Did Facebook kill the church? I think Richard Beck does make a good point. The availability of social media makes it possible for Millennials to leave church and think that they have sufficient social connections. Thought they may say it is hypocrisy, etc. – those are only proximate causes; the real cause is that they have alternatives. The author is fine with that. I’m not.
While I won’t say that social media relationships aren’t real, I will say they are not deep enough to sustain genuine Christian life. There is something essential about a notion of place, about the need for touch and face-to-face communication, for becoming truly part of someone’s life (flaws and all). What kind of mentoring or discipleship is possible? How do you do church discipline (and not the last step, but the preliminary steps) if all you ever see is what someone tweets or puts on their Facebook status? I’m glad for the ways social media allow me to retain some relationship with those who are distant from me and for ways it can sustain and even enrich other kinds of relationships. But it is not, I believe, a sufficient substitute.
One other point. The author suggests:
Most of our Facebook interactions are with people we know, love, and are in daily contact with. Facebook isn’t replacing “real” relationships with “virtual” relationships. It’s simply connecting us to our real friends.
I think that is true. But it neglects one of the parts of community that is critical. I don’t think of all the people in my church as “real friends” or as people I know, love and am in constant contact with. Sometimes they are people I don’t like, disagree with, and would rather avoid. True community (and true Christianity) requires us to share in life together with those I am unlike. Social media has the potential of creating a virtual recapitulation of the homogeneous principle. We hang out with people we like, who share our cultural interests and values, who are of the same social/racial/ethnic/economic/political grouping as we are. That is not the church. And if we just give up and say it’s good enough, we have failed.
One more point. This trend could also be a benefit to the church in unexpected ways. It may be that we can once again focus on being a church if those who are only there for social reasons drop away. Perhaps there will be a remnant of people committed to being a true church with all the ugliness and messiness (and beauty and wonder) that such an existence entails. It may be easier to transform churches that are not filled with people primarily interested in a social club. If so, perhaps Facebook will not only kill the church (the domesticated, American, social church), but will be the means (indirectly) of bringing the church back to life in a different and more glorious way.