I mentioned the other day that our community groups have started up again. We have rejigged our groups so that different people are mixing with others. We have tried to take account of who tends to come regularly, language issues (and having translators available) and where people can reasonably get to.
One small accommodation we have made is to single parents who are unable to get out. It is also an accommodation for parents who have to stay home as well as for those who are physically unable to get out. We have decided to keep hybrid meetings going.
The way it worked in our group is by way of a Meta Portal device. It plugs into our TV and can access zoom. This means we can send out a group link for those who are unable to be with us in person. Whilst they can’t be with us for the food and chat portion of the evening, they can join us for the time of prayer and the whole group bible study.
The other night, we had eight adults in the room and two on our TV screen. Those on the TV were able to participate fully. They were involved in the time of prayer (we usually split into single sex groups and ask for one point to give thanks for and one point to pray for from each person, and then we pray for it). After the prayer time, they were able to be involved in the study time too. They offered answers to questions, engaged along with the people in the room and (I think) benefited from being with us online.
Is the situation ideal? No. Both expressed how much they would rather be with us than on a screen. We would all rather they were with us in person too. But needs must. They have responsibilities that mean they can’t come out. They want to be with us, they can’t physically be with us. Under those circumstances, accommodations seem appropriate where we are able.
For the same reason, we have kept our live stream running. We are not trying to make it easy for people to stay home. We are not in any way suggesting the live stream is as good as meeting in person. Indeed, the live stream is not meeting at all. It is an observation on a meeting, rather than participating in the meeting itself. There are some aspects that are necessarily worse. You cannot always see everything, there are certain elements you can’t hear so well and there is a portion of the service – namely, communion – where the whole thing gets turned off so you cannot even pretend to be involved.
The reason for continuing on with it is for those who would like to be with us, but are unable. They want to be there, but they genuinely can’t get there. It is not an open invitation to stay home and tune in more conveniently. It is a less good accommodation to serve, to some degree, those who wish they could come but cannot.
Of course, we cannot accommodate everything. Some of the time, our attempts to accommodate some cause problems for others. All these things have to be balanced. But it seems to me that there is good grounds to continue helping and serving those who would be with us, but cannot be with us, by including them as best we can.
The danger with leaving a live stream on is that there will always be those who could come, but choose not to come, because of that provision. The fact is, if unbelievers are doing that, we have to be fairly pleased. It is far better that they tune in to the live stream from home than they don’t bother listening to anything at all. Equally, even believers who ought to be in church but aren’t for reasons entirely in their control, it is still better that they tune in and listen to something online than don’t bother at all. Is that a substitute for coming to church? No. Is it as good as coming to church? No. Is one’s responsibility to meet together and encourage other believers fulfilled through that? No. But is it better for that person than nothing? Yes. Might the Spirit still work and convict them through what they hear? Yes. Are they more likely to change doing that than doing nothing? Yes.
Ultimately, I don’t lose a lot of sleep about people tuning in who perhaps ought to be with us. Maybe they should be. Indeed, it would be better for everyone. But for the sake of serving those who do need it, I prefer to keep it going.