Has Facebook Really Killed the Church?

by vernsanders on March 19, 2010

I interrupt my posting about some of the things I talked about with a group of Brehm Center students earlier this month at Fuller Seminary to move the conversation ahead about social media. On Wednesday, I read an article entitled How Facebook Killed The Church by Dr. Richard Beck. I got there by originally stumbling upon a blog post entitled Facebook Killed the Church (notice the slight but significant shift in title emphasis) by Drew Goodmanson.

I couldn’t help leaving a comment, which I reproduce in whole below…

I read all the way to the bottom of the post [ed. the Beck post] in question, and the bottom line conclusion was:
“Why are Millennials leaving the church? It’s simple. Mobile social computing has replaced the main draw of the traditional church: Social connection and affiliation.”

I would make the case that if that is true, the response shouldn’t be hand-wringing, or changing the church, but rather a shift in how “church” perceives relationship-building, social connection, and affiliation.

I have been talking with others here at Creator magazine (http://www.creatormagazine.com) and with my friend Chuck Fromm at Worship Leader magazine, about how there seems to be an analogy between social media and the introduction of the guitar into the church’s worship back in the 1970s. In fact, I’m in the middle of writing a book about that, and you can read my progress and struggles with this topic at my blog. [ed. which you are now doing]

The introduction and/or banishment of the guitar into worship (whether in fact or in passive/aggressive disdain)launched an extended period of “worship wars” from which we are now finally seeming to see the end of the tunnel. I think there is a great possibility that social media, and the new style of affiliation and relationships will have as big an impact.
The question then becomes: fight, flight, or embrace?

I am not a fortune teller, but I suspect that the centuries-old pattern will play out here: “church” as a big institution will change slowly, and, over time, incorporate the best practices of social media. Individual churches, and the people who affiliate with them, will run the gamut from early adoption (which is already happening) to never adoption. It is there that we will see, in the laboratory of real life and ministry, whether or not facebook actually kills the church.

I have a vested interest in this topic, of course, since my next EBook is about how to use social media for positive results in churches. But I do think that the cultural parallel is not just significant, it is imperative that we learn from the historical parallels. I remember the 1970s exodus from the traditional churches over arguments like “is Jesus Christ Superstar church music?” What is still often conveniently overlooked is that the exodus was as much toward something as from something, as the history of the Vineyard church movement can still attest.

If there is a millenial exodus from today’s church, I haven’t seen it in the places I’ve served…although, to be fair, in some of those churches, there never were any millenials, so it is not a statisically balanced survey. But if there is an exodus in progress, isn’t it more important to figure out where they are going, and whether or not the “church,” in some form or other, can meet them there, or be waiting for them?

For more information about millenials, including a link to a free EBook about them, you can read my post Understanding the Millenial Mind.

What do you think? Has Facebook really killed the church? Is your church giving any attention at all to social media? Please leave a comment below.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Charlie Little March 22, 2010 at 1:23 pm

My response to the question has Facebook killed the church is a resounding “NO” and that it won’t. To me the answer is obvious because it seems to me that Jesus already gave us the answer when he said not even the gates of hell can prevail against the church. Unless Facebook is a foe more formidable that hell, or an enemy unforesoon by Jesus, I’m not worried. And I am reminded of a quote by Hans Kung from his book THE CHURCH, “Indeed the Church has a future; it has THE future.”
Having said that, no doubt Facebook and other forms of electronic community has and will have an impact on just HOW we do church. I have a little used Facebook account myself, so my thoughts are untested in that arena, but the communicating I do do through email enhances my relational connectiveness rather than diminishing it. The question is whether or not Facebook becomes a substitute for a flesh-to-flesh community and eliminates or reduces the need to actually be together in person. I don’t think that will happen. It might feel like it to some degree, but eventually the deep need to BE in a real community of people will win out in the end, simply because God created us for that. I think of my daughter, who as a millenial, has a VERY ACTIVE Facebook life (she’s a college student) and yet has a rich and thriving life in real Christian community, both with your college campus ministry and the church she attends on Sunday. God created Eve for Adam because we were not created to be alone, and it was upon seeing her that he exclaimed, “Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!” Though spoken to his eventual sexual partner, it is a statement that transcends just the male/female partnering urge. It speaks to the deep need to BE IN REAL RELATIONSHIPS with other people created in God’s image FOR community. Online communities will never be a sufficient substitute. The challenge is how to use them to help guide people into real community, and support and strengthen the ones we have.

vernsanders March 22, 2010 at 9:32 pm

Thanks for the comment, Charlie…and I know you live out what you preach.



Margaret Marcuson March 30, 2010 at 10:03 am

Thanks for these thoughtful comments, Vern. Here’s how I think about it: human culture evolves, and each shift creates a lot of anxious response. To me, bemoaning is rarely useful. We may regret the losses and have questions about the value of technological and other changes. I love paper books and hope they last a lot longer. But a thoughtful response is always more useful than a hand-wringing one. Technologies are generally value-neutral, and can be used in ways that help or hinder God’s work in the world. The church I belong it is an old downtown church, and hasn’t done anything particular with social media. But I’m trying to learn more about it myself, and it’s fascinating

vernsanders April 13, 2010 at 10:40 am

Thanks for the comment, Margaret. I just finished Jacqueline Novogratz’ great book The Blue Sweater, and found it a useful reminder that technology can’t replace doing the work of building relationships, but it can make sustaining those relationships an easier task. She advocates “patient capital” — investing in long term growth/change, rather than looking for the “quick fix.” I’m blogging more about this next week…stay tuned…


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