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Will Facebook kill the church?

Richard Beck posted a provocatively titled discussion recently: “How Facebook killed the church.”
Actually, the social networking Web site isn’t the only culprit, Beck writes on his blog, experimentaltheology.blogspot.com. The growth in instantaneous communication technology — from cell phones to wireless Internet — has played a role in declining church attendance in the Western world, says Beck, an associate professor and experimental psychologist at Abilene Christian University in Texas.
Those of us who use such technology bristle at this thought. We receive text messages about upcoming church events. Hundreds of ministries, including The Christian Chronicle, have fan pages on Facebook. Our reporters have used the Web site to connect with believers around the globe.
If anything, technology has increased our connections to our church community, right?
Exactly, Beck says.
And that’s the problem.
“Church has always been about social affiliation,” he writes. “You met your friends, discussed your week, talked football, shared information about good schools, talked local politics, got the scoop and made social plans.”
Today’s young adults “don’t need physical locations for social affiliation,” Beck writes. “They can make dinner plans via text, cell phone call or Facebook. In short, the thing that kept young people going to church … has been effectively replaced.”
Before you balk at Beck’s assertions about church, think about a time in your life when you felt alone. Perhaps you left home for college and found yourself in a community of non-believers. Or you graduated from a Christian university and moved to a city where you had no Christian friends.
Do you remember feeling a strong need to attend church — not just for spiritual renewal, but for interaction with fellow believers? What happens when younger generations find virtual venues to fill that need?
Regardless of our views on technology in a changing world, we can agree that our churches must be about more than “social affiliation.” Many of our outreach programs function on an “if you build it, they will come” mentality. We attract young people with the promise of activities and interaction. The Gospel comes later. If Beck’s assertions are true, the days of such programs succeeding are gone — if indeed they ever existed.
Last year the Chronicle interviewed young Christians about their faith. None of them said they wanted their churches to be sites for social networking or places for entertainment. They longed for meaningful ministry. They wanted to get involved, to feel useful.
Our churches can provide such opportunities — for those inside the church and those outside seeking a deeper relationship with God. How can we effectively communicate such opportunities to a generation that interacts and “meets” only in cyberspace?
Oddly enough, the likely answer is Facebook.

  • Feedback
    I think this article was excellent at making us think about how we can keep church relevant to this generation. I find Facebook to be a great tool that we are just learning how to tap into. I am 55 years old, so not too young, but I use FB to check on sick members, find out what is happening, update members about events, and have even been able to contact people I’ve lost touch with. I work in the church office, and I love being able to keep connected with everyone with just a couple minutes here and there. I love getting birthday wishes or having people check up each other with a quick note. There is no substitute for our time of worship and meeting face-to-face, but
    FB can be a great tool for keeping in touch.
    Norma Cook
    Newberg Church of Christ
    Newberg, OR
    April, 21 2010

    Part of the issue has been created by our lazy speech. Immersion does not make one a Christian. A Christian is one who follows Jesus. Following Jesus requires obeying his Commands. According to the author of Hebrews following Jesus includes assembling with others who have been immersed and encouraging them to love and good works. Obeying Jesus’ commands requires one to read and to study the Bible to know his commands. Anyone who has not been immersed as shown in examples in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles and does not assemble with fellow believers is not Christian. Facebook will have no affect on Christians but it will give an out to pretenders.
    John Jenkins
    Great Smoky Mountains Church of Christ
    Gatlinburg, TN
    April, 20 2010

    As I was reading the editoral on Facebook, I was impressed with the comments about this subject. I am so pleased as well as encouraged that there is a true Christian place to go and share with other christians. It is true that technology has taken a strong grip upon our society. It is also a pleasure to read such positive thoughts. Prayers to all christians out in the Lord’s vineyard serving the one and only True and living God.
    Thanks for the opportunity to learn about other Christian’s thoughts and ideas.
    ********** *******
    ********** *******
    Home Church
    Chickasha, OK
    April, 17 2010

    Its so easy to focus on outside influences that are “killing” the church of Christ. When in reality, most of what I have seen killing the church has been from leadership issues, internal human frailties and lack of true study of the Word, lack of meaningful teaching of the way to apply this in todays world. It would be so much better to focus on living as much like Christ as possible, than worrying about facebook. Dont get sucked into rhetoric.
    Anywhere, US
    April, 13 2010

