The Psychiatric Implications of Online Church

The Rules: I have written rules for a post once before. It’s the one’s that make me nervous to post. But, here it goes.

  1. This is long. If you’re going to read it, take the time to read it. I won’t be offended if you don’t. I won’t even know if you don’t.
  2. Do not be hateful/provoking/dumb if you decide to comment. I’m all for discussion. But don’t be ridiculous.
  3. Realize that this is in no way a professional opinion—medical, theological, psychological. Nope. Don’t even try to make it that.
  4. This is not directed at any specific ministry. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about. Nothing more.

Suggestion: Check out Michael’s CD if you haven’t already.

Let’s begin.

Psychiatry– the branch of medicine concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. (Thank you, dictionary.com).

In any new patient visit to a medical setting, you will be asked multiple questions about multiple “systems”—respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, etc. Most of these systems will also be examined.

One of those systems is “psychiatric”. Mental health. How is someone’s mood? Is this person capable of understanding his or her condition? Are they capable of making decisions? Is there immediate potential that they could harm themselves or someone else?

These are all things that take place in a practitioner’s mind, mostly without you realizing it.

Seem like overkill? It isn’t.

It’s a psychiatric disorder that is the #1 cause of disability in the US.
It is an extremely common occurrence, even when it is not an “extreme” illness.

I say all of these things because, well…

One of the most important things when taking care of patients in healthcare is finding out if they have support.

New baby? New diagnosis of cancer? Depression? Difficulty coping with the loss of a loved one?

“Who is your support system?”

Sanctuary FUMC Tulsa

I have to think that “church” was once a very common answer—and you do still hear that.

But I also heard someone say “Well, I don’t actually go to church anymore. I watch online. Some church out in insert random state here.”

I have to wonder…

What is it going to look like in 20-40 years if so many people decide to go with the online option?

Now, don’t hear what I’m not saying.

I have often loved the ability to watch a service when I’ve been home with a sick kid or I’m working a weekend at the hospital.
I’ve heard stories of people in other countries who wouldn’t otherwise have access to a church be loyal attenders who bring people alongside to form a new community.
I think it’s fantastic for such things.

But let’s be real. Here in the developed world, it’s a slippery slope.

Go with me here.

How much nicer is it to sit at home and sip your coffee in your pj’s, half watching a sermon, half playing with the kids/watching the game/doing homework/cleaning the house—all while feeling that we have “connected”?

So, perhaps, instead of being there every time the doors are open, we make it every other week. Because it’s raining now/too hot to get out/snowing again…

No worries! We can watch online!

And then when no one notices that we’ve been gone, we can get offended and gripe about how unfriendly/dissatisfied/done with the people of the church we are.

But I suppose that’s for a different post…

It just seems that getting up and getting everyone dressed and actually going to church just isn’t quite as valuable anymore.

It’s a simple truth that the more accessible something is, the less value it carries in a society.

Think about it.

Clean water
Malaria medications.
Healthcare.
Books.
Education.
Accessibility and Value

And I don’t think that “church” is exempt from this list.

Going means we have to actually talk to people. *Gasp*
It means if the family was fighting on the way, they might see some tear-stained cheeks.
It means if I go consistently, someone may actually ask me where I am if I’m not there one week.

On the flip side, it also means if I
don’t show up, people will be there to support me. They can help give me ideas on making our life as a family run smoother because some people have “been there”.
And people will actually be able to get to know me.

Again, don’t hear what I’m not saying.
I think the “online” idea has its place.

But I do think it’s going to change our society—and not simply for the better.

Comments ( 8 )

  • Susanv

    you call *that* long? 😉 agreed and agreed. To borrow an analogy that Tim Keller has used in other contexts: “online church” is medicine, not food. Often good and sometimes life-saving, but easily overused and abused, with the potential for devastating side effects. Potentially life preserving but not really life sustaining.

