Social Media & Spiritual Formation

January 18, 2011

Unless you’ve been living deep in the mountains or have been asleep through the last decade you, no doubt, have been influenced by the cultural wave of social media. Social media is changing the landscape of how and when people interact, think, market, and sell. The blending of technology and social interaction has given us the almighty Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a host of other web 2.0 services.

Online social networking is built on the premise that people want to connect with other people. Of course, many naysayers believe that relationships connected through web technology are somehow less than personal. These are probably the same people who still believe that computers are a passing fad, that humankind has never set foot on the moon, and who have figured out the exact dates of Jesus’ imminent return. Don’t believe them.

It’s becoming more and more common for marriages to get their start online, friendships fostered through Facebook, and businesses interact personally with real and potential customers through Twitter. Much like the invention of the printing press and the electric telegraph, social media has changed the game of communication and of how people interact.

There is a growing sense among Christians that these technologies are good and useful for the Church in fulfilling the Great Commission. Like every cultural issue, Christians must choose what to wholeheartedly adopt, slyly adapt, or outright reject. That said, many young and not-so-young Christians have jumped head-first into the world of social media.

There seems to be three primary values that really make social media tick; entertainment, education, and interaction. I think churches can learn a thing or two from these social media values.

First, while entertainment shouldn’t be a church’s preoccupation, many within the Church would do well in taking themselves a little less seriously! Can you imagine Jesus spending three years traveling with a group of guys and never cracking a joke? It wouldn’t be that bad to occasionally laugh at ourselves, shared some humour with others, and enjoyed art, music, theater or other forms of entertainment without having to spiritualize it.

Second, the forte of many churches is education. If they can just get you to memorize a creed or two, define penal substitionary atonement, and spell TULIP, you’ll get to heaven. Knowledge, I guess, equals maturity? While learning and teaching good doctrine and refuting bad doctrine is something to be done, it’s not the only thing.

Third, social media is built around people talking, connecting, and interacting with one another. Value is added to the relationship when people bring who they are, what they believe, what makes them laugh, and what makes them cry into the conversation. This is true in real life and on Facebook.

If you asked the question, “What did Jesus do with his time?” your answer will be, “connection and interaction.” In fact, it takes up the majority of his time. Within the church, the value of conversation and interaction tends to be sidelined by larger numbers, ministry budgets, and programs that have been running since polyester was hip. The larger a church grows the more intentional it must be to stay interactive and connected.

Social media is changing our culture. How do churches respond? Do we have the courage to ask ourselves what new opportunities exist to help people mature in the faith? Someone asked me the other day if face to face relationships are even necessary for the community of the faith? Is it possible to be the church while only connected by social media? Where is our new communication taking us?

2 Responses to “Social Media & Spiritual Formation”

  1. My experience has been that social media works best when it is a continuation of a real life, face to face relationship throughout the week.

    Our church uses SoChurch (www.sochurch.com) to stay connected throughout the week and to stay organized without needed to go to the church office to get an announcement out.

    Social media also gives me a window into the lives of the people of my church that I normally wouldn’t have. The danger with that window is that I often see too much, many times being stuff that can taint my view of that person. Something I’m learning how to deal with.

  2. Dan – yes, we’ve found that social media (SM) has augmented the real-life person-to-person connections in our church. For the most part, this has been good.

    A couple of other huge upsides for us:
    1. As a result of SM, I have seen different and isolated communities that I am apart of begin to merge. SM has helped bring not just individuals together, but whole communities.

    2. SM allows for real-time conversations to happen during events and after events in a different medium. Hashtags have become important.

    3. It’s CHEAP.

    One thing that I’ve noticed that I’m not too stoked about is some people’s lack of inhibition with certain posts, threads, etc. It’s almost like there is an ethical/moral disconnect between what they post online and who they are.

    Do you guys have a SM strategy that you are using for your church? How does SoChurch help with that?

    Thanks for your comments!
    -Jer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: