Online Chapel: It’s Just Not The Same

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There are many things I miss about being on PLNU’s campus: professors, stunning views of the ocean and most importantly, the people. For me, chapel was one of my favorite times of the week because it was a time I could pause every chaotic thought about school, be in the community and worship Jesus. Now in the era of the coronavirus, with chapel being online, something feels like it’s missing.

If I’m being honest, at first I was excited about online chapel. With fewer credits to fill and a livestream you can watch any time you want, I thought it would be easy to knock out the chapel credits for the semester. Frequently, I find myself debating whether I should study or go to chapel. The flexibility of an online chapel is convenient. When I need to get an assignment done, I can do both before the deadline (without hiding in the back of the chapel service with my notebook). But convenient doesn’t always mean better. 

Chapel seems to be the same. The worship songs are great. The messages people have shared have been exceptionally inspiring, challenging and full of the gospel. However, the one aspect it’s missing is community. In many ways chapel can be compared to church. During freshman year, we all heard the reminder “don’t let chapel become your church.” I think in some ways it still functions as a way to tie the community together through worship and fellowship. 

According to Barna Group research, 1 in 3 practicing Christians have stopped attending church in the coronavirus age. Why? Because in America, we’ve become caught up in the idea that the church is a place to go to on Sundays. We’ve become comfortable allowing it simply to be part of a routine instead of a people and a way of life. 

Church isn’t about attendance; it’s about the people who are around you. Jesus said, “where two or more are gathered, there my spirit is also.” Matthew 18:20. Online church isn’t, and simply never will be a substitute for church because in the New Testament, church was defined by a group of people who met together, not a place, denomination or set of beliefs. 

In the same way, chapel simply isn’t the same as it was pre-COVID. When we can’t worship together in person, it’s simply reduced to singing songs and being encouraged by a message from the Bible. Both of these are good, but they miss the point of what a chapel service should be: community.

There’s something powerful about being in chapel in person. The Bible says “where two or more are gathered, there my spirit is also.” and while we are “gathered” online, it really isn’t the same.

Written By: Olivia Owen