Anyone who knows someone at church with whom they would rather not share a hymnal, pass the peace, or high five while lifting holy hands knows the feeling. We love the church, but some of the people make us crazy. Most of us have thought, "Wouldn't church be great without them?"
In our defense, most church problems begin with church people. When a Sunday school lesson detours to the upcoming Super Bowl someone-probably a Broncos fan, you know how they are-started the conversation down the pigskin path. When a committee meeting goes UFC some person threw the first blow. When the youth room smells funny the morning after the lock-in someone is responsible-most likely the favorite counselor.
When you tire of handing out bulletins, filling communion cups, or changing other people's babies' diapers, when you secretly believe church would be simpler without people, several websites are ready to help.
Virtualchurch.com selects songs, prayers, and messages for you to download for a personal, customized worship service. The site claims that nothing is random. Whatever pops up is "exactly what you were meant to hear." The first words spoken in the service that was exactly what I was meant to hear were "It is a blessing to be in the house of the Lord!" This seemed ironic.
"Church Wherever You Are" (as long as there is internet reception wherever you are) has undeniable advantages. You don't have to get up early on Sunday. You make the coffee the way we like it. You wear your pajamas-and not the good ones. You can go to church in the commercial breaks during Letterman. You sing as loud as you want or not at all. If you do not like the music, fast forward. You decide if it is wine or grape juice for the Lord's Supper, communion wafers or potato chips. You eat lunch, dinner, or breakfast by yourself after the service-no pretending to like what someone brought to the potluck. Committee meetings (which take place in chat rooms) are optional. You can invite someone to church without having to introduce them to your friends. Pull up the Mitford series on your Kindle to remember what community is like.
Virtualchurch.com is not your only choice for church without people. Churchoffools.com claims to be the "World's First 3D Online Church." You choose a cartoon character, enter the church, walk around, sit in a pew, explore the sanctuary, and select some prayers. You can even ring the church bells.
Instapray is an android app that lets you post your prayers and chat with other users about them.
Topapp.org/forgiveness is a "life changing phone app" that helps you learn "how to forgive those you thought you never could."
You can text your prayers to God at textogod.com or 1-559-TXT-2GOD: "TextToGod makes it possible for the entire world to read your message to God. And if the entire world is reading your message on this web site, God just might take notice."
If you need to fill the void left when you got bored with Farmville, you can go to facebook.com/holytown where you build a church by yourself, preach sermons, and try to save souls. Not having to deal with budget or personnel issues makes this easier.
Maybe I would feel differently if I was thirty years younger, but I have trouble thinking of online church as a family. Internet groups may be a resource for those who are not able to attend church, but church requires more than a laptop. How can we fully love one another without looking one another in the eye?
Sitting in front of a computer screen imagining we are the church may have benefits, but reading someone's prayers online is not the same as gathering with brothers and sisters we know to share our concerns with God. Singing alone with a recording is less than blending our voices with other Christians to praise God. Listening to the generic sermon of a stranger is not the same sacred experience that a church family has when it listens together for God's word to them.
We need to gather with frustrating people even if we frustrate one another. We need real church because left alone with our computers we become self-centered. Busy people need non-virtual people to slow us down. We go to church offline so that God can help us understand our differences. God calls us to be a real church in all its messiness.