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When our church started online services last March, my family of six quickly acclimated to the slower Sunday morning pace. There was no rushing around getting ready, no waking up crabby kids, no fighting over the one shower in our house, no waiting in the car for the last person who drew the short straw on bathroom time.

We got up without an alarm, made coffee, gathered all the blankets, found our comfy spot in the living room, and settled down with the dogs to watch our faithful worship leaders, musicians, and pastor join us in our home for worship, prayer, and preaching. It was a challenge to keep the teenage boys from sleeping and the youngest from fussing with the dogs, but overall we found ourselves enjoying this new rhythm. 

When our church added back the option of in-person worship with restrictions in place like wearing masks, social distancing, and no coffee fellowship after, we quickly realized we liked “home” church better. At “real” church, we could hardly talk to anyone, a lot of people weren’t there, and, well, it made us sad to look around the sanctuary and see everyone in masks and sitting so far apart. It just didn’t feel right. So we decided week by week whether we would worship online or at church on Sunday mornings. Each Saturday night the decision came hand in hand with guilt over not going to church and opting to sit at home with my warm blanket in my comfy pjs with my favorite people around me.

So here I am, once again looking at four weeks of another shutdown, at the very least, and no in-person church. I can’t lie and say I wasn’t somewhat relieved at the idea of not having to decide where to do church. But, as I look forward to this latest “dial back,” as our governor calls it, I know this isn’t going to last, and church will soon be back in-person. For my own sanity and in the effort to do what’s best for my kids, I need to get off this roller coaster of feelings about “real” vs “online” church. I think I need to start with a list of pros and pros (it’s always good to be positive, right?) So here goes….

Pro “Real” Church

  • Being with my church family

  • The singing

  • The congregational prayers feel more personal because we are together as a congregation

  • The interactions with people of all generations

  • The process of “getting ready” and out the door for church makes Sundays feel different

  • People can’t get too comfy and fall asleep

  • The coffee and conversation after church

Pro “Online” Church

  • Being with my own family

  • No masks

  • Just listening to song lyrics and talking about them with my kids (I’ve learned a lot about what songs are their favorites and why)

  • When Pastor Michael is the only person on our TV screen, it’s like he’s talking directly to us, and I notice that my kids, at times, are more engaged than when we are just one face among many

  • Not having to rush around getting everyone ready and off to church and having the ride there be silent because we’re all grumpy

  • If someone needs a bathroom break, we can just hit pause

  • We can rewind to catch something we didn’t understand, and my kids can ask questions in the moment

When I read back through my lists, I realized a few things: 

  1. The first pro for “real” church might be a short statement, but it’s packed with a lot of emotion and importance for myself and my kids. Our church family grounds us and cares for us in so many ways.

  2. “Home” church works for us because we’ve spent our lives doing “real” church with our larger family of God. We were already deeply connected because of our in-person time over the years.

  3. I have to stop making the distinction of “real” vs. “online” church. Church is not the building, it is the people, the body of believers. Saying “we go to church on Sunday mornings” implies that church isn’t part of our weekday experience, when in fact we are the church. My family is the church. My circle of believing friends are the church. All believers around the world are the church. 

  4. I need to start thinking differently about what we do on Sunday mornings. We are going to “corporate worship” on Sunday. We are going to a building to see the church on Sunday. We are praising, praying, hearing the Word, and growing in our faith together on Sunday mornings.

  5. The relationships with our church family are important and life-giving to my husband and myself as well as to our kids. And because I want to keep those relationships going, we will go back to the building when this pandemic is over and the doors are open.

  6. For many people the at-home streaming option will be, and actually already is, a viable, long-term choice, and we can’t ignore that going forward. We need to start thinking about ways to connect with, enfold, and embrace people who choose to do corporate worship from the comfort of their homes. 

What about you? What has your experience with “real” vs “online” church been like? I’d love to hear!


Trudy--Thanks for beginning this discussion!  Since March I've been doing a lot of reflecting on what "worship" really is.  And I've come to the realization that if God is supposed to be our focus, sitting for an hour in a building often doesn't result in "worship".  Because I can, I've been using my Sunday mornings to gather virtually with about 4 or 5 different congregations each week.  The impact of that variety has really sent me into an entirely different space when thinking about "worship."   And this from somebody who creates and even publishes liturgical expressions!  This pandemic is helping us recalibrate on many levels, I think, including fresh experiences with "worship" and new ways of "churching".  Very exciting!

This is a great conversation starter!

I have extremely active children, so "real" church is often a discipline for me as I spend most of the service reining and containing my children rather than fully participating. While this is getting easier as my children get older, I have found that at "home" church, my boys can wiggle their bodies as much as they want without getting disapproving looks or comments. Because of this, my kids are getting more out of the message as well. I could not have foreseen this.

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