If we want to get everything we can from our church experience, we need to start by showing up in person.
That may seem obvious to most churchgoers, but there is a large and growing number of people who think that watching a service online is all the church they need.
And no, this is not always because of laziness or lack of spiritual passion.
In a growing number of cases, it’s because they’ve been hurt deeply, sometimes repeatedly by church people. Or they’ve grown tired of a church experience that doesn’t seem to grow deeper with them.
But they still have a passion to follow Jesus. So they stay at home and watch online or listen to podcasts.
So Many Good Reasons To Show Up
If what I’ve described sounds like your experience in any way, let me encourage you that, despite the downsides you’ve experienced, there are so many good reasons to go through the time and hassle of leaving your house and attending a church in person every week.
Yes, we are the church, whether we show up on Sunday or not, but the experience of going to church matters. By every indication, going helps the being.
First, because the Bible is clear that we need to.
Second, because it strengthens our faith to physically gather with other believers.
Third, because everyone takes time from their schedules for the things that matter to us. And the more often we take that time, the more important they become.
Fourth, because we can actually contribute when we’re in the room.
Now, here’s another reason. Actually five more reasons. Unlike online church, which only engages two of our senses (sight and sound) physically leaving home and showing up to be with other believers engages all five of our senses.
When all our senses are involved we learn more, engage more, enjoy more, contribute more and remember more.
I’m not against online church. Our church live streams and podcasts our services. And when I can’t physically be at a weekend church service, I watch online. So online church is real church – it’s just not enough church.
If we want to get everything we can from the church experience, we need to start by showing up. While there are aspects of our spiritual lives that can and should be done in solitude, lack of face-to-face, person-to-person connection with other believers will limit our spiritual growth.
The Limits Of Technology
In recent years, there’s been a pullback in our understanding of how far technology can take us. Even proficiency experts like Michael Hyatt are backing off from an all-digital experience for everyday tasks. As Erin Wildermuth wrote for Hyatt’s blog in The Science of Putting Pen to Paper, “when we engage across multiple sensations we are better able to tie things together, recall them later and, in short, learn.”
Like online church, we have visual and audible experiences when we show up in person. But, unlike watching a live stream, we also engage our senses of touch, taste and smell.
For instance, there are several touch experiences that we get at church that we cannot get from the comfort of our couch. A handshake or a hug. Holding or laying on of hands in prayer.
These are not secondary to the Christian, or human experience. Positive physical contact with other people is essential for our emotional well-being. It actually releases a chemical called oxytocin which, according to the APA, helps people bond, increasing our sense of connectedness, trust and generosity.
We also experience taste and touch when we gather together for church. This may be more obvious in high-liturgy worship where candles and incense are used, but even in less formal churches, we receive communion together.
I’m also convinced that this is a lot of what is behind the recent surge in coffee bars at church. In addition to giving us a place and time to gather, chat and connect, something as mundane as grabbing a cup of coffee in the church lobby engages our senses of smell and taste, drawing us in to connect with others on a deeper level.
Also, taste and smell are the senses most closely associated with memory. If you’ve ever had a nostalgic memory flood your heart without knowing why, it was probably triggered by taste or smell.
All of these are helpful in creating a richer, deeper, more meaningful church experience. And they better prepare us to put our faith in practice after we head out of the church doors.
Using What God Gave Us
Engaging our five senses is not why we go to church, of course. We go for worship, fellowship, discipleship and ministry – and to prepare to live and share our faith in the week ahead.
But if we really want to get the most out of those experiences, if we really want to become more fully-formed followers of Jesus, we should do it with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. And that certainly includes every one of our physical senses.
God had a purpose for giving us five senses, not just two.
When we use all five senses to worship him and interact with other believers, we honor him and his generous gifts.
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