I attended a gathering of friends today in which we discussed various social media. Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etc. There was a great deal of wonderful discussion about the best way churches can utilize social media to communicate with their members and reach those outside the church with the message of Christ.
I was kind of surprised by some of the concerns that were raised. It’s not that I haven’t heard these concerns before, specifically, “it’s so impersonal,” “people will substitute this for real relationships.” I guess I am amazed that there are still people who think this way. Social media is not a fad and is not going away. In fact, businesses are finding out that if you do not communicate in some way through social media, you will be behind the curve. See this VIDEO. Churches have been behind the curve for a while, so what’s the big deal, right? For the rest of the world; however, it isn’t like ways of communicating have not seen major changes over the course of human history. I mean we no longer have messengers travel cross country on foot to deliver a message to another town – much.
There are those who bemoan the lost art of letter writing. From the advent of pen and paper people have communicated with those they love by letter. But if we examine this beloved practice closely, we will recognize the similarities between letter writing and newfangled ways of communicating like email, IM, or Facebook. One of the comments today mentioned the lack of the personal contact in that you cannot read a person’s facial expressions or body language. You cannot read someone’s facial expressions or body language in a letter either, and yet there were romances that started, blossomed and developed through correspondence. People can write their hearts, and share through the written word meaningful truths. Poets through the centuries have expressed deep and powerful thoughts in the written word. In fact, our sacred writings found in the Bible lack facial expressions, body language, and because the of the distance in time a thorough understanding of the culture by many who read these verses and find them to be meaningful in their lives. While it may seem that you cannot compare Facebook with Shakespeare or the writings of Paul, I would say that much of what is written is no different than the typical “letter from home” that would share the trivialities of daily life with those who lived far away.
Another concern expressed today was that people might perhaps substitute an online sermon for church attendance; therefore, never joining the community of faith. Now, I understand that we are trying to encourage people to join a community of faith because this is the fullest expression of us living out our faith and belief. However, I also feel that some of the consideration for this is that we cannot count them as being in our pews on Sunday and they do not give to the organization. I think these are poor excuses at missing out on an opportunity to share the gospel message.
I post my sermons online each week. I will continue, as I am able, to post my sermons regardless of what apportionment or ministry setting I may be in. While I post my sermons on my church’s web site, I also link them on my blog, on Facebook and on Twitter. I know I have several people in the US who visit my blog, but there are also people in Canada, the Philippines, Indonesia, the UK, Australia, Slovakia, India, Ireland and Romania which round out the top ten countries who visit. Of course, I will probably never have contact with the many people who visit the blog or listen to a sermon. I will not be able to count them in my average worship attendance and they will probably never give to the church’s general budget, but I do believe that this is one way I can carry out my commission to “go into the world and make disciples” and continue in the thinking of Wesley that “the world is my parish.” I believe that if God can inspire someone through the feeble, but faithful work that I do to bring the message, God can certainly connect them with a community of faith to baptize, to nurture, and to disciple them in the faith.
As for those who choose to participate in a virtual community such as the various churches found on sites such as Second Life, while I may not think this is the ideal way of developing community, nor do I think that it would feed my soul, I am unwilling to put God in a box and believe that even in this people cannot be reached for God’s Kingdom. There are those with debilitating phobias, who would never leave their homes, so are they unworthy to receive the gospel message because they are unable or unwilling to do so on my terms? This is what I feel we are saying if we scoff at the ministry provided on virtual sites.
The church (all denominations) in the United States is in decline. For too long Christians have been saying, “You must meet us where we are, you must do things the way we do in order to belong.” I am thankful Jesus didn’t sit in the synagogue and say, “all you marginalized folks out there that the temple has rejected, clean up your act and come to me.” For all you Methodist folks out there, I am thankful that John Wesley did believe the world was his parish and left the cathedrals for the fields and coal mines. Jesus did not say, “stay here on this mountain and I will send ready-made disciples to you.” Jesus said, “go in to all the world and make disciples.”