Let's face it-social media plays a pivotal role in nearly everything we do, so why should church be any different? If we're honest, it isn't. When we look closely, it's easy to see ways in which social media can hurt our local churches and, ultimately, even our individual faith.
But remember-there are two sides to everything. Social media may be a saving grace to some people, particularly folks with special needs or limited mobility. Watching sermons online, supplementing your Bible study, and connecting with other people is not inherently bad; on the contrary, they can be valuable and important parts of spiritual life.
Read on and see if these statements have made their way into your own conversations (or thoughts!).
1. “Who Needs a Pastor When I Can Listen to the Most Popular, Mega-church Pastors Online?”
You can learn a lot from listening to other perspectives-they can challenge you and push you to expand your knowledge and examine your existing biases. Many of the super-popular preachers have good things to say, but your local pastor may pale by comparison if he or she isn't as charismatic.
However, the reality is that pastoring a church isn't just about preaching on Sunday mornings. The role of pastor is critical to an individual's spiritual growth. We need leadership, accountability, and a personal touch-not just a handsome face to put on our website banner, but a personal shepherd. Jesus spoke to groups, but seemed to prefer direct conversations. Granted, Facebook wasn't around then, but even if it had been, I believe Jesus would have always preferred a face-to-face connection. Similarly, a good pastor is tuned in to the needs of his congregation and community, and will address teachings that might be timely or specifically relevant.
2. “They” Make Our Church-and Christianity-Look Bad.
Remember the old saying attributed to Groucho Marx? "I wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have me as a member." At times, we apply that mindset to church, too.
We've all seen it: Someone posts sanctimonious and hypocritical comments; or shares harsh, undiplomatic political views; or bashes a company or individual. And then, the next morning, they post pictures of their Bible in the slanting morning light, with the steam from their perfect cup of coffee, and then "check in" to church promptly on Sunday morning.
It's easy to understand why someone who doesn't attend church might be turned off. The truth is we are all ambassadors. When we claim to be Christians, people watch us to see if our behavior matches our professed beliefs. When they do not, we're judged as hypocrites-and that damages the reputation of our local churches, not to mention that of the Church as a whole. Pay attention to what you post (and what you say, and what you believe). If it doesn't line up with Scripture, or if it doesn't look like Jesus, it's best to skip it.
3. “When I Go to the Church, Half the People are on Their Phones. What’s the Point?”
It's difficult to resist the lure of social media; our brains crave the hit of dopamine generated by likes and comments. Social media is addictive because we want instant gratification-not just 2 or 4 likes but hundreds. We want our posts to go viral for everyone to see them.
But serving God isn't about instant gratification. Some of the most profound lessons come to us over time. We learn patience by waiting for answers. Spiritual growth comes one small step at a time. People don't change overnight, and social media, with its immediate response time, teaches us to expect things to happen NOW. This hurts our faith and leads to our feeling forgotten when we don't get immediate answers to our prayers.
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The solution is spending time in God's presence. Recognizing the value of companionship with the Almighty. Remembering that the cure for most things-our grief, loneliness, doubts, despair-comes when we saturate ourselves in God's presence. Through prayer and studying the Word, the Holy Spirit speaks-and that is how things change. Not with the click of a button or application of an emoji.
4. “I Can Watch a Sermon Online Anytime. I’d Rather Sleep in on Sunday.”
I promise you, I like to sleep in as much as the next person. Probably more. Like so many of you, I'm tired. School and work (and team sports) are not really optional events, so the only activity with any flexibility is church. It's easier not to go.
Church, though, when it operates as intended, is about so much more than the sermon. It offers relationship/fellowship. Interaction. Opportunities to share our experiences and learn from others (not just the pastor). Someone leading us into a state of worship, which we can and should do on our own, but often neglect. The Bible instructs us to meet together, and I think that is because Jesus was all about relationships. He knows we need them.
It's easier to let online interaction substitute for the real thing. Honestly, it is. But when we settle for that, we're cheating ourselves-and each other.
5. “I Can Join a Bible Study Online, So I’ll Just Stay Home.”
A lot of great resources are available online, and they're a great supplement to what we can do on our own. The internet brings a plethora of information to our fingertips. We can discover more, faster. But it also means that we might spend more time reading what someone else wrote than figuring it out for ourselves, and it has been proven that information we learn on our own sticks with us longer.
The Holy Spirit can and will reveal meaning to you when you seek God, but if you're not spending time studying the Bible on your own, you're cheating yourself. Online Bible study has plenty to offer, but there's something powerful about being in a room with a group of like-minded seekers that is difficult to replicate over the internet.
