Tecclesia: Why Social Media Matters

Tecclesia is a regularly-featured column on reflectious that examines the relationship between technology and church life.

How do you communicate?  Odds are that you grew up communicating primarily face-to-face with people, but as you got older a steadily increasing percentage of your communication became electronically dependent.  You learned you could talk to friends on the phone every afternoon after school.  Then, as the personal computer grew into an indispensable apparatus, you began keeping in touch with people through email.  I realize it’s entirely possible that you did neither of those things, but for the large majority of us alive today, the ways in which we communicate have changed as we have grown.  As the telephone conversations and email exchanges have grown in usage over the years, the Christian community has born a responsibility to be an example to the world of how to use these technologies in a healthy and responsible way.  Furthermore, we’ve learned to use these mediums to share the good news of the gospel and minister to people in need.

Now, as we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century, the era in which we live will come to be defined by a fundamental shift in the way that technology is changing the ways we communicate.  Not surprisingly, the younger generations among us are growing up into a world in which the primary mode of communication is not face-to-face.  An entire generation of young people now utilizes social media such as twitter, facebook, myspace, and instant messages to communicate with the world.  Unfortunately, the church in many places has not kept the pace.  Many churches tend to minimize these new methods of communication, choosing to label them as frivolous annoyances or cultural fads.  The result is that we are telling entire generations of young people that we don’t care enough about them to learn their language, to utilize their technology to share the good news of the gospel with them or minister to them.

The church in many places, however, is deciding to begin a new chapter in the way we communicate as followers of Christ.  This isn’t to say that they are throwing the old forms of communication out the window!  You don’t need to use facebook, twitter, email, or even a telephone to be a part of Christ’s church.  However, those Christians who utilize social media to communicate are slowly discovering that these are tools that can be used by the church.  Many churches have created pages on facebook or accounts on twitter to communicate with some of their members.  These technologies matter because they represent the rapidly changing ways that we communicate with each other.  If the church can’t learn to adapt to the language of the culture, then what is the church doing?  Jesus calls us to go into all the world, making disciples of all nations.  How can we do that if we’re ignoring the way than an entire generation of people communicates with each other?

I’m reminded of a story told in Mark’s gospel (Mark 7:31-37), in which a man who is both deaf and mute comes to Jesus for healing.  Jesus speaks a simple word, ephphatha, which means “be opened”.  We in the church, who are too often deaf to a young generation’s language and also unable to speak it, might hope that Jesus’ word would fall on us as well.

And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

So may it be!

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Please comment on ways that you or your church have learned to integrate social media into the life of the church.

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