What’s the difference between watching Sunday service on television then going to church on Sunday?
Yours is a very good question, especially in the age of televised and even internet churches. There is, I am convinced, a very real difference between watching on television or the net and being in the assembly. Two differences immediately come to mind.
The first is participation. While you can sing, for instance, along with a televised congregation, sometimes people don’t do so because they can hear themselves separately. Of course, what is important is the worship and not how you sound, but some people don't like singing along with an electronic congregation. More importantly, if you believe like I do that participation in the Lord’s Supper is important weekly, you miss out on the important remembrance of Christ through the bread and fruit of the vine. I suppose you could bless your own and partake at the same time as a televised congregation but it isn’t the same. And of course there is also the participation in giving. Again, I suppose you could mail in a check, but it is not the same as participating in worship to God with a congregation. Also, the temptation is great to do other things while listening to the television, and then your concentration is no longer on worshipping God. Some TV churches only broadcast the sermon, and then you miss out on the other aspects of group worship.
The second difference is fellowship. Here I can give you specific scriptures about the differences. “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) The reason this writer gives for assembling together (which you can’t do electronically) is to encourage one another in love and good works. It is the togetherness of family. If you are not physically present with a congregation you are not encouraging others by your presence, or by your words. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Colossians 3:16) You can’t teach and admonish with your singing if you are the only one who can hear it. Singing in the church is a group effort, in the physical presence of others. “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11) You can’t “comfort yourselves together” if you aren’t together. “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12) How can you know those who labor among you if there is no “among you,” because there is no gathering together? How can an elder shepherd his flock if he doesn’t even know who is in that flock, because they are all in their own homes?
Television and internet evangelism have their place, but it is generally in trying to teach others. It can never replace a congregation gathering together and showing love for one another. It can never replace knowing those who share your faith, and helping them when they need your help. It can never replace the innate human need for the company of others at important moments in their lives. These are things God wants, and he commands assembling together for our good and so we can experience these things.
Thank you for the excellent question.