To the dismay of many of my friends (both real and imagined), I recently stopped updating my Facebook page. Many have asked me why. The answer is rather simple: I was receiving friendship requests from people who were three or four steps removed from the relationship I actually had.
I found it odd, and even a bit unsettling, to call these people friends when I knew nothing about them, except they probably know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone I know. For most people on Facebook, this is not a problem, and thus Facebook is a happy place. For me, however, it demonstrates the sad condition of too many churches, and causes me to lament not Facebook, but the way people approach their Christian faith and the church in particular.
Recently, a study at the University of Chicago determined that people in America are being religious without religious institutions. People find it decreasingly necessary to attend church services, but increasingly pray privately; according to the findings, while weekly religious service attendees dropped from 32 to 26 percent of the population between 1983 and 2006, people praying daily rose from 54 to 59 percent. Apparently people still believe in God and even in the afterlife, but fewer find the need to attend church, because they can pray and have a personal relationship with God apart from the church.
Reports such as these show that while people seem to understand the need for an ever-deepening relationship with God, they don’t seem to understand the need for ever-deepening relationships with others; in other words, they believe they are growing in their relationship with God without recognizing their inherent need for others. Yet we cannot truly have one without the other. Any deepening interaction with God is directly tied to our deepening interaction with each other. I cannot help but wonder if this lack of community depth is the result of the way we do our major socializing in other spheres—in particular, Facebook.
This is not a commentary on the usefulness of Facebook, or its legitimacy as a social network; its benefits are well established, and as a socializing institution, it is here to stay. But it is dangerous for us to do church the way we do Facebook. For better or for worse, Facebook demonstrates that it is possible to have community without commitment. It is possible to have community without depth of relationship. While this may work with Internet communities, it often proves counterproductive when applied to the church community.
Church, as designed by God, is the opposite of Facebook: it is community with depth and commitment. Disciples of Christ are called to be in community; there are too many “one another” passages in the Bible to deny this. The Christian life is not designed to be a life lived in isolation. We are to pray, sing, eat, serve, study, raise children, live and die together. This togetherness creates a depth of intimacy that serves the cause of Christ.
Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Christian love requires the depths of community. It is the sacrifice of time, energy, resources and privileges for another. This does not happen in passing platitudes or inconsequential, nonchalant engagements; it is the result of deliberate relationship, wherein we are available to comfort one another with the comfort with which we have been comforted (2 Cor. 1:3-7). This happens in community. This is the design of the church.
I have discontinued my Facebook page, not because Facebook is bad, but because I do not want community without depth and commitment. Facebook may be a legitimate means of socialization in our generation; however, the church has never been, nor should it ever be, designed like Facebook. If you want community without depth or commitment, go to Facebook. If you want community with depth and commitment, go to church.