Facebook: Community Without Depth

This is not a commentary about Facebook as much as it is a commentary on the nature of the way people approach church today.

A while ago I stopped updating my Facebook page. Many people have asked me why. Well, the answer is rather simple. I was receiving friendship requests from people who were three or four relationships removed from the relationship I actually had. I found it odd, and even a bit unsettling, to call these people friends when I knew nothing about them, except they probably know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, I know. For most people on Facebook this is not a problem and thus Facebook is a happy place. For me, however, it demonstrates the sad condition of too many churches and thus causes me to lament, not Facebook, but the way people approach their Christian faith and the church in particular.

Recently there was a study done in which it was determined that people in America are being religious without institutions (read more). According to the findings, “While weekly attendees of religious services dropped from 32 to 26 percent of the population between 1983 and 2006, people praying daily rose from 54 to 59 percent in the same time period.” Apparently there is still a strong belief in God and even in the afterlife, but fewer and fewer people are finding a need to attend church because they can pray and have a personal relationship with God apart from the church. Besides, Facebook demonstrates that it is possible to have community without commitment. It is possible to have community without depth of relationship. While this may work on the Internet communities, it often proves counterproductive when applied to the church community.

Facebook is community without depth; community without commitment. Church is community with depth and commitment. It is the way God has designed it. As disciples of Christ, we are called to be in community. There are two many “one another” passages in the Bible to deny this. And yet, this community is also with commitment and depth. The Christian life is not designed to be a life lived in isolation. God saves us and calls us together. We are to pray together. We are to sing together. We are to eat together. We are to serve together. We are to study together. We are to raise children together. We are to live and die together. This togetherness creates a depth of intimacy that not only serves the cause of Christ (John 13:35), but it serves us in our times of need (2 Cor. 1:3-7).

I have discontinued my Facebook page, not because Facebook is bad, but because I am not a fan of community without depth and commitment. If you want community without depth or commitment, go to Facebook. If you want community with depth and commitment (and if you are Christian) you should go to church.

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  • http://blog.chriskrycho.com/ Chris Krycho

    I definitely know where you’re coming from.

    The alternative, of course, is to use it as a medium for connecting with the people who actually are your friends, and as a platform for engaging people. I do my best to do that, however imperfectly. My blog gets posted there; my tweets (the good ones, anyway) get posted there, and I talk to people there that I don’t get to see on a regular basis.

    So while facebook certainly can be exactly what you say, I think it’s perhaps reaching a bit to say that facebook is automatically community without depth and commitment. Like most other media, it both influences our interactions and is deeply influenced by them.

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  • http://www.the2keys.com Ephrem Hagos

    The waning of religious institutions and the rise of private religious practices like prayer are a welcome change in close agreement with the GOOD NEWS: not as a mere message but as Jesus Christ personally! True worship of a personally knowable God, as he really is, i.e., Spirit or self-sufficient life (“I Am Who I Am”), as revealed in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, is only possible by the Holy Spirit and free of all frontiers of time, place, theologies and institutions (John 4: 21-26; 8: 21-28; 7: 37-39; 8: 21-28; 15: 15-21; 16: 5-15; 19: 30-37).

    Since the centre of simulation, therefore, is Jesus Christ, the innovation is certainly worthy of rapid emulation. AMEN !

  • http://oasisgc.wordpress.com Derek Iannelli-Smith

    It is amazing to me the things we ‘wont’ do because we think it is not about relationships. I used to think the same way and thought social networking was ‘dumb’ and a waste of time. However, since reading Chris Forbes book, “Facebook for Pastors” it immediately changed my mind about facebook at least. http://ministrymarketingcoach.com/2008/04/22/downloads-the-facebook-for-pastors-free-e-book/ I think your article would be PERFECT if you changed the word “facebook” with “Twitter.” But yet no one is kicking their ‘nose picking naval gazing updates’ to the curb. I am more apt to use a site that introduces me to 3 & 4 generations of ‘friends’ that I can at least interact with rather than status updates that give me TMI about their balled up receipt wadded in their car front seat or I have to use google babblefish to translate.

    This discussion reminds me of of “Is money evil?” No, but it does depend on the hands of the person it is in. Is facebook evil? Is twitter evil?

    Facebook can be a community without depth when you don’t invest in others. Read Chris’ FREE e-book and find out how folks are using Facebook for the kingdom, like me, to build a church, build community, and be introduced to new people 3&4 if not more generations distant. I have spoken on the phone with people from England that I would have never met without face book, never had interviews regarding house church planting and evangelism, never been able to contact our missionary in Kenya that we support, and I could go on and on…. I have too much kingdom work to do with it. Oh yeah, forgot one more thought… I would never had an opportunity to engage with Steve Timmis, Josh Hunt, John Frame, Frank Viola (all whom I have had personal exchanges with) and many others if it were not for facebook… I think I am going to keep my account.