    In regard to Facebook, I can see where some might say it’s a distraction. However, I agree with a lot of people on here when they say that get to know the members of church better. People seems to be reserved in person, but tend to say whatever is on their mind over the network. Kind of sad to say that, but that’s just the reality of it. Some of the kids in my youth group tend to express themselves more online than they do in class, so it’s easy for me to see that they are struggling with something and then I can bring it up to them the next time I see them or give them a call. For instance, I saw that one of my kids was sick the other day, so I called him. Without seeing that on Facebook I wouldn’t have known to pray for him.
    Josh Moyer
    Newalla Church of Christ
    Newalla , Oklahoma
    April, 13 2010

    When all the reality shows were such a hit I read a psych report that talked about how people have a strong desire to be involved in other people’s lives. But it can get messy. So the reality shows filled that void without you having to worry about your neighbor asking you to help move the couch or talking to you about his/her problems.
    Steve Stafford
    Southern Hills
    Abilene, TX
    April, 12 2010

    Through Facebook, I have learned much about people that I previously only knew in passing at church, and have developed closeness to some brothers and sisters I never would have had. People know me much better as well, and there have been many opportunities for us to immediately support and lift up others who are having troubles and are in a bad place. I’ve renewed friendships with church friends from my youth, and used FB to promote events at the church. It can be a great tool for bringing closer, or an excuse to keep us apart. Most want to join together.
    Gary Lewis
    Southwest Church of Christ
    Tigard, Oregon
    April, 8 2010

    I don’t think that Facebook is doing any harm at all. In fact facebook allows me to keep in touch not only with members at Lynn Street, but my church friends all over the world. It is great to have this to keep and touch and find Chrisitan friends I have not been able to find for a long time. So I am glad to be a part of this social net work. I also keep in touch with my children the same way.
    Frank Quaranta
    Lynn Street
    Parkersburg, WV
    April, 8 2010

    One thing I’ve noticed about friends in my generation (I’m 22) is that we rarely call someone if we can text someone or send them a Facebook message. We’re only connected through text messages whether that means cell phone texting, Facebook, MySpace (oh wait, that’s sooo 2000), or the classic electronic-mail. No one talks to each other anymore and it’s a shame because we lose the ability to read emotions when all we’re doing is reading. Everyone translates what they read differently (one reason why there is such a wide range of opinions on what the biblical texts mean). Facebook can be a GREAT tool for ministry, but if it isn’t couple with real life interaction then the point of it becomes almost moot.
    Spencer Drew
    Hopwood Memorial Christian Church
    Johnson City, TN
    April, 8 2010

    What about www.gospelflock.com. GospelFlock – Where the Church of Christ meet.
    Central Church of Christ
    Cape Town, Western Cape
    South Africa
    April, 8 2010

    I find myself engaging fellow church members that I do not see often because of our two worship service time in conversation on FB. This avenue has also increased my awareness of prayer needs, struggles and has allowed me to grow closer to those that I may not have know so well. I find that it is nearly impossible to continually grow existing and create new relationships with fellow church members with the time constraints of being parents to teens, ministry commitments and the like without something like a social networking site. There are only so many palms you can press on any given Sunday!
    Brian Lea
    Pleasant Ridge Church of Christ
    Arlington, Texas
    April, 8 2010

    Within the past few weeks, our family has lost a loved one who succombed to cancer. Within this amount of time, we:
    (1) sent him words of encouragement via E-mail (and Facebook),
    (2) sent pictures via E-mail drawn by our daughters,
    (3) reminded him daily all 4 of us were praying for him,
    (4) located a congregation close to him (750+ miles away from us),
    (5) contacted a minister there via E-mail, who visited our family members there, set up a study with them, and baptized both of them prior to the passing of the one who was sick.
    Speed of the internet may cater to the “let’s get this over with quickly” philosophy that is so prevalent in our daily lives, but it can also speed up things that cannot wait–for the sake of eternity.
    Russell G. Sharp
    Edmond, Oklahoma
    April, 8 2010

    The issue here is too many people are attending church when we need to be concentrating on “being the church” We have left that concept behind and when that is fixed attendance at worship and classes will be what it should.
    John Coiner
    waynesboro coc
    Stuarts draft, va
    April, 8 2010

