Accolades for the movie “The Social Network” should get the church’s attention. The church can normally dismiss the latest entertainment phenomenon as a fad, but not this time.
What is occurring is a new way of creating community and belonging. The internet, and Face book especially, have tapped into people’s desire to be a part of something greater than themselves.
But when was the last sermon you heard on the relationship between the Gospel and social media? Or the Gospel – Facebook style?
In a connected world, the church seems disconnected from social media’s impact on millions around the globe.
What is it about Facebook that keeps users returning daily – even hourly?
Facebook works not because of what it is, but what it does.
Facebook connects people. It taps into the human need to be in community with others.
It fills a vacuum and counters the emptiness and loneliness people sometimes feel in their daily, mundane existence. Community matters, and connecting others is what Facebook does best.
Just as Jesus accepted the marginal, poor and wayward of society, so too does Facebook.
Facebook is the new community where anyone can belong, be loved and find friends. In the connected world of Facebook, all are welcome to participate.
The connection that Facebook provides, however, is artificial because we don’t interact with people on Facebook. We interact instead with images, pictures and statements.
We’re learning how to relate to pages instead of learning how to really speak and hear each other. The result is a world that is “plugged in” and addicted to hyper-connectivity, yet very disconnected.
The door to Facebook and social media has been opened because many religious communities have lost the ability to connect people. More and more people are choosing artificial community instead of the community of Jesus.
When identity is configured according to a network of mediated friends and comments, a false community is created. Real connection takes more than a click, but a click is much easier.
But how have Facebook and social media been able to sell a false connection as real?
Could it be that the church’s ability to connect with people is being lost because of our priorities? Is Facebook’s success partially due to the church’s inability to be an open community that embraces outcasts but rather subjects them to doctrine and religious laws?
Is the image of the Christ community one of love or condemnation? Are we busy creating community by healing the world, or are we satisfying our own guilty need to sit in a church pew?
Fortunately, connecting people is exactly what the Gospel of Jesus has always been about, despite believers not abiding by Jesus’ precepts.
Jesus sought to bring people into right relationship with God and with each other. Jesus wasn’t in the business of offering lofty platitudes, but of crafting a kingdom vision and bringing the reality of the kingdom of God into the present: a supreme communal vision wherein creation is rightly related and therefore rightly connected.
Despite the messiness of real human relationships, there is still a place for an act of kindness – and friends who share more than Facebook wall posts.
Nathan Napier is a minister in the Church of the Nazarene and a graduate of the McAfee School of Theology.
A bi-vocational minister for over 20 years, Napier currently serves as a lay minister at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland, Tennessee. He holds a Doctor of Ministry from Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology, and his current research focuses on faith, culture and ethnography as pastoral practice.