    The point of your article about relationships is right on… but maybe social networking is not the enemy?

    • ajcarter

      Derek, you are right. The enemy is not social networking. The enemy is indwelling sin. Social networking may just give us another way of hiding it. The problem is not Facebook. The problem is us doing church like we do Facebook.

  • http://skillfulshepherds.blogspot.com Timothy P

    Amen to your article, Anthony! I second and affirm your apt description of FB being community without depth or commitment. I also made the “radical” decision of quitting FB almost a year ago, e.g. discontinuing my account totally, and I’ve never looked back since. As a personal user, it just got to the point where I felt over-saturated with trivial social gossiping and having to “keep up” with the latest updates from friends.

    However, around middle of this year, I started a youth group account, for the purpose of keeping connected with my youths (as their pastor), and using it as a website, event updating resource. I don’t use it for personal friends, or applications/games, or updates. We load photos, event invites, sermon summaries, website updates, as we find that this had far-faster and greater reach than ordinary email or announcements over the weekend pulpit.

    So yes to community and depth, it can only be found with personal relationships and real, physical communities, the greatest example being the body of Christ.

  • http://www.prayerjournal.ca Jim Hall

    As I look at our western society, one of the biggest things that stands in the way of true community is the pace that we choose to live our lives at. It is a choice, but it’s pretty easy to get caught up in the speed when that is what surrounds us. Not only is FB easy, it’s also fast. you can “connect” with people quickly, at whatever time you want.
    In terms of church here’s my experience: I have been a local church pastor for 10 years and recently transitioned to a para-church organization (House of Prayer Edmonton). My family have gotten involved in a new local church but for the first time I understand what it is like to ‘just attend’ and the temptation to simply not bother going. We have begun to get involved beyond just Sunday, but it has been a deliberate choice and one that took some time to work out. For the first time I can remember, I discovered what it’s like to just show up on Sunday and then leave fairly quickly after. It’s stunningly unsatisfying.
    We live in a society that values ‘fast’ and ‘easy’. Part of us wants deeper community but it’s not ‘fast’ nor ‘easy'; this creates a tension for us in a local church context. This is a the heart of the original blog post. A big part of this issue that people making the choice to pursue something (in this case community) that is neither ‘fast’ nor ‘easy’, and for many people, that is a major challenge.

  • http:facebook.com/cforbes Chris Forbes

    When people feel FB is shallow, they might want to consider if the shallowness is not coming from within. FB is not a replacement for relationships, it is a form/channel of/for relating.

    Also, it’s ironic to me to use one form of social media (blogging) to defame another form.

    • http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org Mike Pohlman

      A fair point about what Facebook is intended to be, namely, a channel for relating. However, the irony you suggest is lost on me as the nature of the forms is quite different.

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  • http://www.gateprc.org Jan Cranford

    I agree with your article, I do think it is very shallow, and some may think of it in place of church fellowship, I Believe they would have to think very deep on that one though. But in today’s world and with today’s young adults, in this computer run society, some of us Christians better be on here witnessing and do some Lords work to reach our young adults who are using this as a replacement. You may ought to read the “Unchristian by John Kinnamon. I use facebook alot in my work, as a marketing tool and a witnessing tool. I’ve prayed with people on this computer and comforted people over facebook and never even knew them. People are in pain no matter where we find them, I only hope Christians are there to meet them where they are at. Thanks and Blessings

  • http://www.the2keys.com Ephrem Hagos

    I cannot oppose enough Carter’s statement that the institutional church is “the way God has designed it”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    First and foremost, the Church as originally blueprinted and later built is absolutely synonymous with the divine identity of Jesus Christ as “the Son of the living God”, i.e., immortal, (Matt. 16: 13-28); strictly and conditionally defined in terms of personal vision of his upcoming self-revelation (John 14: 15-21); and virtually perfected (“finished”) at his perfect death on the cross (John 19: 30-37; Rev. 5). Such an opportunity for firsthand and personal knowledge of Jesus Christ is completely unheard of in the teaching and practice of theologically oriented local churches giving rise to divisions and strife among Christians!

    Secondly, securely anchored in the gift of such knowledge are recreation of beneficiaries in the image of Jesus Christ, i.e., immortality (John 3: 1-21; 11: 25-26); a new order of worship in Spirit and truth, i.e., freedom from all religions (Ibid, 4: 1-26); and “streams of life-giving water (Holy Spirit) to pour out from the heart” (Ibid, 7: 37-39).

    Lastly, a good measure of the incalculable difference is the definition of the church given as “the temple is the LORD God Almighty and the Lamb” (Rev. 21:22). Is it unrighteous of the LORD Jesus Christ to reciprocally deny all those who are denying his Good News (Matt. 7: 21-23)?

  • Nathan

    As a single, never-married, never-will-be-married man, I haven’t found “Church [to be] community with depth and commitment.”