I recently heard Dr. Beck Taylor, the new President of Samford University, speak at a Rotary meeting. When we were given the opportunity to ask Dr. Taylor questions, one of my fellow Rotarians asked Dr. Taylor about online education. Dr. Taylor’s answer was instructive. He noted that Samford University was forced to become an online educational institution almost overnight due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He also reported that, according to student feedback, students were generally pleased with the online educational experience that Samford provided when in-person classes were not possible. However, Dr. Taylor quickly told the group that Samford plans to double down on in-person education in the future.
What reason did Dr. Taylor give for Samford’s commitment to in-person education when delivering information online would assuredly be cheaper and more efficient? He stated that the college experience is about much more than dispensing information. Students are formed through relationships with fellow students, professors, and others in the community. And these relationships are formed through a host of experiences that reach far beyond the classroom. Some of the most important aspects of a college education simply can’t be delivered via the Internet.
I believe the same is true for church. I am grateful for the tools we have that allow people to participate in our worship services or access Bible studies when they are not able to attend in person. Whether their absence is due to their being away for business or vacation, because they do not feel comfortable attending due to health concerns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, or because they have ongoing health challenges that prevent them from attending, many people benefit greatly from the online resources we have made available in recent years. We will remain committed to providing these resources for people in coming days.
However, it is vital that we remember that the church is more than an organization that provides spiritual resources. Just as students are best formed through the relationships they develop with others and the experiences they have in college, so Christians are best formed into faithful followers of Jesus through relationships and experiences they have with people across the life of a local church.
Please continue to stay connected to our church via our online resources when your life circumstances make that the faithful option. I am thrilled to know that our members will participate via livestream when away on vacation or when they can’t physically attend church due to health or safety concerns.
But, please know that our church will most effectively accomplish our mission of making disciples if we commit to grow in relationship with one another by participating in worship services, Sunday Morning Bible Study classes, Growth Groups, mission trips, retreats, and a host of other activities we will offer this year. Resources are important, but nothing can replace the relationships we can develop with others in our church family.