churches and social media and relationships – part three

black and white stained glassI sat in a gym with 400 people today. We were in what people usually call “church”.

That’s what the mother behind me called it anyway.

We were about six rows from the back of the room.  She had two little children with her. I can’t tell you details, being too polite to turn around and stare, but one of them seemed to be about four, the other about two.

They were fidgeting, and suddenly the mom and the two children slipped out of the row and walked quickly to the back of the room and out the door.

I thought it was about the noise. One of the two had been talking. When they came back, I realized that it was probably about the bathroom.

The mom ended up right behind me, with the younger child on her lap.

There was a little more talking. Then I heard the mom whisper kindly, “shh, you’re in church.”

I know she meant well. I realize that when a large group is gathered and someone is speaking, there is value in the group being comparatively quiet so that everyone can hear as much of what is being said as possible.

However, I realized that another answer to the question,

Q: Why isn’t church more involved in building relationships through social media?

You may remember that I’m answering Chris Cree’s post at,

A #1 We are.

A #2: Because we don’t think we can, or need to.

A #3: Because we don’t think of church as a place to talk.

I’m not picking on the mom, not at all. She’s doing what moms and dads have done in many churches and many denominations.

“Don’t talk in church.”

“Don’t run in church.”

“Don’t say that in church.”

We have been talking like that about church for generations.

And then, we come to social media where the point is to talk: to argue and chatter and laugh and pick on each other and share and do all the things that don’t feel like sitting in a meeting.

To the extent that church is the meeting, social media of the electronic kind doesn’t fit well with church, any more than social media of the whispering or telephoning kind. To the extent that church is the people, the conversations that happen between people in the hallway after the service,  the questions about how your dad is doing and when we can get together and thanks for helping me this week, then the church is already involved in social media.

I think that lots of people think of church as the meeting. And it keeps church as the people from building relationships, because time spent on relationship feels like time NOT spent on church.

And to that 2 year old and her mom, I’m sorry I didn’t stay after the service to visit. To find out who you are. To develop relationship. To say “that’s okay, I remember what little ones are like.”

To show your daughter that it is great to talk as church.


14 responses to “churches and social media and relationships – part three

  1. I remember once hearing from a Bible School teacher that had been to India on a short term mission. He told us that there were hundreds of people in the ‘room’ (there were no walls, just a roof).

    There were monkeys chattering and playing in the jungle. The children were playing in the aisles. The adults just ignored the distractions and listened to the speakers … for up to 3 hours a service!

    Can you imagine that in a typical North American church! It would be nice though — it is church as the people and church as the meeting together.

  2. You’re absolutely right! We teach our children to be quiet and respectful but are we teaching them to engage in meaningful conversations and relationships? Probably not so much. Food for thought. Have to ponder this one a bit more to see how I might parent differently “in church.”

  3. I was also at the service Jon described. Here is the rest of the story… About 550 chairs needed to be taken down and stored after service, and about 30 people stayed around and made short work of it, while about another 70 people stood around in small groups and talked. After the chairs were put away, the church still had about 100 people standing around talking, kids running, and a few basketballs being launched in the air. It was more than 30 minutes after service had concluded, and “church” was still going strong. An amazing sight in todays world of worship. Jon need not feel guilty, he has helped nuture at least 100 other church goers to stay around and talk to the family behind him.

  4. Oh Bill. Thanks for that cross-cultural perspective. When I think about your comment, I also think about multiple learning styles. Some of the people who move around and tweet and doodle during our large group gatherings are not being disrespectful, they are not auditory learners. A looser setting allows for multiple learning styles.

  5. Cheryl – *that *is exactly the point. To think about what we are doing, to explore why this particular behavior is what we are reinforcing is a wonderful opportunity for deciding what to do.

  6. Scott – that is one of the delightful things about this place, one of the evidences of health I see. The paid staff often leave the building before other people (and we stay for awhile).

    And that is why we are exploring facebook – because many of the people who call this building home are spending time carrying the interaction online. Long-time friends, new social medium. It’s a very cool thing.

  7. Yesterday N and I went to College Church…we’re trying it out because they have an evening service…and she knows some kids from school there and C has lots of friends from school there. N came to the service with me yesterday and we sat in the balcony and she noticed woman next to her looking at her N’s jeans…and her Jonas Brothers Rolling Stone’s cover bag. And then she noticed the chairs for the pastoral staff across the front of the stage…”they look like thrones…are they trying to look like kings or something?” She’s 13 and really insightful…and yet her question sounded like it was coming for a 3 or 4 year old…not the kind she usually asks.

    What is the deal with church???

  8. That’s an interesting point Jon. I think many churches do a poor job of creating environments that are designed for people to interact with one another and build relationships. (Obviously some do.)

    But others just give it lip service with some version of a, “Now take a few moments and greet those around you” kind of thing. 97 seconds to say, “Good morning!” to four people who happen to be sitting around you is not much of a basis for relating.

    It makes sense that churches which aren’t intentional about their members hanging out together off line would see little if any value in social media.

  9. very well said, Chris. (Your conclusion, I mean. Exactly right.)

  10. Dear Jill. If I knew the answer to your last question, I wouldn’t be spending my life trying to figure that out.

    Of course, that may be why I’m spending my life on trying to figure that out.

  11. Jill – that’s exactly the way it was 30 years ago when I visited there. How sad that nothing has changed.

  12. I go to Jon’s church. I tell you this because as I read some of the comments, I wonder who some of the people are and where they are as far as faith goes. I love the time spent sharing with others after “church” (sometimes my family might not agree). The whole church thing is about interacting with others. I prefer a personal connection but in the absence of being there, I do like the option of interacting through social media.

    As an example, one of my best friends’ daughters started attending Indiana University this past fall. (An aside: this guy and I are more than just friends, we are accountability partners – way more than just friends). I terribly missed seeing his daughter weekly at church. (You get very close to people that you pray for – and we have prayed for each other’s kids for many years). Hah – enter Facebook! A way to check into whats going on in someone’s life when you’re missing them. Social media is not a substitute for personal interaction (or a hug). But it does contribute to the feeling of community – an in a way, that is a very big part of what “church” is about.

    Many of us strive to live out our lives as Christians throughout the week – not just on Sunday. The people we worship with ARE the people we hang out with. We pray together, we laugh and cry together. There is no substitute for that, but any way to keep in touch with those you love helps add to that sense of belonging (and helps an aching heart).

    I appreciate you Jon and love how God made you. Keep on asking questions and urging people to take the next step – in any way that works for them.

  13. Hi Chris. It is wonderful that you are able to keep in touch with some of your church family with Facebook. I’ve managed to reconnect somewhat with people from the church I grew up in as well as the church I went to when I lived in Hamilton. It is a blessing to see what is going on with them and share prayer requests too.

    I have been a practicing Christian since I was 14 (33 years now). I’ve been a member of a Brethren church, an Associated Gospel Church and now a Baptist church. They are all quite similar in the statement of faith and very evangelical. In each one, the emphasis is to connect with other members regularly during 7 days of the week through different events, home bible studies (now called small groups) and just being friends.

    As you have pointed out, the church is the people, not the building. And as followers of Christ, regardless of the denomination we belong to, we make up the Church.

    Jesus said that where 2 or 3 are gathered in his name, he is in the midst of them — that makes this web site part of his Church as well!

  14. Pingback: Is Facebook Killing the Church? | Coach's Corner