Over the past couple years, much has been said and debated about the advent of sermon podcasts and video technology in churches today. Across the country, video venues - both on campus and off-campus - are spreading like wildfire. And, with iTunes' ever-increasing popularity, thousands upon thousands of sermon podcasts are available for download.
Sounds like a great thing, right? Well, there are certainly some positives to this. For churches who are trying to reach communities in new and exciting ways, video venues have been increasingly popular. And, studies have shown that most people really do not mind watching a video message, as long as its message is relevant to where they are in life.
Further, most churches do not have the financial means to continue to build facilities to hold more people for worship services. Having smaller, more intimate video venues - both on and off campus - has been an an effective and less costly method to creating space at ideal times. In addition to coming up with new and innovative ways to conduct worship services, the vast majority of large churches now put their Sunday morning messages - either video or audio - on the web.
On the surface, this seems like a fantastic idea. In fact, we have two primary reasons we do this at NorthStar: (1) for people who could not make it to church on Sunday (sick, vacation, business, etc.) and (2) as an outreach tool that our people can share with others. But, for some, a podcast or video online has become a substitute for church.
And, if your idea of church is listening to a sermon each week, then I guess it doesn't change much in your life. But, as a friend of mine said recently, "Jesus didn't lay down his life for the podcast." The church is the Bride of Christ. This is mentioned repeatedly throughout scripture. And, the church is the institution God put into place for His people. Peter was the Rock upon which the church was formed, and Christ himself is the chief cornerstone (read Matthew 16:18 and Ephesians 2:20).
In Acts 2:42-47, Luke explains the purpose of the church - how the body was completely devoted to one another, how they all sacrificed for another, prayed together, broke break together, how they met in small groups daily in homes and weekly as a corporate body in the Temple courts. He said the church - the body of believers - were together and had everything in common.
Pretty tough to accomplish all that with a podcast, isn't it? And, as much as I enjoy listening to sermon podcasts - from my church and others across the country - I wholeheartedly believe that each and every believer should be a member of a local body. That isn't my idea - it's God's.
A podcast is informative, and can be engaging. But, it has little depth. It cannot evoke the depth of emotion of a live corporate worship service. Sermon audio alone cannot possibly replace the feeling you get by being among God's people. And, sermon audio alone is typically all about the listener. A Sunday morning (or Saturday evening) experience is less about the one attending, and more about humility - a surrender to and worship of God, and a servant's heart for others.
I could go on for eons, but at the end of the day, the church was the God-ordained institution for accountability, belonging, care, and community. Can you be a believer and not go to church? Absolutely! But, it's like the difference between watching TV on a small, fuzzy black and white screen with an antenna, or watching it on a huge crystal-clear Hi-Def plasma widescreen.
If you are given the choice between the two, and they are both the same price, which would you choose?