Can Online Fellowship Work? Insight and Answers for the Pandemic

By   •   January 28, 2021   •   Topics: ,

When COVID-19 first made headlines, no one knew the vast effect the virus would have on day-to-day life. Largely confined to our homes, the World Wide Web became our classroom, our sanctuary, our community center, our youth group, our library, our grocery store.

Now almost a year later, social distancing is still a thing and many church buildings remain closed. So, what does this mean for the vital role of Christian fellowship and outreach?

Church may look different, but meaningful connection can still take place. Here are three things to keep in mind when it comes to fellowship—and practical ways you can be more intentional:

Fellowship is Biblical.

In the New Testament, koinōnia is the Greek word used to refer to fellowship, but the term is about much more than friendship and gatherings. God designed fellowship to be a deep, intimate union that demonstrates love, compassion and honor for one another. It is closely related to communion—both done with eternity in mind.

The Bible first mentions koinōnia in Acts 2:42, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The verses that follow reveal this fellowship prompted believers to sell their possessions and share what they earned, especially with those in need (v. 46). They had “glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people” (v. 47) and as a result, people were saved daily.

Whether in person or online, there’s power in the unity and relationship that comes from true fellowship—and it ultimately connects people to Christ.

Put it into practice: Get active in a small group. If your church doesn’t offer small groups, start a virtual gathering with friends or neighbors. Make the time meaningful with prayer and discussion surrounding God’s Word and leave with specific ways to help others in the coming week. >> View small group resources from BGEA.

Your non-Christian friends have questions about Christianity.

In a 2020 study on digital evangelism, Barna Group found that one in three non-Christians say they have unanswered questions about Christianity. In addition, 41 percent of non-Christians are open to participating in spiritual conversations about Christianity if the experience feels friendly.

As the early church taught us, fellowship leads to salvation. God honors true koinōnia that exudes love for Him and each other.

Ephesians 4:32 instructs us to, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Taking this compassion to our interactions with others is so important, perhaps now more than ever. Knowing many have questions (but likely won’t immediately ask them)—let this be fuel for your fellowship and how you engage online.

Billy Graham put it this way: “We are the Bibles the world is reading; we are the creeds the world is needing; we are the sermons the world is heeding.”

Put it into practice: Share online and in everyday interaction what you’re learning about God. Be practical and personable. You never know who may be prompted to continue the conversation because you shared the Good News in a friendly, easy-to-understand way. To help, look at answers to common questions about Christianity.

Odds are, you know someone who’s feeling lonely, depressed or both.

The pandemic required isolation and brought about trauma unlike anything many have ever experienced. Recent studies on mental and emotional wellbeing emphasize this reality.

Barna data gathered last year shows half of Americans felt lonely at least weekly during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that four times as many people reported symptoms of depression in June 2020 compared to the entire second quarter of 2019. Anxiety, suicidal thoughts and substance abuse all increased during 2020, according to the CDC, and the majority of 18–24 year olds polled (74 percent) experienced at least one adverse mental or behavioral health symptom.

Stats like this must stir the church to action. Even if you personally are battling these feelings, being an encouragement to others can have a reciprocal effect. Scripture reminds us God “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3).

Put it into practice: Reach out to someone you know who lives alone or is in the 18-24 age bracket. Though loneliness can affect us all, these groups are a good place to start. Vow to do this on a regular basis. You could also carry out random asks of kindness in your community as a way of showing others they are seen and valued. Don’t forget the elderly who may need a helping hand. >> Find encouraging articles to share with others.

We can’t be certain when interaction with others will return to “normal.” But we can get creative in how we continue to build community. The Great Commission stands, even in a pandemic. And in all things, God will make a way for His plans to succeed.

Feeling uneasy about your life or what’s happening in the world? Find peace with God today.