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.