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Main | The Melancholy Loss of a Fantasy Avocation »

A Geezer Pastor and The Virtual Church

The OLD Philosopher – John M. Miller

Today (May 7, 2019), USA Today had a long story in its “Money” Section. That, incidentally, is an interesting placement, but that’s another story. The article is entitled Keeping the faith from the comfort of home. It explained how the ever-growing field of “virtual reality” and technological apps are influencing contemporary Christianity.

In a growing number of churches, apparently, people are transported to much more captivating vistas than a mere big-box or small-box sanctuary. They strap VR headsets to their crania, which from the photo in USAT make them look like space visitors from the distant planet of Technostan. By means of their headsets, they can be in Jerusalem or Rome or the Himalayas, and their very own parson, standing in front of them, is speaking to them from those far-away exotic places.

If this gets people to church who otherwise would never come to church, I am all for it. Furthermore, the article pointed out, by live-streaming church services, which thousands of churches do, people can “attend” church in the comfort of their own beds or sofas on Sunday morning, cup of coffee in hand.

The newspaper story provided some statistics on contemporary church membership and attendance. It said that only 42% of the Connected Generation are church members, while 62% of Gen Xers attended church when they were about the same age as the Millennials, according to a new Gallup poll.

It also noted that since 2000, when 70% of Baby Boomers went to church (a figure I am certain is considerably too high), their attendance has dropped by 8%. “Traditionalists,” who were born before 1945, have dropped by 9%. As a pastor of a congregation largely composed of traditionalists --- and I never knew that is what we were until reading this story --- our percentage has dropped by 9%. But then, lots of traditionalists are no longer physically able to attend. Most are probably dead.

Gallup discovered that only 50% of Americans now belong to a church, synagogue, or mosque. That figure also is surely too high to represent demographic reality.

“While only half of Americans attend church, more than three-quarters (77%) say they identify with organized religion. So decreasing in-person membership could contribute to an uptick in virtual churchgoing,” said USA Today.

The article further postulated that “solely watching and engaging with church online isn’t just a fear. It’s a trend.” The first statement is debatable; the second is undeniable. The trend ought not to provoke fear, but it should provoke reflection and contemplation.

One of the new apps for the Virtual Church is called the Churchome Global App. It describes itself as “a new way to church.” For eighty years I have thought of the word “church” as a noun. Now it has apparently also transmogrified into a verb.

More than fifty years ago, Marshall McLuhan said of the captivating new technology known as television that “the medium is the message.” In the Virtual Church, if the medium IS the message, that can be very good, but also not so good. If technology is the primary means, or the only means, to attract millions of people to the Good News of God, then more power to it. But if the technology itself is the essence of the message, then there is no true message at all, other than the genuine marvels of technology.

I have no doubt of this: If the Future Church becomes totally synonymous with the Virtual Church, it is doomed. People must be in personal contact with one another truly to be the Church. But if the Virtual Church is an important arm of the Future Church, it shall have a vital and necessary future.

On a purely personal note: I am delighted I shall be dead before whatever may eventuate evolves.  


John Miller is Pastor of The Chapel Without Walls on Hilton Head Island, SC. More of his writings may be viewed at www.chapelwithoutwalls.org.



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