Week 88: "Are online church activities and resources making local church activities and services less relevant?"

Question: "We are seeing so much positive activity and engagement through online resources such as Christianscience.com, time4thinkers.com, online chats, and conference calls, but it seems that local churches do not experience much, if any, of this. Are local church activities becoming less relevant? How can online church activities support in person, local church activities?"

Response 1: Sandy Sandberg

The Master Christian, Christ Jesus, once said, "where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20). It is as true today, as it was then. When people come together in local churches to worship God, the spirit of the Christ, the divine nature of Jesus, is always present to uplift and inspire their thoughts and prayers.

As helpful as the above listed online resources are to those who are availing themselves of them, there is simply no substitute for what happens when we gather in Christ’s name. We need to keep in mind the distinction between what is simply a communications tool, or resource, on the one hand, and what church members are actually doing to fulfill the mission of church on the other.

The “positive activity” reported by people who have utilized the church’s online resources is just that, reports coming from individuals who have found the resources helpful. The mission of church, however, is fulfilled by groups of individuals who have united for the purpose of sharing Christian Science with their community, “elevating the race, rousing the dormant understanding from material beliefs to the apprehension of spiritual ideas and the demonstration of divine Science, thereby casting out devils, or error, and healing the sick” (see Science and Health, p. 583).

There is no doubt, for instance, that the live online services, both Sundays and Wednesdays, are proving extremely helpful to individuals who are unable to attend local services, either because there is no local branch church nearby, or because they’re simply unable to attend the ones that are available.

But what this loving provision cannot do is substitute for the effective demonstration of those members united together in branch churches who are embracing their local communities, sharing Christian Science through the Manual-provided activities of Sunday services, Sunday School, Wednesday testimony meetings, reading rooms, and lectures. These activities, all supported by the collective prayers of a local membership, fulfill the mission of church quoted above. There is never going to be a substitute for an active group of Christian Scientists loving their community enough to demonstrate the healing power of Truth, specifically meeting whatever needs the community might have, whether it be dealing for instance, with a natural catastrophe, an epidemic of disease, or corruption in city government.

We haven’t yet outgrown the need to be involved face-to-face with our fellow members in our local churches and the need for the growth in Christian character this entails. There is a right place and use for the wonderful online resources provided by The Mother Church, which support individual spiritual growth and development. But they will never be a substitute for the Christian demand to come together regularly in Christ’s name.

Response 1: Susan Jostyn

I think it’s important to understand that at the heart of both online and in-person church is a single idea: Church itself. Church will never become irrelevant, since Jesus promised that even the gates of hell couldn’t prevail against it.  

I’d venture to add that wherever people are gathering, church is needed. People are gathering both online and in person, so church is definitely relevant in both places. And, any prayer about church, offered in any place, has to bless all communities. In this way, online and in person church activities are already unified.

My sense is that Church is all about praying to love and serve God and our community. Recently, while helping to initiate a new outdoor Sunday School class dedicated entirely to newcomers, I’ve been freshly challenged to affirm that our community is receptive. I’ve had to trust that the Word of God is already written in every person’s heart, that God is speaking directly to each person, that they naturally respond to Him and yearn to hear and understand more, that they will be healed and reformed, and that they will want to love, connect, and share with their neighbors, all in obedience to God. I’m so grateful for how Church encourages, empowers, and defends this prayer.

As a result, while I’ve had good exchanges with people in person, I’ve also met people who were passing through from out of town and were grateful to hear about online Sunday School. In other words, both options for Sunday School originated in a desire to serve God and youth in the community, and they both have found their place and role.

For The Mother Church, with members in 130 countries plus branch churches and societies in only around 70 countries, it’s natural to reach out to the members in 60 countries that don’t have something near them, as well as to the additional 63 countries where there are no members or branches. One way—but not the only way—to do this is online. This doesn’t mean that the in-person church services in Boston have become less relevant. They are still the core and backbone to everything that happens online.  

This also doesn’t mean that those members who are living in remote places can’t form a Society or branch church of their own. They can, and I believe they will, as they pray to embrace their own communities in the ways God directs. I can’t say how that will become manifest, but I do know that every sincere prayer that yearns to serve God, will be answered, will glorify God, and will bless our neighbors.

Our Father-Mother, the creator of all things, is infinite and all harmonious. That means there isn’t a single element of creation, including church, which can be in conflict or competition with another. Therefore, we can expect that within the infinite variety of ways which church finds expression, whether in one country or in another, whether online or in person, all of them can be—and in reality are—perfectly, harmoniously, seamlessly unified with each other and are timelessly relevant.

I’m so grateful to be working together with everyone who is praying to see this.

  1. This question has also been posed about our reading rooms since the inception of the wonderful jsh-online. "THIS is my reading room" commented a church member pointing to his IPad.

