Following the height of a global health pandemic which required that individuals quarantine, in-person attendance at West Harpeth Church worship services has not reached the pre-pandemic level. The goal of this project was to enhance West Harpeth members’ theological understanding of the importance of in-person corporate gatherings as compared to virtual gatherings. The key research question was: Can awareness of the value of in-person corporate gatherings at West Harpeth, in comparison to virtual gatherings, be raised among members by them engaging in theological reflection? Related questions were: What are the benefits of inperson gatherings and of virtual gatherings? What would be lost if the church existed only virtually—if we never gathered in-person?
The general literature review provides information on virtual and in-person experiences in the virtual classroom and online dating, along with considerations of anthropological and psychological dimensions of human existence. The literature validated how in-person interactions are typically more valuable than solely virtual interactions. The biblical-theological literature review provided explanations of incarnation, ecclesia, and eschatology. God’s choice to incarnate as a means of salvation, the communal being and actions of the Acts church, and the eschatological hope of redeemed bodies all point to the value and divine intent of embodiment. Other modes that reach others to the furthest extent possible can come alongside embodied activity.
To assess the potential change in awareness of in-person benefits, a survey was given to West Harpeth attendees before and after a six-week Bible study that allowed for theological reflection on the value of in-person corporate church gatherings. Theological reflection did not raise the majority of participants’ awareness of the value of in-person engagements, so theological and ecclesiological implications were highlighted as a means for West Harpeth to effectively move forward and minimize losses associated with non-ideal modes of engagement.
Knox, Consuela, "Gathered Together: The Impact of In-Person Experiences in a Virtual Age" (2023). DMin Project Theses. 3.