Facebook Doesn't Kill Churches, Churches Kill Churches

For one of the more thought provoking responses to my post How Facebook Killed the Church check out Elizabeth Drescher's article in Religion Dispatches entitled Facebook Doesn't Kill Churches, Churches Kill Churches.

Drescher's argument is that if the church were more meaningfully social then Facebook might actually be a boon to the fellowship. That is, as I argued in my original post, if Facebook activity is mainly involved in interactions with real-world friends then Facebook should supplement and facilitate real relationships at church. If those relationships existed. And that's Drescher's point. Since churches aren't facilitating deep and meaningful relationships Facebook can't get any traction. That is, if I'm not using Facebook to connect with people at church that is likely because I'm not that connected to them in reality. But if I were meaningfully connected to them, well, Facebook could be used to help us stay connected and keep track of each other throughout the week.

This argument seems to jibe with responses to my post where people have pointed out how Facebook has helped their church. Following Drescher, we can assume these positive uses of Facebook work in these situations because there is a pre-existing background of meaningful relationality already in place. Again, if we have meaningful friendships at church Facebook can be a great tool in keeping us "connected." But if these relationships don't exist, and they often don't, then Facebook isn't going to help much at all. Thus, Facebook doesn't "kill" the church as much as it might mirror a church that is already "dead."

Here's Drescher's summing up:

But until churches and other religious groups, their leaders, and members feel comfortable interacting with one another around real questions of meaning and value—questions having little to do with doctrine and much to do with practices of compassion and justice—their social media participation will do no more to revitalize declining religious institutions than holding weekly Jazzercise classes in the parish hall.

Mobile computing and associated social media have not replaced the main draw of the traditional church: spiritual connection in social context. But they have made it more difficult to mask the modern, broadcast-era practice of social and spiritual disconnectedness that plays out as much in generic coffee hour chitchat about football scores and the latest lame Seth Rogan chucklefest as it does in Facebook pages that enable participants (really, the old Facebook “fan” terminology is more accurate) to see a church’s message and comment on it, but which don’t invite genuine, person-to-person or people-to-world interactivity.

No, Facebook hasn’t killed the church. Churches are doing just fine on that front on their own.

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7 thoughts on “Facebook Doesn't Kill Churches, Churches Kill Churches”

  1. Perhaps there is another research paper in comparing members' atonement beliefs with the quality and types of their social interactions within and without the church...

  2. Methodist membership in the UK peaked, if you take the total of all Methodist denominations (it splintered in the early 19th Century) in the 1840's. It's been declining ever since, and to the best of my knowledge nobody has ever seriously asked the reason why. The only 'answers' of offer are the ideological ones; we're not sufficiently evangelical or charismatic, and all that stuff. I don't believe doctrine or worship style has anything to do with it.

    From what I've seen, it comes down to three main things. We fail as a community.The church is either a community or it's nothing, and an hour on Sunday doesn't make a community. Then there's bad leadership; domineering individuals and cliques which arrogate all power to themselves and never let anyone else have a look in. There are irresponsible ministers who look for an easy ride and fail to challenge people when they're in the wrong, or who try to surround themselves with yes people who let them have their own way, and create yet another bad situation for other people to try to sort out when they're gone. Then there's apathy.

  3. Good article. I have spoken with my pastor in the past about putting our church on Facebook, but have had second thoughts. Your assessment is correct that if there is no intimate relationship to begin with inside our church community, we cannot expect things like this to take the place of the face-to-face work we should be focusing on. Thanks.

  4. In my church, I am trying to develop use of our website as a forum for discussion/voting/response etc. The thinking behind this is to give everyone a voice regardless of age, gender etc. and hence a greater sense of ownership and belonging. We have also taken our Sunday School materials as the basis for our whole-church themes based on the same thinking. My hope is that our emotional well-being might benefit (however slightly) and that we will all feel more accountable to one another. I think the web does have the potential to enable us to relate in different ways, but that it is up to us to realise that potential in creative and informed ways.

  5. Most of her work deals with the issues surrounding Youth and the intercection of Church and contemporary culture, so I think you would find much of it interesting. However, 'Almost Christian' has a lot in it responding to youth culture http://kendadean.com/almost-christian/. 'OMG - A Youth Ministry Handbook' would also be a good place to look.

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