How to Think about Social Networking in Churches
It Distorts Reality
Matthew Lee Anderson is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith (Bethany House) and blogs at MereOrthodoxy.com.
The benefits of social networking are many but require judicious and responsible use to be enjoyed. When done well, social networking can enhance the fellowship of the church by providing congregants a window into each other's lives. It can mobilize congregants to serve their neighbors and enhance the church's mission by embedding the community of church relationships in the broader community.
But social media can merely offer a short-term, technological solution to deeper, more fundamental problems. Social networking can give the appearance of intimacy and community without enabling the substance of embodied friendship.
The more we wed ourselves to social networking as a strategy for building community, the more we risk forgetting that the problems in our communities do not hinge upon lack of access to shared information about each other's lives. They result from our own reluctance to share space and meals together, and to enter into environments and social situations that require our embodied presence. The comforting arm around a shoulder that comes when we "weep with those who weep" will never have an equal virtual substitute.
In that sense, while not immediately harmful to fellowship, we should ask whether social media undermine our intuitions about what is distinctive and unique about the gathered, embodied fellowship of the people of God.
This is especially true now that social networking is increasingly video-centric. Video social networking seems to make online sharing more like embodied presence. This makes it more difficult to see what is unique about being together in body, and may make us think church gatherings are unnecessary.
Social networking reminds us of our intrinsic sociality, but constantly moves us closer to the point where sociality no longer requires our bodies to be fully human.
As Christians, we serve a God who became flesh and dwelt among us. We have a principled reason by which we can say "stop" when technological expansion sabotages our humanity.
That does not mean Christians shouldn't use social networks. I continue to use them, both personally and professionally. But in doing so, we need to recognize that social networks hold within them the false promise of purporting to help the church's gathering while at the same time undermining it in future generations.
It Deepens Fellowship
Brandon Vogt is a Catholic writer and speaker who blogs at ThinVeil.net. He is the author of The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet (Our Sunday Visitor).
At its core, the church is one giant social network. It exists as an intricate, interconnected community. Even more, God is a network himself—the Trinity—pulsating with communion.
As social beings created by a communal God, we should take courage and not be afraid of modern social media. There are five primary reasons congregations should embrace these tools to aid church fellowship.
First, fellowship is not an end in itself, but a means to many other goals: community, mission, evangelization, and spiritual growth. Social media amplify each of these elements exponentially and therefore are a potent aid to fellowship.
Second, social networking transcends geography. These tools extend fellowship beyond the church walls and stretch it around the world. They help us fulfill Jesus' command to Peter, which still echoes for us: "Put out into deep water" (Luke 5:4).