Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Is Facebook Church?

I just read this article entitled "Is Facebook Church?" and it was like reading my mind, except it was far more concise and far better written.

The author, Jon M. Sweeney, discusses how he feels that he is a more authentic self when he broadcasts his "status updates" to his Facebook friends than when he is chit-chatting with fellow parishioners during the coffee hour at church. He goes on to explain that through Facebook, he has been able to quickly share and receive prayer requests, and consequently knows that there are caring people interceding for him and the people he loves.

Through Facebook, he is able to share his thoughts and start conversations, growing from the insights and experiences of others.

He even throws scripture in the mix with the ol' "For where two or three people are gathered in my name, I am there among them" (Matthew 18:20). The people gather virtually, but they are gathering nevertheless.

Sounds a lot like church to me.

Yet, Mr. Sweeney adds that there is no worship involved with Facebook (which is kinda one of the BIG POINTS of church), and Facebook is exclusive. You get to invite people in, and (possibly) leave others out. Church should be open to all.

Overall, an interesting read.

Here's my two cents:

I am more confident when I am writing something than I will ever be when chit-chatting. I can fake it, but it is not my gift. There are people I've known at my church for over three years, and our conversations remain stilted and surface level.

Yet, I have also established relationships with people through Facebook that have blossomed into true, snort-out-your-nose, unabashed friendships, despite the fact that we rarely meet in person.

So, what is the difference? There are two crucial ingredients: Time and Confidence.

My Facebook friendships have developed over time. Through status updates and pictures, I get a window into another life. A comment here, a comment there, and we're moving past the cobwebs of chit-chat, into the bright light of actual conversation.

All of my other friendships also developed over time. When I became a stay-at-home mom, I tried to nail down as many "friendship appointments" as possible, because I knew that I needed continuity to open up and become my "real self" for a friend. So, I met one friend for a walk every week. I attended story time at the library every week. And, as I had thought, over time I escaped from my cautious cocoon to become the garish butterfly of my true self.

The fact is, it's not my church's fault that I haven't made some connections yet, because I haven't set up regular appointments with my church. I don't attend a weekly Bible study, nor am I member of a small group. I will do any job they ask of me, and I've certainly made connections with the other mothers through VBS and the nursery. But, due to my own inaction, I have not allowed my fellow (non-parent) parishioners know my "status updates."

The second element is confidence. Again, I will happily write about waxing my eyebrows or the fecal matter of my children, because when I'm on Facebook or writing this blog, I address my imaginary audience, which laughs heartily at every quip and nods their heads in agreement at my various insights. I believe that my Facebook friends are in my corner. Thus, I am reasonably fearless in being myself.

How sad that I do not see my family of believers in this same light. Why would I assume that churchgoers would not be in my corner? Okay, I've spent enough time with believers to know that they are just as capable of gossip and nonsense as any other group of people. That doesn't mean that I get to put up my dukes and assume the worst.

It all comes down to risk. I avoid "setting appointments" at church, because I'm afraid that I cannot be me---the me that I love. I hate being misunderstood, so I fear the raised eyebrow or the awkward explanation of a comment. I fear being judged, and I fear not hitting the mark.

These are excuses, perhaps, and they are certainly limiting my joy and my opportunities to connect.



Coby Goesling said...

Wow - great insights there. I used to be the same way, until I realized that the lack of confidence and fear of being exposed was really a little trick of the devil to keep me from the deeper relationships with my church family that the Lord had for me. Being exposed before people who love you simply because you're their sister in Christ and a member of the same church family is a good thing - iron sharpens iron! You'll never grow into what God has for you if you keep all your warts and hairy moles hidden. ;-)

Paul said...

I really appreciated your post, Nancy - just took me a while to get around to responding to it. While the issue of whether Facebook counts as 'church' or not is a pretty weighty subject, your observations about how and why you interact (or don't interact) with your Christian brothers & sisters at your church are honest and very useful to people.

Yes, Facebook is not a true representation of community because in many ways it is a community that we craft and shape. This person in, that person not. This person with *this* level of access, that person with *that* level of access. Interactions are usually brief and to the point a la a status update or witty comment or thumbs up. It takes so little to send a thought to someone else - and in part that is because you have both consented to participate in this limited type of community. You both observe similar rules of engagement - quick comments only, really personal stuff in private e-mails, etc. And, despite an apparent level of transparency, there are a host of things that remain off limits for our status updates or comments to others because they lead us into deeper and more complicated waters. We can cheer one another on in the every day issues, but it's harder to share the real struggles. Very few people have the ability to share their warts in their status updates.

Building even these controlled forms of relationship within a 'real-time' congregational environment is a lot trickier. People are all over the board. There are folks who understand us and those who don't. People have different rules of engagement and it seems unnatural to try and delineate these at the start of each conversation. What we share becomes a very real and pervasive aspect of who we are within that community - and doesn't disappear necessarily as we update our statuses enough and scroll a particular moment of vulnerability into the oblivion of "Older Posts".

As an introvert, it's been interesting for me to see how it can be much easier to share virtually, from a physical distance, than it is to share with people that I will be looking in the eye each week at church. This is both good and bad. I pray that you - and I and everyone else - will continue to wrestle with this tension between the need and joy of being known, and the fear that often prevents this.