Did Bruce Willis predict the future of the Church in the 2009 movie Surrogates? IMB says this about the film, “Set in a futuristic world where humans live in isolation and interact through surrogate robots, a cop is forced to leave his home for the first time in years in order to investigate the murders of others’ surrogates.”1. The character Bruce Willis plays spends his entire day living through a surrogate. He never has to leave his couch. Sound like church life in 2020? You could attend without leaving the couch. My wife always says, “If you want to know the future, watch Hollywood movies.”
Remember the automaker Kia’s 2022 “Robo Dog” commercial during the Super Bowl? Here is a thumbnail description from AdAge, “In Kia’s “Robo Dog,” a lonely robot dog in a store pines for someone to adopt him and take him home. He spots the owner of an all-electric Kia EV6 on the street and escapes the store to chase after him. Though his plan seems to be on the verge of failure—his battery runs out at the worst possible moment—the Kia driver ends up saving the day by recharging the pooch and taking him home.”2. Ads like this attempt to make us comfortable accepting a virtual reality. The problem is Robodog isn’t a dog; it’s a computer made to look like a dog. But the man treats it as if it were a dog.
Both stories illustrate that from Hollywood to Madison Avenue marketing, we are being programmed to accept virtual as reality. It isn’t. The pandemic and the lockdowns that followed showed many how life could be lived without ever walking out the door. Now, employers are struggling to get workers back. Maybe they should suggest Surrogates.
If we don’t call this dangerous mentality out, we will have failed to be the shepherds God has called us to be to our flock and the prophetic voice we must be to our community. This edition of the Coach is entitled The Physical Church IS Essential. Here is my major premise…
The American Church made a huge mistake when it accepted the idea that physical church attendance was not essential for Christian growth. The push for virtual is like 21st-century warmed-over Gnosticism. The virtual connection doesn’t fulfill the scriptural mandate: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” We must never allow the government to dictate church attendance. Physically gathering as a church is essential.
But what about Covid? Churches had no choice but to be online. It is past time that pastors admit that we in the Church were sold information that we now know was wrong. This led to unnecessary policies that ultimately hurt the Church and did little to nothing to stop the spread of COVID-19. Consider what we know now, which was considered a conspiracy theory at the time.
- Our intelligence agencies all agree that COVID-19 probably escaped from the Wuhan Laboratory in Wuhan, China. There is also a rising consensus that the virus was man-made.
- Millions and millions of people were projected to have died from COVID-19 when our “experts” projected a 3.4% death rate from COVID-19. This is nearly 100 times more deadly than the virus actually was. The actual percentage is now estimated at .02% to .05%.
- Natural immunity is long-lasting and provides better and longer-lasting protection.
- Lockdowns were unnecessary. Countries like Sweden that didn’t enforce lockdowns did much better than those that did lockdown their citizens and the churches they were members of.
- Masks – In reality, masks are between 0% and 15% effective. “When you’re talking about the effect on the epidemic or pandemic as a whole, the data are less strong.” — Dr. Anthony Fauci CNN interview.
- Vaccinated people get Covid and can and do spread the virus just like unvaccinated people. It never was a pandemic of the unvaccinated.
- The virus did not spread by touch; thus, we didn’t need to stop passing the plate.
Common sense should have told us the lockdowns were wrong. John MacArthur’s Grace Church in California proved that you could safely hold in-person worship and keep your members and community safe. Their church saw explosive growth. Every church I know that opened up early has grown, while those that stayed locked down the longest struggle the most.
We are smaller, dumber, and poorer because of moving away from believing that the physical church is essential.
Church attendance has not recovered from the Lockdowns. While a few churches have seen growth, most are still well below their pre-pandemic numbers. Could our focus on hybrid worship be a result, or did our members just get out of the habit of attending? Being online for outreach is one thing. But could our online presence during the pandemic offer members a virtual way to stay in their PJs on the couch more frequently than they attend in person? How long before they stop attending anything in person and before they cease watching online? And are they really learning anything?
Repeated studies show that learning was impacted greatly for school-age children due to virtual learning. If public education couldn’t teach our kids the ABCs virtually, why do we think we can teach biblical principles virtually? Parents learned there is no substitute for in-class learning. Recent studies showing how ignorant the average church member is about core biblical principles should convince us that what we have been doing isn’t working.
Finally, as your Stewardship Coach, I can tell you that giving is impacted by virtual rather than physical attendance. In a study, the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving part of the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy found that “in-person attendees give more than their virtual counterparts. Virtual attendees are more likely to be passive spectators than active and engaged participants in the church’s life and coffers. Financially, the best option would be a church that promoted an online worship option but had a large majority of attendees participating in person.” 3. For more, see my Bonus Section.
We must push back on the idea that a person can live life in front of a screen. I’m for an online presence, but it should always be to bring people into fully engaging with their church family, not view it from a distance.
Mark Brooks – The Stewardship Coach
Missions and Ministry Moment (aka Offering Talk) – This week’s talk can be accessed after you register at: http://acts17generosity.com/simple-file-list/Offering-Talks/2023-53-Talks-for-53-Sundays/November-5th-Listing-Our-Blessings.pdf