Facebook and the Church Redux

Day in and day out, this little corner of the blog world is pretty quiet. Occasionally, however, something I write ricochets around the Internet (for example, a few weeks ago, with a head's up from Wayne, Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish linked to The Theology of Calvin and Hobbes). This activity settles down after a day or so but then, perhaps a year or two later, another tipping point is hit, usually via Twitter, and the activity for a particular essay lights up again.

If you follow the comments on the sidebar or RSS feed you'll have noticed that my post How Facebook Killed the Church woke back up over the last few days. Largely due to these blogs--Jesus Creed, First Things, and The Lookout--where you can follow lots of interesting conversations about my argument and my IQ.

(One fun consequence of this recent attention is that the original essay is now being translated into Chinese for the Taiwan Church News newspaper affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan.)

I tend to approach these external conversations with good cheer and curiosity. Because at the end of the day who really cares what I think or if I'm a dunderhead? And yet, it's hard to not step in to correct all the misconceptions and misunderstandings. So, instead, a few clarifications offered here, on my home turf.

First, the post in question ends with the provocative claim:

Basically, Facebook killed the church. May it Rest in Peace.
A lot of people are misunderstanding what I was trying to say. I wasn't referring to the communion of the saints. I was referring to what we might call "the Facebook church," the church-as-affiliation-network. Such a church does indeed exist, for better or worse. And I do think the demise of that church is a good thing. I think it will help move Christianity toward a more missional future.

Second, some people think I'm trashing social networking. I'm not. In fact, I'm tacitly praising it. I'm basically saying that social networking is so effective that we no longer need physical locations to mix and mingle. The local church was, once, one of those places (as were other "third places"). Web 2.0 is, I think, putting competitive pressure on those traditional meeting spaces. Further, I'm also not saying that social networking can't be effectively used by churches. In fact, I think the church is going to have to play ball with Web 2.0.

Third, a lot of people think that I'm trying to offer a grand theory for why people, young people in particular, are growing disillusioned with the church. I'm not offering a grand theory. I'm just highlighting one particular variable that I believe has been involved in these trends. I'm an experimental psychologist. Due to my work I'm fully aware that the complexity of human behavior cannot be explained by a simple "A causes B" model. True, the rhetoric of my essay was hyperbolic and totalizing. But I was writing a blog post to make a point and, thus, given the medium, eshewed all the caution and circumspection of a scientific approach. I accept responsibility for that, but seriously, who would read a post entitled "How Facebook Might Possibly Be Implicated in Church Attendance Trends"?

So what was the point I was trying to make with my original post? Simply this: When you look at the research on Millennials the aspect that pops out at you, relative to previous generations, is this: Hyperconnectivity. Millennials feel very, very connected with each other. And I'm simply wondering if that feeling of connection has attenuated the need to get out of bed and go to church on Sunday mornings to "see everyone."

That isn't a knock about Web 2.0 or the church. It's just a thought about the social factors that might be implicated in a college student hitting the snooze button around 8 o'clock on the Lord's Day.

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5 thoughts on “Facebook and the Church Redux”

  1. Actually, I finally found something I disagree with you on. In this day and age, we are super connected to each other in every which way (cell phone, texting, e-mail, facebook, twitter, flickr, etc.) but the irony is that the more connected we we seemingly get, the more disconnected and isolated we actually become. I do not think anything can or should ever replace real human presence. A woman in labor having her husband's facebook page open in the delivery room just isn't the same. It's a bit ridiculous to try and say social networking can replace the church. They just don't compare. However, that is not to say we don't believe it is a legitimate replacement. This generation groans for real connectedness as monasticism looks more and more appealing. So in a sense, I agree: Facebook killed our souls. It's no wonder we're all depressed.

  2. Oh my. That's a hoot.

    I've heard from a couple of people that the post made it onto some radio shows.

  3. Seems to me that your thesis wrt Facebook has a significant connection to your observation regarding introversion/extraversion and liturgical/social congregational styles (in part 8 of your series on William James).

  4. Mr. Beck, I'd like to make a request for a follow-up post, if you'll endulge me.

    I'd be interested to know (and see discussed) why there is so much interest in this particular topic? Why does this hit people so hard?

    There must be at least a half-dozen different reasons given as to the "why" of church, and several on the "how/what" of church. In your original post you didn't (it seems to me) suggest that Facebook should be thought of as a new religion or belief system ... just that it was replacing the social aspects of what used to happen in church. (Or maybe I misread you)

    I'm curious why some are so threatened by this, or loving it, or whatever. It's really emotional for people ... and I wonder why.

    For what it's worth ... I suspect the least emotional people on this topic are actually the subjects themselves: the younger, church-leaving folks. Maybe the old-school folks feel rejected? I just don't know, and I'd love to hear more from you and others.

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