Today I did something new. Because I have been sick for the last few days, I stayed home from church (thanks to Andy Edmunds for leading worship and watched 4 televised worship services. I've never watched televised worship before. When I am on vacation, I find a church to attend. I realized a few things while watching.
First, worship in a sanctuary does not translate well into television. Television is mostly a medium for entertainment and information. Even with the best shows that try to be interactive, it is not an interactive medium. And worship is interactive. It is not us watching something, or even learning something, though those two things happen. It is us interacting with each other, before God, giving our praise, thanksgiving, confession, problems, ourselves. At best, we watch other people do that on TV. At worst, we have poor entertainment.
Still, the area churches and pastors did the best they could. I could not have done any better, and probably done a lot worse.
Second, television magnifies your flaws. I'm not talking about the extra 20 pounds it seems to add to you, nor the complexion flaws that some of us have. Preaching (and worship) are conversational in nature- that is, they are a three way conversation between the worship leaders, the congregation, and God. And conversations do not flow in a fluid manner. There are ebbs and flows, side streams and eddys, and sometimes "uhs" and "ahs". These are perfectly fine in worship/conversation, but on TV they look like unpreparedness, hesitancy, and fear. They are not, but they look that way. I think my sermons would not look or sound well on TV. (To be honest, they often do not look or sound well live and in person.)
Third, the local churches that were broadcast did not make appeals for funds from the TV audience like the nationally broadcast religious shows. They were on the air because they wanted to share something of great value with the world around them, and this was one way. I am glad of that, and commend them for that.
Also, three of the four did not exalt themselves, but lifted up the Lord Jesus Christ. The fourth did lift up Christ, but many times it was pointed out that they were the "true" church in the area. One preacher even admonished his live and TV congregation to find a church and get involved if they were not being fed at his particular church.
Several people have told me from time to time that they worship with the churches on TV, that is, they stay home but watch the shows, sometimes even joining in singing the hymns. It may do for the moment, but, honestly, it's a poor substitute. Right before starting to watch these TV worship services I watched part of a nature show on the BBC. The host was showing natural phenomena on each continent. Beautiful, amazing sights around the globe. Several of them I have seen in person. I've hiked the rim of the Grand Canyon, climbed some of the Alps in Germany and Austria, and tried to climb sand dunes in the desert of Namibia (all of which were shown on this show). And though the photography was outstanding and narration moving, it was not the same as being there. David, in the Old Testament, wrote many of the Psalms, and would use them to worship while he was out watching the sheep. But even he knew it wasn't the same as being with the people. "Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker..." Psalm 95:6
Worshipping alone- it isn't the same.