  2. Nowadays people seeking something often start out by looking on-line. At our branch church we've been very pleased to welcome people new to Christian Science who have found out about us through our own local branch church website, and then come to the church. It makes it easy to find us when seeking the right church in our area; they liked the ideas on our website, and have come to find out more.

    Of course, this online presence is not a substitute for other ways of "letting our light shine" locally, but it certainly can be effective.

    We really had to think through how to communicate our message when compiling the text for our website. It made us consider how we communicate, and how we can let the heart show through, and not be lost behind too much of the letter.

    We are beginners at this and have a way to go, but our website has proved its value, not in replacing our church building or meetings and services, but in sharing our invitation to them much more widely.

  3. I loved both your thoughts on Church and the community!
    A comparison to me regarding online church vs a branch church is like seeing and talking to someone on skype vs actually standing next to that person and communicating that way. Both are good, both are different. We can love and share in lots of ways.

  4. Maybe that's not the right question (although it seems prevalent in human thought right now).

    When I visited 1st Church of Christ, Scientist, Atlanta, GA -- I loved the quote on the front wall of the edifice which reads, "Christianity is again demonstrating the Life that is Truth, and the Truth that is Life."--"My." p 214.

    To-day I've been cherishing the spirit of Mary Baker Eddy's life-purpose, as she describes it here, "Learn its purpose; and in hope and faith, where heart meets heart reciprocally blest, drink with me the living waters of the spirit of my life-purpose, — to impress humanity with the genuine recognition of practical, operative Christian Science." -- "Mis." p 207.

    So, "genuine recognition of practical, operative Christian Science" - is what she wants to impress on humanity.

    It will take the form demanded of and supplied by Love as we continue to listen how to even more effectively realize this to-day and in the centuries to come!

    "Onward, Christian Soldiers...."

  5. II love the word 'whatever' in the definition of church - 'whatever rests upon and proceeds from divine Principle'. It's a big idea. There is no 'either/or' about church activity; it should 'and, and, and' - ever expanding. Online activity enables us to embrace the whole world more effectively than ever before but it not an alternative.

    Our church has one member that lives over 250 miles from our building and joins our services and meetings (including members' meetings) by phone. This individual and others who join our services by phone and live streaming sometime outnumber the people in the auditorium but without these facilities they may not be able to join in at all. So, it seems to me if that if church is an idea whether it is expressed through bricks and mortar or any other channel, it really does not matter as long as it fulfills its mission.

  6. Thank you for your thoughtful remarks about on-line study and church attendance. Our loving branch church is a dynamic demonstration of the power of truth and love in the Christ. When we come together--Sunday morning, Wednesday night, or any other time we meet one another (often on-line)--we are fulfilled with living waters. The "pleasant gust" experienced has no bounds, limits or lack. I am grateful to Christian Science and for the support offered by the Mother Church.

  7. Thank you Lori for your helpful thoughts. There should be no worry about the future as you so beautifully stated as "it will take the form demanded of and supplied by Love" - perfect!

    And Jonquil's last statement is also very meaningful. There is no need to defend either expression. We begin by asking if we are expressing Truth and Love and then go forth with all humility to bless our world in whatever form it takes.

  8. Very good. I agree more than 1000% that nothing can replace physically going to Church or a reading room, but to those physically handicapped and home bound, the new technology is paramount for their spiritual hunger. It is very important to also include in this article.

  9. Thanks for making these distinctions between resources and tools, and groups of individuals uniting to share Christian Science with their communities. While today we are more conscious than ever of the global community, this awareness is not at the expense of local communities. There are ways to serve both, as Sandy and Susan have both explained with so much love.

  10. Whatever is coming from God, proceeding "from divine Principle", will prosper. Whatever is humanly planned and contrived or done only for the sake of duty and tradition lacks the power of the Holy Spirit or Comforter, and eventually fades away.

    Thank you for this discussion!

  11. In the western world, with the overwhelming access we have to information, has the physical church had its day? If we need the fellowship of others, why can't we meet in homes? Shouldn't we give the proceeds from the sale of our struggling churches to third-world christian scientists?

  12. I like the sense of equality that exists on the online forums instead of the hierarchy that can sometimes dominate a branch church.

    I also have always felt safe participating in the CS online forums since moderators are able to cast out unchristian comments. Where, at least in my experience, unchristian comments in a branch church are seen as necessary for our growth and development in Christian character and bullies are free to roam. I'm all for the development of Christian character, however, the world gives us plenty of opportunity for this already and I think Church should be a safe place.

  13. I love attending and participating on Sunday and Wednesday with the The Mother Church and the world online. The realization that we are praying together, singing, listening and learning with our brethren globally is powerful. But I would not miss the same feeling and joy I get at my local church and the fun of welcoming guests.