    If we teach our young properly (young in the faith, as well as in chronological age), their priorities will be challenged continually, but not obliterated.
    Do we gather together on the first day of the week to satisfy needs of ourselves and fellow Christians? …or are we to do so to break bread (remember the Lord’s death in the Lord’s Supper) and worship together?
    The timeclock-punching mentality may be more to blame than technology. Is Christianity merely a set of obligations, or is it a relationship? We need to reinforce the idea that glorifying God is a 24-hours-a-day pursuit–that it should not just cause us to make time for activities which are totally spiritually-centered, but also heavily influence HOW we do everything we do.
    Russell G. Sharp
    Edmond, Oklahoma
    Edmond, Oklahoma
    April, 8 2010

    I found it interesting that the article claimed facebook and other social networking sites were the problem because people didn’t need the church for social interaction. My question is if they were going to church purely for social interaction, were they going for the right reasons? The article said, “None of them said they wanted their churches to be sites for social networking or places for entertainment. They longed for meaningful ministry.” I agree. The whole point of going to church is worshiping the Lord, celebrating Jesus, striving to be a better person. All the social stuff is just extra. It doesn’t matter how full the church seats are if the people aren’t really there to worship the Lord.
    Audrey Mihalacki
    Currently Looking
    Chardon, Ohio
    United States
    April, 8 2010

    Thank you for the thoughtful editorial in May’s issue regarding Facebook. Facebook will not kill the church anyone than television did in the 50s. It will change how churches run programs and even change how a congregation identifies itself.
    These changes should not affect doctrine at all. Instead, it should change the attitudes we have about ‘how things get done’. My experience bears out that Millenials want meaningful ministry. They want to help the poor, they want serve the community. They want experiences that cannot be provided online.
    It is possible that a group could meet together online to worship, pray and encourage one another. Yet, members will leave in droves without meaningful service to the community.
    John Payne
    Omaha Church of Christ
    Omaha, NE
    April, 8 2010

    We will adapt to the cyber age much as we adapted to changes in rural to urban churches.
    Rural churches tend to have family structures in place. One does not typically go to a rural church for a family-like experience. But one may well go to an urban church for a family experience. Urban life tends to bring together those who are not near family members. As Americans moved from farms to cities, the social needs of Christians changed to the church being the urban family in many ways.
    A similar adaptation will have to happen with a network society. We can bemoan this new permutation, or we can roll up our sleeves and find ways to connect that are not rural, not urban or suburban, but global.
    Mark Parker
    White Station
    Memphis, Tennessee
    April, 8 2010

    Technology is neither good nor evil, it can be used for either purpose, just as a knife can be used to cut food or commit murder. My wife converses regularly on Facebook with several of our Sisters in Christ, and feels like she knows them better because of it. My Father-in-law posts a regular Bible-based article on his Facebook page as an outreach to the lost(he also has a voluntary Federal prison ministry once a week). Trying to “attract” people to “the Church” with gimmicks is not ultimately effective. If we preach Christ crucified, and love our neighbors as ourselves, God will take care of the rest of it. He always has.
    Steve Brown
    Edgehill Church of Christ
    Petersburg, VA
    April, 8 2010

    I have found that Facebook makes me feel more connected and excited to see people that I worship with. It has been especially encouraging to “see each other” more than at the building. Remember the Bereans of Acts 17:11. How would they use the tool of facebook?
    In his service, Marla Merriman
    Marla Merriman
    Church of Christ Great Falls MT
    Great Falls, MT
    April, 8 2010

    Facebook, like money, is merely a vehicle that can be used positively or negatively as a tool for the church. We have a Facebook page for our congregation and use it to inform our friends of upcoming church events, church news, and prayer requests. There are also numerous links to Bible study and Christian University websites. We have invited friends from other faith groups hoping that in a non threatening way it will introduce them to the Lord’s Church.
    Harold Letson
    Fair Haven Church of Christ
    Moulton, AL
    April, 8 2010

    Great points here. FB is both a challenge and an opportunity. We ignore both at our own peril.
    Danny Dodd
    Pensacola, Fl
    April, 8 2010

Filed under: Editorial Staff Reports

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