Monday, July 25, 2011
Is Social Media Killing The Church?
Over at my friend Mike's blog there was a recent discussion about why Millennials (also known as Generation Y) are leaving the church. His question was, why are they leaving? Most of the answers took aim at the church. Churches are too shallow, hypocritical, judgmental, or political. Many surveys have shown these attitudes to be widespread among Millennials. Consider the Barna research summarized in the book unChristian. Young Christians and non-Christians tend to feel that the church is "unChristian." Too antihomosexual. Too hypocritical. Too political. Too judgmental. That's how young people see "the church." And it's hard to blame them.Let's assume he's right here - and I think he does have a point, even if there are some arguments to be made with the particulars. Can social media "replace" the church?
So why has mobile social computing affected church attendance? Well, if church has always been kind of lame and irritating why did people go in the first place? Easy, social relationships. Church has always been about social affiliation. You met your friends, discussed your week, talked football, shared information about good schools, talked local politics, got the scoop, and made social plans ("Let's get together for dinner this week!"). Even if you hated church you could feel lonely without it. Particularly with the loss of "third places" in America.
But Millennials are in a different social situation. They don't need physical locations for social affiliation. They can make dinner plans via text, cell phone call or Facebook. In short, the thing that kept young people going to church, despite their irritations, has been effectively replaced. You don't need to go to church to stay connected or in touch. You have an iPhone.
But my argument at Mike's blog was that the church has always been this way. Is the church of 2010 much different from the church of the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, or '90s? I don't think so. So, yes, the church is screwed up. Always has been. The church has been a depressing constant over the generations. So the change isn't with the church. The change is with the Millennials. If so, in what way and how has this change related to the church?
Well, if all church is about is the relationships, then yeah it can. But church is about that and more. There are the educational, inspirational and sacramental aspects of the church. Maybe most people are not in church for those things, but that is indication that something is very wrong in church, far more wrong than the complaints of "too shallow, hypocritical, judgmental, or political," particularly when it comes to the sacramental aspects of the faith. I mean let's face it, it requires community to have communion.
But people do not value these things, and so social media does come to replace what people do value about church. So the question becomes, how do we restore those things as values?
Maybe, if we start by valuing them ourselves....