With more than 3.26 billion internet users, it’s likely that everyone in your church is connected online in some way. In fact, globally 52% of all internet users access the internet world from a mobile device. That makes the internet a good vehicle to deliver ministry tools for discipleship and missions. According to one report, there are more than 2.7 million blog posts published each day. That’s a lot of words, and many of them are centered on Christ and His church. In our fast moving culture of technology-loving people, it’s hard to imagine a church that doesn’t use social media on some level or another for ministerial purposes. However, could social media be hurting your local church?
Replacing Real Social Relationships
Just a simple word search for the phrase, “one another” over on the ESV Bible website produced 253 results. Consider the calling of God’s people to love one another, to carry one another’s burdens, to sharpen one another, to encourage one another, to pray for one another, to serve one another, and to worship with one another. Our calling as Christians involves being social. That’s why God’s plan for His church involves us being with other believers on a regular basis. Each time we gather together we are reminded that we’re not alone.
We’re not alone online either. Facebook now has over 1.94 billion monthly users according to the latest reports (March of 2017). Although Facebook has provided many opportunities to stay connected with people, in the life of the church it may be hurting us. Could our hearts be satisfied with pixilated images on our device rather than the real face of a person sitting across the room in our local church on Sunday morning? Like it or not, Facebook is changing how we view friendships, how we interact with others, how we “accept” friendships, and how we “unfriend” people. In an attempt to keep people connected, social media may just be doing the opposite in your local church. The language of the Bible encourages us to push back against the idea of impersonal local church relationships and to love one another (1 John 4:7-8).
Replacing Real Discipleship Opportunities
According to the Scriptures, we are called to engage in genuine discipleship making ministries through our local church. The work of discipleship is hard, sometimes messy, time consuming, joyful, burdensome, fun, and challenging all at the same time. Yet, this is the will of God for our lives (Matt. 28:18-20; Titus 2). Discipleship involves social interaction, so at first glance, discipleship and social media would be a great combination for the local church—right? Not so fast.
Rather than sacrificing time and going to a physical location to sit with other brothers and sisters in Christ for a Bible study, social media has created opportunities for people to gather in online groups where the conversation is carried out through Facebook Live, FaceTime, Skype (video and audio), or just plain text conversations. No matter how good technology becomes, it will still prevent the intimacy needed for true discipleship. Notice that Paul wasn’t satisfied with the technology of the pen and parchment—he longed to be with his fellow Christians and disciples (1 Thess. 3:6; Rom. 1:10-11).
Smart phones may be smart, but they’re also very selfish. Everything from the way the phone is decorated to the type of apps downloaded on the device all center on the desires of the owner. The same thing is often true regarding friends online. People who we don’t enjoy, we tend to keep our distance from them in our online relationships. Consider how this cuts off a great deal of the population within the church. Consider the older generation who often don’t spend a great deal of time in SnapChat and Twitter, how are you going to rub shoulders with such valuable people and personalities if you never interact with them. Don’t miss opportunities to disciple others or to be discipled by others by expecting technology to perform a job it will never be able to accomplish. As much as we hate to admit it—social media is a bit antisocial.
Replacing Real Corporate Worship
The writer to the Hebrews addressed a concerning trend among the early Christian community. He instructs the church to refrain from forsaking the assembly of the body. Skipping church may not seem like a big deal, but it’s a much larger issue than you can imagine. That’s why the Scriptures deal with it. That’s why the writer to the Hebrews pointed it out. However, he didn’t merely point out the negative, he actually went on to address the need in a positive manner. The need of the church is to encourage one another and to stir up one another’s affections of love.
With the rapid pace of technological advancement, the small community church is now able to provide live streaming of their worship services weekly at little to no cost through Facebook Live. Now, you find people using such technology to remain disconnected from their local church because they’re able to watch online services and even interact with the sermon in the comments section. Although streaming services may be a good crutch for sick people to use during recovery or for those traveling while out of town—it should never be used as a substitute for genuine corporate assembly and worship.
What happens in the room with the gathered church can never be replicated on a screen—even it it’s viewed live. It’s impossible. There is something unique about meeting together as a corporate church family that cannot be achieved through technology. There is something about a real man standing in a pulpit with an open Bible laboring for your soul. There is something unique about rubbing shoulders with the church family before and after the service that cannot be achieved through the screen of a smart phone.
The church can use online tools, apps, devices, and the internet as a vehicle for getting some ministry accomplished, but it cannot replace God’s ancient disciple making plan. Being social online is not the same as being social in person. Technology shields us from a certain vulnerability that’s necessary in the life of the local church family. Don’t become a self-focused narcissist by socializing, reading, talking, and interacting with groups in your church while constantly looking down at a device. Stop what you’re doing. Look up. Look into the eyes of real people and communicate. Become a real person who exists in a real church for the glory of Christ.
We use social media because we want to build and cultivate friendships. Our inner desire is to be with people and often it’s a desire that we all have woven into the fabric of our humanity. Deep down inside we don’t want to be alone. Each time we gather with the church we recognize that these are God’s people, our family of faith, and we are not on this journey alone. Take time to cultivate real relationships that last even during a power outage. In many ways technology is helping the church—universally and locally. That can be said of the use of social media too. However, technology has its limitations in all areas, and we can certainly see that social media is rather impersonal and lacking in genuine depth socially.
The church needs better, the Lord calls for better, and we must strive to achieve more authentic relationships in the life of the local church.