This past week I spent two days attending a conference in Raleigh on the use of technology in education. I commented to Melissa upon my return Friday afternoon that it was one of the first times I’ve ever really wanted a Smartphone where I could have used it to communicate with her back here in Greenville without talking during my sessions.
Sessions I attended included using Wikis, Nings, Skype, and even Twitter to engage students and community members. While I was there I heard people talk about how many people they follow on Twitter (one person said 3000+), how many friends they have on Facebook (some said 1500), or even how many were in their Ning (one guy claimed 39,000!) (if you don’t know what a Ning or a Wiki is, don’t worry).
People also talked about how they would find themselves walking around the conference meeting people they had known for years but never met in person. They recognized them because they had seen their picture on a profile of someone they followed.
Which brings me to the point of the day… I think Facebook, Skype, and all these other forms of social networking are great tools for communication and connection. However, I fear that too many people use them as a substitute for authentic community instead of a supplement to community. I find people who seem to judge their worth by how many friends they have on Facebook. I’ll be honest – I have a Facebook page (which I occasionally access), but I have limited it to use with friends and family who live outside of Greenville (Melissa is the only person I’ve friended here, and that’s ‘cause she’s my wife).
This too often carries over into church life, too. People act like they are close “friends” because they’ve exchanged a couple of pokes online, or an email or two, yet when we meet face-to-face we can’t carry on an authentic conversation because we don’t have the illusion of the cyber-wall up.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the “team” we all are part of as members of a church and paralleled that to the teams of support that Olympic athletes have. When was the last time you invited a friend over for coffee or tea? When was the last time you reached out to a new person at church whom you didn’t know? When was the last time you called a friend you knew was hurting? More important – when was the last time you actually knew a friend was struggling so you could reach out to them?
I don’t have a problem with using social networks – I really don’t, but we need to be careful we don’t allow them to be a substitute for authentic community. Authentic community takes time to develop, it takes risk (something that is very difficult to do online), and it takes trust. The writer of Hebrews writes, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (10:25). Let’s apply this to our every-day life as well and not limit it to attendance at church services (like we normally do).
So here’s your assignment for the week: contact someone on your friend list by phone and make an appointment to have coffee, tea, or a meal with them. And while you’re together, spend some time talking and praying.
I know. It’s a novel idea.