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October 1, 2008

The Church Hoppers - Worship on the web - surprisingly, it works

and Zack Nord

A priest, a minister and a rabbi walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and says, “What is this — a joke?”

That’s how your Hoppers felt when we heard about “online church.” Call us cynics, but Zach and I weren’t expecting much from worship in cyberspace. Christianity claims God became human, so we figure there ought to be people along the road to piety.

Yet by the end of the Lifechurch.tv’s streaming-video “worship experience,” the Hoppers were converted. The music was good, the web page encouraged interaction with other visitors and the sermon challenged us to help flesh-and-blood people. So Zach and I will choke down humble pie and confess our sins: Online church isn’t so bad.

When we clicked into the online “sanctuary,” Zach and I were greeted by a video feed of the Lifechurch.tv band. Zach really liked their style — “The music wasn’t too poppy,” he said. “It was contemporary alt-rock, which is right up my alley.”

Unfortunately, the Hoppers weren’t sure how to interact as we watched. There were song lyrics across the bottom of the screen, but neither of us felt comfortable crooning.

Zach confessed he might have sung along if he was alone. Not me — I thought the “worship” seemed voyeuristic.

It wasn’t until the sermon that Lifechurch.tv won me over. Senior Pastor Craig Groeschel maximized the potential of his unique format by seamlessly blending excerpts from the film “Amazing Grace” into his message. He’d talk for a few minutes, then introduce a clip. Meanwhile, the Bible verses he cited showed up in another window onscreen.

Groeschel challenged his flock to embrace the idea of God-given “burdens.” He said that like William Wilberforce’s unrelenting fight to free slaves in the film, our passion for justice could transform lives.

Groeschel introduced several clips of Wilberforce crusading against the evils of slavery. Then he asked his congregation to identify their own burdens, and exhorted them to use that passion to bring change into the lives of others.

“As you get aggressive attacking your burden, don’t expect everything to change overnight,” he cautioned. But he challenged his listeners with a verse from Galatians 6:9 in the Bible: “Let us not become weary of doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” 

Groeschel concluded his sermon with the compelling image of Parliament voting to abolish slavery in 1833. After years of thankless effort, Wilberforce’s “burden” had finally resulted in freedom for thousands. It was a uniquely moving finish to a highly motivating sermon.

There’s no doubt Pastor Groeschel is an effective communicator, and online church was much better than we expected. Zach wants to explore faith without getting buttonholed by Bible-bangers, so he enjoyed himself. “It was pretty bizarre at first, but I’d definitely do it again,” he said. “In fact, I kind of want to watch next week.”

Yet ultimately, I still felt like there was something missing: people. If the goal of following a God-made-man is to live like him, you should probably rub shoulders with flesh at some point.

That is, if you can walk through the chapel door without feeling attacked by the folks inside. Perhaps Gandhi said it best when he remarked, “I like your Christ, (but) I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

I have a friend who spent a couple years as a youth minister — until the pastor canned him for preaching an unpopular sermon. He could tell you why church without people might appeal. 

Perhaps Groeschel can start a new branch of Lifechurch.tv just for folks who love God, but are so pissed off at his followers that “regular church” is a non-option. Odds are, the attendance would double overnight.  


George Halitzka and Zach Nord, also known as the Church Hoppers, enjoy long walks on the beach, small offering plates and short sermons. 


THIS MONTH’S CHURCH HOP

Name: Lifechurch.tv

Location: Online at www.lifechurch.tv (The church also offers 12 “campuses” around the country, with each location providing some of its own programs, but streaming the senior pastor’s sermons)

Service Times: Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 1 a.m., 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.; Tuesdays at 9 p.m. (all times Eastern)

Website: www.lifechurch.tv

Size: Megachurch — the congregation boasts 21,000 attendees on 13 campuses

Denomination: Nondenominational (evangelical protestant)

Senior Pastor: Craig Groeschel

You Might Like This Church If: You’re seeking a highly polished church service, and interacting with other worshippers isn’t important to you.

The Church Hoppers visited on July 26, 2008. Source for church facts: www.lifechurch.tv.