Physicality in a time of Pixels

Fellowship like this causes headaches and eye strain. It is literally disembodied. The oppose of incarnational. Touch screens are clever, but they don’t enable you to, well, touch.


‘When this is all over, we’re going to have such a celebration!’

Indeed.  Our staff team was having lunch ‘together’ yesterday, and there was a chorus of agreement around the Zoom.

Read that last sentence again.  If you’re a pastor, there’s a fair chance that six weeks ago you would not have made sense of it.  Why the scare quotes around ‘together’?  What’s with the Zoom?

We all know now, though, don’t we?  Even if you don’t have the luxury of a staff team, you’ve done what we did – eat your sandwich, have a coffee, staring at a computer screen, while a good friend does the same, staring back at you.

What would have seemed weird, sterile, freakish and artificial, has become normal and kind, within days.

And we need to pay attention, because while it is normal and kind, we shouldn’t forget that it is also weird.  Many Christians – even in affluent, western churches – can’t do it.

More importantly, it is artificial.  Someone said to me a while back – years ago actually, before this was anything beyond church-scifi – that he didn’t think online church should ever catch on, because one of the things that the early church considered essential to fellowship was eating together, and that’s something you could never do online.

Well, we are all trying now, aren’t we?

And we are discovering that it is sterile. Fellowship like this causes headaches and eye strain. It is literally disembodied.  The oppose of incarnational.  Touch screens are clever, but they don’t enable you to, well, touch.

Physicality is a creation blessing. There’s a price to be paid for being inside a safe, sterile screen.

So here’s the challenge.

I’m not suggesting we break any government guidelines on safety.  Far from it.  You might  be reading this in a country that is less locked down than the UK, and to you I’d say your seven lean years are coming – watch and learn.  I reckon you have about a week when your church is allowed to meet. If you’re reading this in a country that is more restricted than the UK, we admire you, and know that it’s coming our way soon.


Given the realities of physical distancing, but the relative sterility of online church, how can we break that wall? Is there any way?

Here are six (only six!) ideas we have had:

  • Shopping for someone, and putting an extra gift in there for them.
  • Trying to reply to emails with a phone call instead.
  • Coffee after church, on Zoom – with breakout groups for a bit of chat.
  • A quiz night on Zoom, with ‘tables’. Just for fun.
  • Making sure our noticeboards outside church stay fresh and up to date, to show that we are still physically around.
  • Keeping a few lights on in the building, which in our case allows people to see in through some glass doors,  and read a message.

Six, pitiful ideas.  What have you done?  Pile in!

4 comments on “Physicality in a time of Pixels”

  1. Hi Chris, I don’t think it has to be sterile. Challenging, not the same as being in the same yes – but our zoom conversations haven’t been sterile. I also think that where churches already had one another body ministry in their DNA they will be more ready for this current situation. You can’t fatten the pig on market day to quote Linton Crosby. I’ve noticed a nervousness as well among some, what if our congregations get used to this, like it even? The fear that they will not come back at the end leads tt he view that we should by words and actions ensure that this is a negative experience and clearly not “church”. I suspect the opposite will be the case, if we work harder at giving as close to the full church gathering using online tools, people are more likely to hunger for the return

  2. I’m longing for the day when we can return to Emmanuel. It felt awful looking into the church earlier this week and wondering when we’ll be back there, though it was good for prayer. But I praise God that a neighbour watched last week after we shared the link on our street WhatsApp group, a friend we emailed a link to this morning watched the service, one former member whose current church can’t manage an online service is joining us from Australia, another from the Isle of Man and a current member who’s in Spain at present is also joining us. It’s not enough and I quite agree we need to do all we can to help each other connect better and that the more we do this, the more most people will hunger for a return to church face to face, but let’s also give thanks to our wonderful God for the way in which He’s using what we’re doing.

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