  • FleaByte

    I’m with Susan. That wasn’t very long at all. And I agree that we need physical community. Similar to so many professionals deciding now to a) not get married, b) not have children. I dog blog and am seeing tons of people who choose dogs over people. While I understand the pain that went into those decisions (being hurt badly by people, they turn to what they deem as the unconditional love of animals), I hurt for the person they will be in 20 to 40 years. No Jesus. No family. No real community. *sigh*

  • I totally agree. I have long since thought these same things. I think just as we strive to be present with our kids and family, I think we should strive to be present with our Father. I believe that getting up and dressed together as a family and heading out to church is a discipline, one our society has lost, just like it has lost the presence of parents. And I think we are all seeing the effects of that sad truth. I have 5 kids at home. 2 are step sons both 15 who just moved in from their mothers 4 weeks ago, because they decided they needed a stable living environment. They never had to do anything before…..school, shower, clean….or come home at night. Now they are home with us, where we do school….showers everyday, 15 yr old boys do their own laundry, we eat together and clean up together. we make our beds in the morning…..and yes. we get up early on Sunday and we go to Church together. Its a battle every week with them, even with youth on Wednesday. But its a battle worth fighting, and way more valuable than society realizes. I don’t think it will be very long before it is obvious to society just how necessary being present really is in so many areas of life. Church Included and if you have that……other things will fall in where they should be.

  • I appreciate how carefully you said this, but I don’t think you said anything controversial, and it wasn’t very long. 🙂 I think the way the internet is changing us socially will require us to think socially in new ways. I think we’re in a transition time, and possibly just ten years from now, our culture will look very different. One question is: what about church? Is it a group of people we honestly connect with? Or a large marketplace of Christianity? I’m not really sure what I think; right now I probably assume there are pluses and minuses to lots of models, and God is at work in each. I am finding fellowship in odd ways in recent years, and I don’t know if I approve. God confuses me when He steps out of my box.

  • Jonathan

    I would have to completely agree with us. As a generation and more importantly as a people, we have already made church an element of convenience as it’s so widely available. This is more apparent in the South and Southeast than anywhere else due to the prevalence of churches on every street corner.

    Online church should be seen within the context of a “last resort” move when it isn’t feasible to dress up and go to church due to a uncontrollable circumstance (or variable in the business world!).
    I’ve heard the excuse (especially common with those from strong Christian backgrounds and those that grew up with a constant presence in the church) that “Well, I find it hard to find a church here because my church back home was so good/great and I just don’t ‘fit/like’ the places available now.” While this may be true (to a certain extent), the importance of support is still not being fulfilled. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being plugged in or just being a silent “partner” in a community and still receiving the “depth” that you crave from you home church via podcasts or online videos of past church sermons. This cannot be an excuse as it tends to build a sense of bitterness and cynicism on the inside that can grow to be quite nefarious if not checked. Community and support change that. Even if you feel like you don’t receive anything, you still receive the sense of belonging and there is comfort in that as our human tendency from day one has been a need to belong somewhere and feel wanted.

    It’s funny that you mentioned depression earlier cause I just read an article talking about the Cigna study on depression in the workplace and if it is truly non-existent or if we have just become really good at hiding it. In a way, it kind of relates because self-medication is not the answer to the need for support. And the longer we/the church goes without talking about it, we just self-medicate our loneliness in other forms.
    http://m.benefitspro.com/2014/05/12/is-workplace-depression-under-control-or-under-the

  • Dale Switzer

    For the first 50 years of my life I attended small churches where any absences were noticed and had to be explained. Now I attend Battlecreek, where no one will know if I showed up or not. This change is traumatic. It is tempting to not get up in Sunday morning and, instead, just reach for the computer and log in.

    You spot the important thing here. One must be connected to the community, to the body of believers. Without that connection to the believers, a vital part of our connection to Christ is lost. I asked my wife and important question a few months ago. “What if, in the process of becoming a physician, we lose our connection to our community? Would it be worth it? Dr. Sanford asks this question of all incoming medical students. “What are you willing to give up for medical school? Your church? Your family? Your marriage? Count the cost.”

    I think the churches that have started focus/community/whatever fellowship groups have realized the danger of a large church. One must close to a few people or else lose something important in their lives. Ideally these people should be those you worship with. Otherwise, the worship will eventually fade away.

  • Brooke

    I like what you said about online church being medicine, not food. Very thought-provoking. Thanks Stephanie.

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