6. Since Social Media is Quick and Easy, Churches May Substitute Tweets for Direct Connection.
When church leadership posts to a Facebook group or sends a tweet, it can reach a large number of people quickly. The flaw in this thinking is twofold: One, sharing info online should never substitute for personally relaying important messages. And two, not everyone is on social media, so you may be alienating the elderly members of the congregation or those who cannot afford internet and large data plans.
Social media lends itself to quick dissemination of information with minimal effort on the part of the sender, so it makes sense to use it to notify people of urgent prayer requests or last-minute announcements. Sometimes, though, important things can be overlooked or buried in a sea of meaningless posts, so if an announcement or prayer request isn't time critical, you may want to consider printing it in a bulletin or paper newsletter that can be posted on a fridge or tucked into your Bible. Don't stop what you're already doing, but be aware of whether it matches its intent and reaches those you need to reach.
7. “I See Enough ‘Fake News’ Already; I Can’t Deal with it From Church People, Too.”
The social media environment is rife with misunderstandings and perpetuates misinformation. Most people do not pay close attention to their language and grammar and-best-case scenario-their posts are misread or confusing. One study showed that about 70% of all articles shared were not read by the person who shared them; they simply read the headline and passed it on. This becomes problematic when the information isn't fact-checked or assumptions are made by the reader that are not accurate.
Worst-case, is that people misinterpret Scripture, they twist a teaching to fit their life at that moment, or they use Bible verses to pat themselves on the back for their holy righteousness. And it makes the whole church look bad, while also casting doubt on everything else they share-even their testimony.
8. “If Church Members Post it, it Must be True-of the Whole Church.”
Related to the last point, incorrect information paints you in a bad light. But that shadow may extend past you to immerse your whole church.
When someone in authority makes a public statement, it's logical for others to assume those views represent the organization as a whole. A post from a church member may lead people to think that the opinion is coming from the pastor or leadership of their local church or even the Church-with-a-capital-C, but oftentimes, it is no more than one person's point of view.
Whatever the scenario, the end result is that bad information, harsh judgments, or hypocrisy will turn people away. People who read them may not be able (or willing) to distinguish between the individual's point of view and that of the whole church.
9. “You Look Like You Have it All Together … and I’m Pretty Messed Up, So I Won’t Fit in.”
The picture-perfect Christian life can make even the best of us feel bad about ourselves. And if we're not doing what we should be-say, refusing to forgive a friend, or spending zero time in prayer-then it only adds to the guilt when other people post about how holy they are. In their defense, most people don't mean it that way. But when I see twelve posts in a row about friends' quiet time, their word of the year, and what Bible studies are speaking to them-and I've forgotten how to talk to God, or I'm facing a stumbling block-these posts don't draw me closer to God. Instead, they push me away because I feel inadequate.
The truth is that we all struggle. Some people let it all hang out and hold nothing back online, and others are more reserved because it's important to them to only put their best foot forward, but none of us are perfect. We need to be careful how we show ourselves publicly.
We can be "real" while not being vulgar, hypocritical, or judgmental. When people see we're flawed but still serving God anyway-recipients of His grace and love in spite of it all speak louder than any meme ever will.
10. “I Don’t Really Want to Talk to People Because I’m an Introvert, So I’ll Stick to Online Connections.”
Makes sense-except for the fact that much of what happens online remains superficial. Even when it goes deeper, we often allow it to substitute for direct interaction. I read an article once about how social media has damaged dating. People might have trouble making conversation because they've shared every detail of their lives all day-what they had for breakfast, which outfit they wore today, what book they're reading, and so on. Then, when it's time to talk face to face, they've used up all their small talk.
When we see someone on social media, we think we know them-but remember, people can carefully guard what they post and share. There's more to a person than their profile reveals. Have you ever met someone and not recognized them because they look nothing like their profile picture? That shows that we really don't know those people. An online presence is just one dimension of our personalities; true bonding between people may be more likely in person. A church is meant to equip believers to reach out and serve God together-and "together" is the key. Jesus and the Disciples were all about the personal connection and sharing of stories, so don't give up on meeting people face-to-face, introvert or not. Your church will be stronger because of it.
Kelly O'Dell Stanley is the author of Praying Upside Down and Designed to Pray. A graphic designer who writes (or is it a writer who designs?), she's also a redhead who's pretty good at controlling her temper, a believer in doing everything to excess, and a professional wrestler of doubt and faith. She offers free prayer prompt calendars at kellyostanley.com and calls small-town Indiana her home.
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