Recently I’ve started thinking that there may be a good argument that social media is replacing the church, at least in a number of ways. Now, when I say church, I’m mainly talking about individual congregations, but in some ways one could argue that social media is also replacing national and international denominations as well. I don’t know if I buy it completely, but it’s definitely worth contemplating as many of us in the church examine where the institutional church fits in society today.
I first started thinking about this topic after reading an article in the New Zealand Harold a few weeks ago talking about the fact that social media filled some of the rolls of churches while people couldn’t enter buildings after recent earthquakes. Reading the article started me wondering whether social media is replacing the church in the larger society as well. I’ve been thinking about it for a bit now and I’d have to say there are at least a few areas where I’d say social media is indeed replacing the church.
A Community Gathering Place
Churches used to be a place where the community gathered to share news about their lives, the lives of others, what was going on in the community as well as national and global events. We all know that how we communicate has changed dramatically due to the internet, but sometimes I think we forget just how that changes our behaviour. As in the Christchurch example, many people now share updates via Facebook and other social media in online gatherings rather than physically assembling in one place, like a church to do so.
At one time churches were also considered a great place to meet people and make connections for work etc. This is still the case, but as fewer and fewer people attend church, especially mainline churches, church is less and less the best place to network. Today people are much more likely to start up conversations with people on social networking sites like LinkedIn and Twitter in order to foster working connections, then go to a church.
A Clearing House for Community News
As I mentioned above, the church, like the local coffee shop, used to be where you got your news. While that has been gradually changing due to the introduction of various types of media, until recently with the introduction of social media and the mass penetration of the internet (including into many people’s pockets) there was no media that could replace current neighbourhood news. This left the church as one of the places community news was shared. Now that we can communicate with friends using Facebook, Twitter and other networks, plus being able to learn things from complete strangers even (for example using Google+’s Nearby feature which lets you see public posts that were made close to your location) the need to gather in one place to share news is dramatically reduced.
I’ve read a couple of posts recently that reference digital prayer. One post talked about how digital prayer can be useful, but also referenced social media as a way to bring people into church buildings. The other, made more of the fact that digital prayer can really help people feel loved and cared for, making no mention of using social media to ‘put bums in pews’. Now I recognize that the points of the posts were different, but it struck me as I thought about whether or not social media is replacing the church (building) that these different ways of seeing things are important.
So Is Social Media Replacing the Church?
I still haven’t decided whether or not I feel that there is a full replacement taking place, but I definitely see signs that this could be happening. I also think that it may be worthwhile for church leaders to consider how to minister online without looking for corresponding ‘bums in pews’.
What do you think? Am I way off base? Or is it possible that social media is replacing the church?