As the recent lockdown neared there was a surge in people using online shopping options. Whether it was groceries or other items, the online retailers struggled to keep up despite their incredibly efficient logistical operations, with robot equipped warehouses and gig economy delivery drivers.
In many ways this lockdown steers us yet further to the Ultimate in Individual-Consumerism: a cultural trend that has been in the making for some years now. We, as individuals, have a pantheon of online consumer options at the swipe of our fingers. We can pick and choose, and flit from one provider to another to get what we want at the best (usually lowest) price. If you don't like even the tiniest detail of your existing retailer, then just skip to another for next time. Furthermore automated supply depots mean that there are barely any humans in the chain of delivery - it really is just all about YOU!
As with any cultural development, churches and their members have to wrestle with it. Some may find themselves in too deep (technically called 'syncretism'), others may isolate themselves off but in doing so effectively be left behind. It is the classic question of how to be 'in the world but not of the world' (John 17:15 - 21).
An irony of the current lockdown is that it may steer some believers further down the individual-consumer route. We had already the growing trend of people commuting ever greater distances to attend the 'big well resourced church' that has professional quality production in all aspects of its gatherings (or should I say 'worship events'?). Now in lockdown none of us can physically attend, and so a myriad of live-stream options have sprung up very quickly to allow virtual attendence.
Of course there will be value in these, and no doubt the Spirit will be at work. Just as I can be spiritually moved by listening to a worship album, people can find encouragement and nourishment from such options. Yet the risk is that now people can act as individual-consumers with regards to their worship or message input more than ever! Didn't quite like the message today (in either content or style)? No problem, next time flit to another!
The end result may not just be virtual attendence, but a reduction to a virtual spirituality coupled with a near total loss of community.