There we were again, sitting in the middle of our living room while signing into our Apple TV & Live Streaming our church onto our flat screen. It would be the 3rd week in a row that we would be joining our faith community in this way & I found myself struggling with the question of, “How do we belong?”
It’s not that we were being lazy. My wife, a C1/C2 incomplete quadriplegic, struggles daily with chronic pain from sciatica & the kyphosis in her back after years of being in a wheelchair. After spending the afternoon running around the city & completing our errands, she just couldn’t go to our church & manage to sit comfortably amidst the rest of the congregation. So, wanting still to be a part of the worship experience, we found solace in the beam of light coming from our TV.
Back to my struggling with the question, “How do we belong?”
First Alliance Church began Live Streaming some time ago, from what I can understand. Yes, it’s similar to many other expressions of “TV Church” but, I’ve began to see it treated with perhaps a different expression of inclusion. While giving way to the loss of physical bodies in the church seats on a particular event occasion for the projected imagery of its gathering through the best tech they can furnish; the FAC community attempts to provide an online experience of participation along with an invitation to a greater understanding of church. Here are a few things I’ve begun to notice as I wrestled with my question.
An Online Streaming Conversation
With music drawing viewers into the worship hall of FAC, the live stream commentator welcomes viewers to the gathering & gives invitation to join the community by introducing themselves & letting others know they were watching. Perhaps not in the vocal sense but, this stream of opportunity to comment on the experience gives a participation of seeing the diversity of those who join from not just local neighbourhoods but across the globe. I’ve seen old FAC members greeting people while tuning in from the US & missionaries from overseas giving thanks for being able to join the community that supports them from so far away.
Perhaps in the old adage of God working in mysterious ways, this ability to converse through live comments allows for the Spirit to speak through those watching. On several occasions I’ve found myself dropping response notes from the message being shared by the pastor, or feeling led to pray verbally over the people being baptized on screen, or leaving a verse of scripture I felt led to while worshiping in the music. It’s a growing environment & with others learning to find freedom in expressing themselves in similar ways, this participation can become a post modern catalyst for a discipling worship experience.
Hosting Acknowledgment Of Those Present
It’s a simple thing, I know. But the fact that Cory or another member of leadership brings a benediction of sorts at the end of each gathering, gives a sense of real acknowledgment to those in the Live Stream being part of the community. Particularly that they would engage & greet not just in the comment stream but directly into the screen as they express thankfulness for them being there.
I know Cory leads a Wednesday mid day scripture time & prayer online, too. Such an awesome way to keep the Live Stream community connected as there is a place for greater one on one with FAC’s leadership.
Recognizing Faces In The Community
We were just sitting down in the local mall’s food court to grab some lunch after shopping & Jarret walks up & says, “Hello.” It wasn’t the first time this has happened either. Just a few weeks prior, I had run into Heather in our local Canadian Tire, too. It seems like no matter where we go in the neighbourhood, we are running into people from FAC who recognize & know us as part of the FAC tribe.
Recognizing each other & connecting in the spontaneity of life brings a sense of belonging that extends beyond the weekend gathering. While it is hard to see the faces of those who are watching the Saturday or Sunday Live Stream, most have profile pictures & when the opportunity to see those familiar faces in the neighbourhood comes up, taking the courageous step of saying, “Hi!”, & engaging in conversation can go a long way relationally.
Finding Gathering Points Beyond The Live Stream
This is perhaps the more challenging for those who find the introverted anonymity of Live Streaming comforting. While Sunday morning gatherings can be experiential in discipleship, it really isn’t the cornerstone to faithful living. The deepening & transformation of personal relationships are. While devotion to the Apostles teaching has a great value, real discipleship happens in the daily gathering with those who are walking in faith & asking the tough questions of life (Acts 2:46). Or as Grant Sylvester shared a week ago, “Spiritual maturity isn’t just about the disciplines, as important as they are. It’s not about how long I’ve been a member of the church, as important as that is. It’s not about how much of the Bible I know or how much scripture I’ve memorized. Spiritual maturity is about a way of thinking & how we approach the dimensions of our life.”
FAC extends those gathering places so that throughout the week we can find belonging in small groups that meet in each others homes, reading & study groups that converge at the church, Men’s & Women’s groups, employment groups. I always love the opportunity to meet others in local coffee shops to share & explore the ways God has moving in each others lives. The opportunity to plan & find a community of others in the week is never ending!
Just the thought of sharing Live Stream events could be a way of finding deeper connections into community. What if you invited some neighbours over for dinner & the weekend’s Live Stream gathering? How might that look? What conversations might happen in the living room following the service that couldn’t happen if you were there in person?!
So let’s get real for a moment. Belonging is difficult & takes more work than just tuning into a Live Stream Event on the weekend. After all, just as church attendance isn’t a measure of discipling success or of a growing church (spiritually or physically); neither is the tuning into a Live Stream event the sole expression of belonging in community or ecclesial relationship.
Being the church is about being in relationship. It doesn’t really matter what social medium that sense of belonging begins to take shape, as long as the medium is held in a balance & not put forward as the priority before the actual relationship. The building is not the church. The Live Stream is not the church. The people who connect through a shared DNA, grow in a deepening discipling relationship, serve to bring radical loving transformation into the world, & share their story’s with others, are the church.
FAC’s Live Stream has overflowed so that no matter the season of life that Bonnie & I find ourselves in, we belong!