John Meunier cites comments by Mark Cuban, owner or the Mavericks, who says he doesn’t need the new media because he can reach their readers just as well himself. I would note in passing, though it’s not the topic of this blog, that I think Cuban is optimistic about his ability to reach people directly. I get my sports information via the internet, and I almost never do so through the team’s web site or official channels. But that’s something time will test.
Meunier’s application to the church is interesting, however, and matches with some things I’ve read recently and also heard in discussions at church, i.e. in the physical building we call church. The general idea is that because people can make connections now via social media, they need the church less. I have no doubt that for certain definitions of “church” and “need” this is true. People who attended church for the purpose of social or business networking no longer need the church as much in that particular way.
So if your church exists for the purpose of providing social networking, then your church indeed is obsolete, or is rapidly becoming obsolete. Even someone like me, past middle age, can contact my business associates, friends, and family via social media and text. In fact, I do almost all my business networking online. That doesn’t mean I don’t ever want to physically meet people. In fact, I like to meet them whenever possible. But I have had design work done by people I never physically met. I regularly publish authors I have never met. I sell to people I have never met in physical space.
The problem here is with the definition of church. We use “church” to refer to the building, to the congregation that meets there, to denominations, and to the church universal. Our physical building is diminishing in importance. Not becoming useless (or obsolete), mind you, but diminishing in its role. The local congregation, in the sense of those located in one physical place, is diminishing in importance, as we have it now. But there is no reason in all of this to suggest that the church, as the body of Christ in the world, is diminishing in importance. Unless, of course, we’ve made church equivalent to one of those other things.
Social media is regularly decried as a means of keeping people apart. But people are using it to get together. People complain about how the easy access to one another via cell phones, on Twitter, on Facebook, and in so many other ways diminishes more personal contact. But for me, and I know for many others, all of those are means of keeping in better touch with people I care about. In addition, they make it possible for me to find out about, and care about, people I might never have met otherwise.
The building was never the church in the first place, at least in the biblical sense. Yes, we use the word that way, and I’m not complaining about the way language changes. We just need to be aware of which definition of “church” we’re using. Social media means the building is less important, because it gives us other ways of connecting.
Now if your church, in the sense of local congregation, existed largely as a social network, it’s going to be obsolete as well. It just isn’t as efficient at social networking any more. If that was all your church was, there’s no reason to mourn its passing. But if your congregation was a gather of people filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered to do ministry (see 1 Corinthians 12-14 and don’t skip chapter 13), then three things may happen.
First, you can expand your congregation and connect it to other congregations more efficiently. There might be a congregation in some other part of the world that needs to connect to your gifts in order to serve where they are. You can connect with them via social media, and both be more effective.
Second, you can more efficiently get your congregation aware of, and working together on the things you are called to do. You can arrange rapid responses to disasters. You can discuss the Sunday School lesson on your Facebook wall. You can tweet about the church service if it excites you and thus reach people who couldn’t, or wouldn’t (and probably won’t) enter your building.
Third, remember all those buildings? As they became less useful as places for the membership to gather, you can convert them for use in other ministries, or if you find no new use for them, sell them, and use the money to accomplish the church’s mission. I personally think church campuses are the most underutilized class of real estate around. What good is that sanctuary to anyone during the week?
Speaking of which, and only slightly off topic, what is it with all these closed and locked gyms (or family life centers, or whatever you call them)? I’m guessing that if the church was willing to go to work you could have young people using those facilities for fun and learning. Many of them wouldn’t be church members? Their parents aren’t paying tithe to support the building? Good! Learn as a church to give in mission. There’s a risk in having kids off the street in your facility? They might tear it up? Good! It all belongs to Jesus anyhow, and he can handle it.
- Social media helps places of worship deepen bonds of community (knoxnews.com)
- Mark Cuban as church thinker (johnmeunier.wordpress.com)
- Getting Young People in Church (maryharristodd.wordpress.com)
- 5 Ways Hiding Your Social Presence Hurts You (outspokenmedia.com)
- Social Media and It’s Positive Impact on Non-Profit Animal Shelters (comm563.wordpress.com)