FaceBook Killed The Church

This may actually be my first post that ties together my two great interests: technology and theology. I was sent this article which has as its thesis that Facebook has killed the church.  The argument is essentially as follows:

  1. The reason people went to church was because of the social connections available there.  For much of the church’s history, it was the primary social group of culture.
  2. Facebook as well as other technological means like cell phones have now provided easier ways to connect without that.  Contrary to popular (albeit unproven) belief, Facebook does not make your relationships more shallow.
  3. The church has therefore lost its main advantage and there really isn’t anything keeping most young people in the pews.

Generally speaking, I like some of his concepts, but I think he is way off on some overgeneralizing as well.

The social aspect has definitely been an important part of some churches. Yes, some, not all. In my own history, I’d say one of my past or present churches I went to at least in part because of the social aspect. Most of the other churches in my life I have had very little social connection, and that has usually come in small groups on the university campus instead. I can often go to church, worship, and leave without talking to anybody other than maybe a “good morning” or two. If churches are only a social club, they tend to suck at it. So maybe you could tweak the thesis and say that we don’t talk to people at church even when we go regularly because we are so well-connected to so many others the rest of the week? I don’t buy it personally, but the more important point is that lots of people go to church for reasons other than social connection. Maybe a genuine desire to worship. Maybe for the teaching. Maybe for the comfort of the liturgy or rituals. Maybe because the church has helped them when they needed food or shelter or something else. Some may go for the social connections, but it’s definitely not the only reason and I don’t think it’s even close to the most common reason.

His history is also a bit flawed to me.  He says that the church has always been behind the times, seen as hypocritical and such as my own generation tends to think (and I often agree).  I think that is completely wrong.  Since World War II, yes, the Christian church has often been affiliated in the public eye with conservatism – in my opinion not because most Christians are conservative but because the conservative ones make the best media headlines. But that’s about 60 years out of the 2000 of the church’s history. Before that, and still in many ways today that just get ignored because a Christian caring for victims of the sex trade is not nearly as interesting of a story as a Christian picketing a soldier’s funeral because of homosexuality in the military. The church has been a strong liberating force in society, usually seen as very freeing and not restrictive. The church has had lots of problems of course, but in general compared to societal norms, it was usually the church pushing things forward not holding them back. So I don’t think the “unChristian” views of the church that he claims have always been like that actually have always been like that. I still think the main reason people have left the church is because of the church’s flaws not being addressed, as well as cultural shifts like individualism, consumerism, and rationalism, not because there is competition on the social marketplace.

Another note: it’s very Western-centric. As we bemoan the decline of the church in North America and Europe, it’s exploding in South America, Africa and Asia. This point actually annoys me a lot when I read writing that is complaining about the death of the church. Guess what? People outside of European heritage can be Christian too! Is that continuing growth elsewhere because those cultures don’t have cellphones for everybody yet? I don’t buy it – I think it’s because those cultures have managed to maintain a bit more of what the church should be as more than a social group. All of that leads up to the important question: what then should the church be? What did the Godhead have in mind when Jesus established the church? And what is the Holy Spirit, which has empowered the church, saying to us now? And if we’re not doing it, what needs to change? If we love as Christ loved us, I bet it would be a lot harder to claim that the church is just a social group so has become unnecessary in our technological culture.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.