Committed Christians Who Don't Go to Church
A Valid Twenty-First Century Option for Christians?
Their commitment to their faith is real. But, when it comes to attending church, they are “Virtual Christians.” Whether it's just temporary, or is something they intend to do for the long-term, for these Believers there is a need to find a way to balance their work-a-day real world reality with the needs of their spiritual lives. And that means keeping Sunday holy, but going to Church (or worshiping God) virtually.
These days there are a lot of people who live spiritual lives that includes worshiping God and Christ, but not necessarily going to church every Sunday. At least, not in the traditional sense of going to church. And while they might be completely in favor of, or even lovers and appreciators of the “idea” of going to church, at least for the time being they go to church in a way that doesn't require them to leave home. Instead, they watch church-TV and/or visit Christianity-related Internet sites.
Virtual Christians include a lot of younger people (18-35), but also a significant number of middle-aged and older people. They're definitely not the “holy-rollers” or staunchly regimented/religious devotees of our faith. Instead, virtual Christians are doing "church" differently. They still believe wholeheartedly in God and the Holy Trinity. They even believe in the idea that church is an important and necessary part of a fulfilling, spiritual life, and have made a conscious decision to live their lives based on Christian values. Some were brought up by Christian parents who took them to church regularly, while others are people who found the path to Christianity on their own. They are Americans (and people of all nationalities) who have a “yearning” to enjoy a stronger, more fulfilling spiritual life, but for their own reasons, they've chosen not to go to church. For their own reasons, they prefer the virtual world. They don't feel they have to be sitting inside a building that is called a church when it comes to the furthering of their Christian knowledge, and to taking part in worship services as an expression of, and as a connection to, their faith. For one or more reasons, they have chosen to skip the regimented practice of going to a physical location for church services.
Are They Saints? Are They Sinners? Who Are They?
Virtual Christians may not view themselves as halo-donning, bible-toting saints, but they do consider themselves to be God-fearing worshipers of God. In other word, they see themselves as faithful to their faith in all the ways that matter.
While they know they are indeed part of the secular world, they enjoy both Christian life and elements of secular life as well. For example, a Virtual Christian might collect several forms of music, including gospel, and might purchase or listen to all types of CDs, secular and gospel. People I know who fit into this group can relate, personally, to their favorite actors, actresses, and musical artists who demonstrate or express a spiritual connection, but they don't limit themselves only to these. They acknowledge that there is much to be learned from a lot of different people, with different beliefs, even though they uphold Holy Scripture as the ultimate source of wisdom and understanding. Virtual Christians work extra hard at balancing their spiritual lives and interests with their mainstream lives and interests. They go to non-Christian movies, films, and plays—regularly—but are also first in line for gospel plays and musical performances. Led by the principles of God, they know that they can enjoy social aspects of living in the world without compromising their Christianity, and without being led by the world.
The Virtual Christians I know are committed to living lives based on Christian principles, even though they know, as do all Christians, that they are sinners. They believe their relationship with God, first and foremost, is personal. Therefore, they feel no guilt or condemnation for choosing to attend worship service virtually, and no guilt for not tithing every Sunday. Many of them “give” to others, in other ways. They might provide regular financial assistance to a family member or someone else in need, or they may provide other forms of help. They might support a favorite charity, work as a volunteer for a favorite non-profit organization, or provide assistance to the sick by working as a volunteer at a nearby hospital. In other words, they are not trying to “shirk” their duties and responsibilities as a Christian, but have simply chosen to give to God in ways that best fit how they have chosen to live and to worship.
For this group, church-TV offers many opportunities to hear the gospel preached or to learn biblical lessons from people whose church they might never be able to visit in real life. People like T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, and many more of the Christian heavyweights they might want to listen to, but with none of the commute or outlay of cash that could be involved in getting to a worship service. The Internet, for this group, is a way to stay connected to the spiritual/gospel world they love whenever they want, without having to leave home. It is there for them, for further connection, after or even during the time they’re watching church-TV.
Christ is on the Internet too
The Internet gives the Virtual Christian a way to be fully connected to spiritual living because it is a 24-hour connection portal to biblical inspiration, gospel leaders, musicians, singers, and music that can be finely tuned to a variety of musical tastes. Internet offerings can help Believers find answers to questions they might have about what it means to live a truly fulfilling spiritual life. How? By offering a variety of places people can visit to learn from Christian writers or teachers, or become involved in fellowship with other Christians. Because of the scope of offerings, a persona can easily zero in on views, voices, issues, questions, scripture, trends, and any one of a million topics, to connect with other people who share their concerns, needs and interests. It's all just one Google-search away.
To the Virtual Christian, the Internet provides a wonderful smorgasbord of information that can help them stay focused in their pursuit of a stronger, more “connected” spiritual lifestyle. Remember, Virtual Christians are people who have a yearning to be closer to their spiritual self, and the Internet, as well as church TV—for them, can help to satisfy that yearning. With its "search" capabilities, the Internet provides immediate connections that can be customized for those seeking deeper understanding of their own unique perspective on Christianity and spirituality. For example, just one search on You Tube can offer up hours of previously broadcast sermons, church-leader appearances, and/or bible study/discussions.
For better or for worse, the Virtual Christian has arrived on the scene, I believe, to stay. And further, I believe it would benefit the church to reach out to this group in a special way. I’m not talking about just having a website anyone can visit; I’m talking about possibly a special ministry devoted to the Virtual Christian, or to those who worship from home by tuning in to one or another church channel. I believe they would find that many of these people would love to have a non-judgmental relationship with a local church, and many might even be willing to tithe and/or support church ministries in other ways.
© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD