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Are Physical Churches Still Important in an Online World?

  • Veronica Neffinger

    Veronica Neffinger wrote her first poem at age seven and went on to study English in college, focusing on 18th century literature. When she is not listening to baseball games, enjoying the…

  • Updated Oct 12, 2017

We can do practically everything from our phones, tablets, or laptops these days. I realized just the other day that I haven’t cracked open my physical Bible in months, even though I read God’s Word daily via the Bible app on my phone. Realizing this made me recognize just how much an effect technology is having on my life. I am the kind of person who loves physical books and doesn’t normally read on a tablet, but the convenience of being able to get my Bible reading in any time of day I find myself with a little bit of spare time is apparently an irresistible draw--so much so that my physical Bible has remained unopened for days.

I am thankful for the convenience and many other positives of technology, but I am also a bit concerned that it has changed my Bible-reading habits so quickly. I fear I am missing out on some of the richness and depth of God’s Word by reading it on a device that also contains a myriad of other information at my fingertips. I can receive texts, notifications, phone calls, and any number of other distractions while I am reading. I am also tempted to look something up on the internet, check Facebook, or see if flight prices went down. For Bible-reading, my smartphone often offers me a platform with too much information, which is not conducive to taking the Psalmist’s words to “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). It does not encourage deep, thoughtful reflection on a regular basis.

In an article for Relevant Magazine titled “Why Can’t I Just Go to Church Online?” Kenneth Reid addresses similar issues in regard to attending church.

There are so many ways nowadays to hear God’s Word preached. Thousands of churches across the world offer online streaming of their Sunday services, or you can access their sermon archives and listen to a message that way. You can even choose the message that is most relevant to your current life circumstances. Worship music, church donations, and reports from missionaries serving overseas can all be accessed online too.

So, do we even need physical churches anymore?

“If church is nothing more than singing songs and hearing a sermon, there is a far more efficient way to do it. Why are we hanging on to the Sunday gathering like it’s a magic bean if we can experience all of it on our phones?” asks Reid.

Reid notes that people often find church unimportant, irrelevant, and inefficient. In a culture that is constantly busy and latching onto the newest trend, what is the place of the local church?

Reid writes that attending a physical church is still important, but people may need to be reminded why more often than in previous times throughout history.

In most previous centuries, the local church served many functions: it was a place of weekly worship, but also a place of socializing and community, central to the town and its people.

Sadly, oftentimes when people attend church today it seems they do it out of obligation or simply because they have always gone to church and it has become a mundane routine. They walk in the door, sit down, and leave when service is over with little or no interaction or true engagement.

But, as Reid reminds us, “We are here to gather (the word ‘church’ means ‘gathering’), with the rest of the Body of Christ in Christian fellowship, and a smartphone can never replace that.”

Many times in the New Testament, God’s Word speaks of the Church in plural terms (e.g. the “Body of Christ”). It is meant to be a fellowship, a community, a group of people from all walks of life who have one major thing in common--salvation through Jesus.

Currently, I am training for a half marathon. I often think how difficult it would be to train for this event without a support system. Meeting weekly with my team, all of whom are working toward the same goal is encouraging, helpful, and a huge boost to morale. No matter how self-disciplined I am, the benefit of being with a group of people who are in this together cannot be replaced.

The same is true of the church. That is why God’s Word instructs us in “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 10:25).

The Lord knew we would need encouragement in dark times, we would need others to come alongside us, and our souls would need to be refreshed by corporate worship. In addition to the benefit to our own walk with Christ, attending a physical church is also a way for us to serve and meet the needs of others.

Reid notes that a truly biblical church service will be participative--actually requiring the participation of the congregation.

“People have to sit and stand and kneel, speak and sing and be silent, receive the Lord’s Supper, give, pray, etc. Participation is transformational and it can’t be done on my couch.
Participation is worth coming for.”


Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/Arrangements-Photography

Publication date: October 12, 2017

Veronica Neffinger is the editor of