Prior to March 11, my wife and I went to the cinema almost every Friday. Thankfully, we mostly have the same taste in movies, so we saw a lot of action and adventure, some mystery, an occasional sci-fi, some rom-coms, and even a few Hallmark wannabe’s. A bucket of popcorn and the largest diet soda they had, and we were set for our weekly “Date.” Those weekly dates helped keep our marriage on track. Over the years, we’ve shared our practice with a number of couples and many had taken up the challenge of investing in a weekly date.

I was having a conversation with one of those couples the other day and they shared how much they missed their weekly movie dates, but then he commented, “But I guess we’re still having a movie date … but instead of going to a movie, we pop some popcorn at home and watch our church’s worship service.”

Have worship services become spectator events?

For many churches today, the sad answer to that question is “Yes.” The COVID Crisis has been a God-send for many churches that were technologically “stuck” back in the ’50s and ’60s. Although many had to scramble, scrimp, and/or get rather creative, they found ways to stream or broadcast their worship services online. Some used cell phones and Facebook Live. Some used iPads and YouTube. And some made real investments in NDI Cameras (like the ones at PTZOptics that we recommend).

To All Those Churches, we say “Good Job! You’ve made a great start.”

But therein lies the issue. Getting online was a good start. Sadly, for many churches, uploading or streaming their worship became both the starting point and the ending point. But twenty-two weeks into it, I can say definitively, that’s not good enough.

If the church had faced a winter weather closure of a week or two, broadcasting something online for the members would have been enough. The fact is, most of us can tolerate brief periods of isolation. But twenty-two weeks and counting? We’re in more of an ice-age than we are a slick roads for the weekend closure and few of us are psychologically or sociologically suited for long-term separation from our church families.

And so, when my friend commented that he and his wife were watching worship is about the same way as they used to watch a movie, it struck something rather deep inside of me.

Worship is supposed to be a participatory event – not a spectator sport. Share on X

Today, many (most) online worship services are just that. We sit down on our couches and pull up YouTube or Roku on our TV, or we fire up our laptop or tablet at the breakfast table, and we watch our church’s worship service. Sure, we might be invited to take communion, to sing, or even to respond to questions in the Comment Section of Facebook, but ultimately, it’s just us and our screen.

… and watching worship, rather than participating, was never meant to be.

Solutions? Actually, there are several today. I’ll only share a couple and won’t delve deeply into any of them here, but this should get you thinking and hopefully heading down a more effective path.

Host a Watch Party

Watch Parties are community events where a few people “get together” to join in worship – it alleviates the isolation of watching worship in a bubble.

There are two popular ways to host a watch party – Virtual or Live.

A live watch party involves inviting one or two friends to join you in your living room or, weather permitting, on the patio, and worshipping together while watching your church’s worship service.

A virtual watch party can happen in a couple of ways. My wife hosts a Zoom meeting every Sunday morning and she and another couple watch worship together on their respective televisions (via the Boxcast Roku app). Although they are in separate houses, they are able to worship in community together, again, removing the isolation of watching worship on your own.

A second virtual watch party option is for the church to provide worship via Zoom or some other video conferencing client. For instance, a few churches have been experimenting with using NDI apps and Zoom to create an online community experience so that worshippers can participate in worship together and see each other while they do (similar to in person worship, but you see each other’s faces rather than the back of their heads!).

Micro Church

Another way to move from Watching to Worship is to be intentional in launching micro churches. Again, this can be done virtually or in person.

Similar to a small group, a Micro Church is an expression of the house church wherein people meet together and do both worship and life in a micro community of two to five couples. The worshippers can watch your church’s worship service, just the sermon portion, or lead worship and whatever Bible study they’d care to engage in completely on their own.

I’m aware of a number of churches and websites that are providing worship support for Micro Churches and a Google search will turn up lots of them. Again, the goal is to help move your members from watching worship to fully engaging in worship “outside” of isolation.

How are you … or how have you seen others … engaging in non-isolating worship? Share your observations in the comment section below.