by Rick Chromey
An old preacher friend used to quip that if you tie two cats’ tails together the felines will have unity but don’t expect them to enjoy community. Ouch.
There’s a huge difference between connection and community. You can have connection without community but not vice versa. Churches—like most social organizations, clubs, and social groups—are generally good at connections (initial introductions) but routinely fail in matters of retention and deeper community. It’s one thing to draw a crowd and quite another to move them into small groups.
The question is why? And why in recent years? It wasn’t so long ago the local church was the societal hub for connection, learning, and friendships, but not anymore.
I think one reason is social media.
In a web world, connection proves quick, easy, and superficial. With a click we can friend, follow, like, or subscribe to just about anyone, anywhere, anytime.
For those under 30, the internet and social media is like air. Cyber culture oxygenates daily life and breathes electronic connections that tempt and trap. A 2016 Common Sense Media study of 1,200 teens and their parents revealed half of all adolescents confessed an addiction to their mobile devices.[i] But let’s be fair. It’s not the smartphone that’s addictive as much as the social media. The smartphone is just the pipe, needle, or shot glass. It’s the eternal hunger to belong that feeds our needs. Plus, there’s plenty of older folk hopelessly addicted to social media, too.
Social media’s impact upon the church and her mission to evangelize, disciple, and create community cannot be understated. In less than two decades, social media has changed all the societal cyber rules.
For example, Facebook has redefined community and “friendship.” Prior to Facebook, most people would say a “friend” was anyone that you knew well from school, work, church, or play. A good friend was someone that you liked and with whom you enjoyed mutual common interests, values, and goals. But Facebook has flattened “friendship” to include acquaintances, fans, friends of friends, and complete strangers. Friendship is now a connection but that doesn’t mean it creates authentic relationships. You can “unfriend” as easily as you “friend.”
Similarly, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube have redefined and reinvented how we communicate and transfer information (which has implications for how the local church disciples). Micromedia recasts communication into 140-character posts, memes, and four-minute “sight” bites (the average video on YouTube is under five minutes). Consequently, postmodern attention spans are the size of communion cups.
Like that preacher noted, we can tie two cats’ tails together but don’t think that’ll foster community or friendships. And yet that’s what we all want. We all want to go someplace where everyone knows our names (cue the “Cheers” theme music).
When’s the last time…
- you made a new friend at church?
- your church hosted a fellowship meal?
- you went to lunch with church friends after Sunday services?
- you participated in a weekday small group?
- you invited a friend to your church?
- you had church friends in your home?
- you enjoyed a concert or nonchurch event with church friends?
If you answered “not lately” or “never” to most of those questions, it’s time to get your “church” on. Fellowship and community is what wired the first-century church. It’s what tattooed the church for centuries.
I’m going to write a lot about community, fellowship, and discipleship in 2018.
If we’re going to refresh the church in America, it’s only going to happen one relationship at a time. We must get real again.
The cats are getting harder to herd.