  14. I agree with Susan. But, it goes a bit further than 'unchristian comments'.The condescension and sense of being more 'in tune with the infinite' that can emanate from some branch church members - including practitioners - can be quite pronounced. In my experience, their 'spiritual' judgments, announced after they have done their 'prayerful work', are often proven to be quite wrong.

  15. II have relatively little experience in branch church membership and attendance. I grew up in the CS sunday school and later joined a branch in my late 20's. I was a member for seven years before I resigned and it's been almost a couple of decades since then. I've attended branches here and there since that time, but have never again become a member, although I'm active online and in my CS Association. I would be comfortable recommending online CS activities or class instruction to anyone who was interested, but I'm not comfortable recommending branch churches, based on my experience.

    Does anybody know of branch churches who are ready and prepared to deal with "unjust and unmerciful conduct" as Mrs. Eddy writes about in the Manual? Do any churches have committees formed for this purpose? Why have I witnessed only silence and inaction in cases of obvious unchristian conduct? Why don't the periodicals ever deal with this issue?

    This issue is not only about protecting the innocent, but about saving sinners, so that we all can progress.

    If anybody knows of any branches which are ready and willing to exercise disciplinary measures when necessary, I would love to hear about it and would be greatly encouraged.

  16. The unthinkable should be contemplated. Branch churches have had their day and should be done away with. Virtually all of them are struggling to survive and, as Debbie and Susan rightly indicate, they seem to be increasing 'ruled' by those who are more interested in power and influence than by those who wish to serve others. The grandiose edifices of another age are no longer appropriate. True Christian Scientists can hold their services in homes.

  17. I don't think this is the case. I heard of one branch church that has a very active Wednesday meeting, but it is entirely by conference call. This enables people that travel to still participate in their church meetings, and weather issues are no longer a factor since you don't even have to leave your home. I also saw a Church Alive video about a Christian Scientist in Turkey. She loves the online meetings at TMC and feels a part of them, since the closest branch church is over 900 miles away in Greece.I so llove Susan Jostyn's idea that "church will never become irrelevant". Online church activities can only enhance local branch churches, and can never take away any part of the structure of church, it can only build onto it.

  18. All the wonderful online church activities are terrific supports for enhancing individual and church growth. My Christian Science church loves its members and community. Yes, there are sometimes personality issues to pray about. But, the love of God for man shines through. Isn't the point of church to share the Truth with all mankind? Listening online or having a meeting in a living room may be fine if that's all that can be mustered, but it seems to miss the larger purpose. I'd rather meet in a public park than in my living room or only engage on the internet.

    Are we thinking no one can get along any more? Don't personality problems all stem from thinking Truth belongs to man, who consequently is responsible for it? Then, the answer would be knowing man belongs to Truth and is the humble servant of Truth - knowing we can lean on God to support the Movement of Christly thought. We can let go of feeling personally responsible, which leads to superiority or domination issues.

    There have been times when I've felt attacked by church members. Working through these issues can be the best catalysts for growth!. The progress that comes by challenging oneself to remain loving, unaffected, non-reactive is immense. Isn't this what Jesus Christ himself demonstrated and encouraged us to do? In fact, demonstrating love is a requirement for our resurrections and ascension. I don't think we can do that avoiding face-to-face contact with one another. I don't want to run away to the internet. It is such a great feeling to keep love flowing, to learn from and appreciate one other, to be non-judgmental, to realize we can protect ourselves from hatred and domination, to be friendly and have friends. If Christian Scientists can't demonstrate love for one another what hope is there for the world?

    I see all the wonderful supports provided by the Christian Science church on-line as profoundly powerful tools for spiritual growth. Everyone in the world can access these fine offerings. I can also see how these strengthen our healing purpose in the field of life, which can be a really wonderful experience if we cherish one another and view our lives and churches as healing lights in God's world.

  19. Why aren't people free to be led by God? Why is Church being graded into a good, better, best type of thing? Must we 'tow the line' in order to get along or can we agree to disagree? Let people be free to choose and be God-led as to what He is giving each of us for today. Attempting to judge as to which form of church is best for each individual is divisive and attempts to steal away freedom of conscience which is each person's God-given right. We CAN trust and "lean on God to support the Movement of Christly thought. We can let go of feeling personally responsible, which leads to superiority or domination issues." (quoted from Susie's post above)

    I'm glad people are having good church experiences, both online and bricks and mortar, and I love visiting branch churches with beautiful edifices. I find services inspiring whenever and wherever I attend. I also think house churches are an interesting concept. However, where church is being done right, I doubt a house could hold them for long!

    As this Church learns to let freedom of conscience, along with democracy, prevail and gains the courage to defend "God's little ones", nothing will keep her from thriving, whatever the form(s) may be.