door to see our neighbors? What about when we scoot down to make room for the latecomers? Is it ok if I eat and drink during the service? Can I still open the loud candy wrapper? Can my baby cry the whole time?

  14. Danielle says

    Hi there. I hadn’t heard of online church. I would be willing to try it. Can anyone suggest where I can find a church that does this? I am in the Triangle, in NC, if that’s relevant.

  15. Gaylene Carpenter says

    Online church allowed me to attend my granddaughter’s dedication- they were in Hawaii and I was in Ohio! I think online church serves a great purpose but nothing can truly replace corporate worship. I work on Sundays- really wish there were more Sat. evening services for folks like my husband and I.

  16. Phil says

    I have the worst ADD when I do online church (I have bad ADD when I’m physically in church too, but that’s another story). Online church days for me usually go as follows:

    Wake up. Too lazy to go to church today. Make a decision to watch the service all the way through.
    Get into the worship until the load of laundry I put on has finished.
    Hang the washing. Still listening.
    Sermon starts.
    Switch it off and play GTA or watch Weeds or something.

    I know, I’m terrible. But 99.99% of Sundays I’m actually at church. I’m not saying online church doesn’t work, but it so doesn’t work for me. :P

  17. says

    I think my biggest question is: What are you supposed to do if they have an altar call? Stand up and walk toward your computer screen?

    BTW, we don’t have live streaming, but we do have the video posted later that afternoon.

  18. JayRay says

    Should I sit on a kitchen chair to watch, or can I sit on my couch? How about watching in bed? Would that be sacrilegious? How about if I got dressed first?

  19. GraftedByGrace says

    Number 17 definitely needs more exploration. This may be the root cause of why online church was envisioned! Funny stuff Jon!!

  20. Christy says

    If you’re watching it a couple hours later. are the opening & closing prayers still effective when they’ve already been prayed back in time? Or is that some sort of secondhand praying?

    Do I sing along with the worship songs if my computer doesn’t have surround sound? Is it ok for me to just stare at the screen when I cannot have the “full worship experience”?

    If I use a real bible while watching online church, it cancels out right? Bible app at real church = real bible at online church.

  21. says

    I don’t attend online church; however, I have been known to attend Bedside Baptist on occasion. When it’s snowing… When I don’t feel well. But really that’s not a church at all. That’s just my bed. Just to be clear and all.

    But if I did have an online church… Wouldn’t taking communion be very messy? Or at least it might like electrocute me. How do you do that with the computer getting in the way?

  22. Chuck says

    During communion can I use the generic grape juice from Wal-Mart or does it have to be Welch’s grape juice to count?

  23. says

    Great post as always ,Jon.
    When my husband and I left Kansas for Texas, we were so happy that our church had online services. We could stay home and watch church and not have to go through that whole awkwardness of trying to find a church in Texas that fit us and we didn’t have to go through the whole newbie thing :)
    Our church is the Church of the Resurrection http://www.rezonline.org./
    and we have been watching for five years now.

  24. Steven says

    #13. If there is not a hand nearby, just take hold of the mouse. Depending on the church service you are watching, placing your hands on the monitor may be appropriate as well.

  25. Julia says

    What does one do when the prayer is from an old sermon? That’s like repeating verbatim a past conversation with someone. Awkward…

  26. says

    I LOL’d (a lot) reading this. Good questions, all!
    I also read some of the comments from other readers, and wow. I often wonder why so many people think Christians are humorless (since most I know personally are a HOOT!) and then I read some of the comments people leave you. LIGHTEN UP, folks!

  27. Vickie says

    And this prompts the question: Is it rude to text while someone is trying to have a conversation with you or in a group? I wonder if God is as offended when people text/tweet during sermons (in the sanctuary, that is) … Of course, if it’s about the sermon you’re tweeting, then I guess it’s considered “spiritual”. :)

  28. says

    Though my church does a video stream and audio cast of our sermons, I have never actually used those for “church”. When I listen to a sermon online or podcast it’s almost always a “celeb” pastor of some sort, and I don’t consider it “going to church”, just bonus teaching.

  29. Tori says

    My dad was watching a sermon online the other day when he asked, “is it a sin if I drink a beer right now?” He did.


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