By the time you read this editorial, it will be obsolete. In the world of digital communication, my words will grow old and dusty in mere seconds.
According to an October 2011 study done by Vancouver-based social media and promotions agency Popcorn, “With more than 800 million users on Facebook as of late, over half a million comments are posted on Facebook every single minute. Over 290,000 status updates are posted to profiles and nearly 140,000 photos are uploaded per minute.” Wow.
If the medium is the message, our tweets, posts, and IMs are nothing more than fleeting, temporary thoughts: irrelevant. But as with any new medium, it’s not a matter of whether the church will use it, but how the church will use it.
The pros and cons
At its worst, social media is a tool for narcissism, producing over-inflated egos. It’s the classic “15 minutes of fame” swelled into hundreds, even thousands of hours of self-indulgence. Everyone’s reading my blog, tweets, status updates – I must be very important! It’s a sentiment hardly compatible with Jesus’ call to humility, or with his upside-down statement in Matthew 20:16 that the “last will be first and the first will be last.”
Social media can also become an agent of random gossip or hurtful slander. We’ve all heard of people fired from their jobs after nasty Facebook posts. Proverbs 21:23 wisely cautions: “Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.”
On the other hand, social media offers huge benefits and opportunities for Christians. Social media can be an equalizer – a safe way for everyone to participate. Since the church is often dominated by extroverts, social media provides introverts with a chance to have their say. The internet is also “wheelchair accessible,” meaning that individuals with mobility issues can come to the table from the confines of their homes. Even language barriers are being torn down, thanks to translation software that allows people to read and type in multiple languages.
And although tweets or posts may seem fleeting, the sheer accumulation of them may have a lasting effect. Like tiny raindrops, they will eventually form a puddle, a pool, a forceful river. Indeed, the stunning amount of content and opinion found on the internet are forces to be reckoned with (powerful enough to catalyze a revolution in Egypt).
So, are churches using social media to its full benefit, aware of both the potential and pitfalls? In this month’s “Give me that online spiritual formation,” writer Sherman Lau encourages us to use the internet as a place to shape people’s faith – not just provide information about our congregations or ministries.
Faith is shaped when people participate, share their ideas, exercise their minds and spirits, feel like part of a group – not when they lurk around silently, reading or watching posts without comment. People want to be invited into conversation.
Sometimes it takes a crisis for this type of conversation to emerge. When it does, it’s a powerful tool for creating real human bonds and transformed lives.
Take, for example, a Facebook group dedicated to a woman from one of our churches in B.C. who is struggling with aggressive cancer. The group currently hosts 605 members who post prayers and Bible verses daily. Many non-Christian members of the group admit they’ve been touched by this woman’s faith and perseverance – and by the faith and love of her Christian friends. It’s a place where thought patterns, beliefs, and lives are being transformed.
Of course, relationships and conversations started online must eventually be balanced with warm, face-to-face human interaction. Hebrews 10:25 serves as an important prophetic word for today’s church: “Let us not give up meeting together.”
In the meantime, let’s be thoughtful and responsible about how we use social media. And, BTW, how can @MB_Herald #prayforU?
–Laura Kalmar, editor