What does gathering together look like in a virtual world?

A little over a year ago, no one could’ve anticipated a global pandemic of such proportions! So naturally, something like this was going to have a major impact on all of our formal church gatherings – be it our Sunday services, Gospel Communities and peer discipleship groups. Overnight we were forced to move away from our physical gatherings to virtual gatherings from home, which brings in its fair share of challenges. From handling a crying child demanding our attention to completing multiple household chores or dealing with the more frustrating internet connectivity issues – undoubtedly being fully present in a virtual church gathering from home is no simple task. Like many of you, I’m still trying to figure what that looks like while at the same time trying not to lose the point of what the writer in Hebrews is saying when he gives the following instruction:

24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.’ (Heb 10:24,25)

But the real question is, how do we stir up each other to love and good works in an online medium? What does it look like for us to encourage one another in a virtual space? So I’ve tried to compile some practical ways in which we can be intentional, present & loving to each other as we gather online over the next few weeks or months.

1. Prepare before the meeting

Preparation allows our hearts to be in a position to receive from God and lovingly encourage one another. Before joining a meeting, preparing could involve praying and asking God to center our heart in the love that God has for us in Jesus Christ. Part of it could be confessing sins & remembering the Gospel. Moreover, also asking God to open up genuine opportunities for you to serve others during the meeting is a wonderful way to prepare our hearts. I’ve noticed how I look forward to our meetings the most when I know that my heart is at rest in Jesus.

2. Schedule dedicated time for the meeting

Many of us are well oriented with multitasking at home. We’ve built up the capacity to perform household chores & care for our families while managing to stream a TV show or watch sports at the same time. Yet, somehow, the same orientation to multitask while joining an online service can hinder rather than help us from being receptive to God & fully present for others. Hence, being intentional in scheduling dedicated time exclusively for the meeting becomes an essential aspect. Of course, this was something we didn’t have to consider while we were meeting physically. Still, it has become such a critical factor due to the number of overwhelming responsibilities and distractions available at home.

3. Participate during the meeting

Sometimes we assume that serving & ministering only occurs while the Word is being taught or during praise and worship. Ministry, however, can take different forms and requires every believer in the local church to participate for the “body” to function properly (Eph 4:11-17). One of the ways by which we can participate in meetings is by engaging in group discussions. This takes place during the fellowship time after formal Sunday gathering and weekly gospel communities. From my experience, I’ve noticed how the reflections on the sermon or the bible studies by other believers have greatly blessed my own heart. Because in those testimonies, we get to learn from each other and witness what God is doing in each other’s lives. Therefore, participating in a group discussion is a pretty big way to minister and encourage each other! Also, being sensitive to moments when we can intercede for a brother or sister as they share their reflections is a great way to minister & build each other up.

4. Turn on the video

This might seem like the most trivial out of the 4 practical tips, but it’s as important as the others. After all, who would want to see the non-glamorous visual of us at home? But in reality, it’s not so much about our presentability as much as it’s about communicating to yourself and to others that you want to be intentionally present for them and with them. I’ve learned from my own experience that turning off the video creates an unhealthy room for anonymity (trying not to be identified in a group) & opens up many more distractions (resulting from not being actively present). Instead, by having the video switched on, we can communicate that we eagerly desire to be present for the sake of others. So much of that gets expressed through the visuals of our face, smile, attitude and gestures!

Finally, I want to say that there can be times when it’s unavoidable to follow some or all of the above points, and that’s perfectly fine. But I’d say this – understanding our high calling to “stir each other up unto love and good works” during these meetings, let’s strive to keep that as an aberration rather than the norm for us. I’m sure there could be many more practical ways to add to this list which can be helpful for all of us. I would love to hear more ideas! Feel free to do whatever is necessary to be intentional, present and loving your church family!

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