When God closes a door, somewhere He opens a (browser) window: Online church as a means of fostering inclusion for people with disabilities and mental health challenges

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has provided innumerable challenges for church communities across the globe. While most faith communities were new to the world of live streaming and Zoom breakout rooms, we were forced to act swiftly and innovatively to ensure God’s people could continue to meet each week, albeit virtually. But for many, this virtual means of meeting for worship could only ever suffice as a temporary measure to counter the impact of lockdowns.

The refrain spoken by so many Christians has been that “online church isn’t REAL church” so this is not an option we should consider on a long-term basis. Others have claimed that online church fails to meet the requirements laid out by the writer of the Hebrews who says: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25). And yet, for many people, the online church has provided a means of inclusion and participation in church that physical meetings do not generally provide, especially for people living with disabilities and mental health challenges.

This paper will consider some of the ways the online church has helped to overcome barriers to inclusion and participation for some people with disabilities and mental health challenges. It will also provide some recommendations on how churches can continue to work towards greater inclusion and participation of people with disability and mental health challenges in the future.