I can’t tell you how many conferences or events I’ve been to in the past couple years where I’ve heard speakers/presenters/preachers take cheap shots at social media. Many of these people have been Presbyterians. It’s like many Presbyterians have this idea that if we ignore social media, critique the hell out of it, or maybe just mock it with a nice one-liner in a sermon, maybe it will go away.
I’m sure it’s not just me either. How many of you have heard people say some variant of the following statements:
- People talk about “online community” – that just doesn’t happen. Community is when we’re interacting with people, face to face.
- We live in a world now where people “friend” people on Facebook, follow people on Twitter and share their life through Instagram. That’s what people think relationships are now.
- Facebook is altering our understanding of “friendship” when you can just go “friend” anyone you want to.
- People base their success on how many “friends” they have on Facebook – that doesn’t count.
- We think we’re connecting because we’re on all these social media platforms, but…
- Social media is actually disconnecting us from real life and “REAL” relationships.
- Kids these days don’t even know how to TALK to one another – all they do is text and chat on Facebook.
- I feel like I hear something like this at every event I go to, specially ones that are put on by Presbyterians. And I think that shows how out of touch many people are.
This happened at the Emergence Christianity event back in January, and as I tuned in to the National Gathering of NEXT Church this morning, I was able to hear someone talking about relationships today, and how we think social media is all we need to have effective relationships and the vibe that I got was that social media was the problem.
Now, obviously there are Presbyterians who get it. Many of my colleagues who are Presbyterian pastors are doing some great stuff with social media. I engage with a lot of great friends on Facebook and Twitter, and know people who are using it effectively both personally and for their ministries. Bruce Reyes-Chow has written a book about it. Neal Locke is senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church of El Paso, and is one of the leaders of the First Presbyterian Church of Second Life. And the denomination is currently looking for someone to serve in Louisville as a Social Media Manager for the denomination.
Last month, I got to hang out with a group of Presbyterian teacher and ruling elders, as well as some leaders from the Six Agencies of the PC(USA) and social media came up many times in our conversations. Even there, I sense a little resistance to new forms of media, but in general, people were excited to see how the denomination could become more active and influential in the world of social media. And I think there was also a sense among many that social media is simply part of our world now – and so the question is NOT whether or not to engage in social media – but how.
So many do get it.
But so many others still don’t.
And I think that when we keep critiquing social media (as if it’s something that’s going away), and when we keep denouncing the “community” that such forms of new media have created, I think we only make it easier for people to see us as irrelevant and out of touch with the world today.
Social media is here to stay. You only have to watch videos like the one below to get a sense of just how integrated social media is becoming in our world, our businesses, our relationships and yes, our churches:
So I would love to attend some Presbyterians events where social media and other new forms of media are simply accepted for what they are, as the tools that people use today, and that we didn’t feel the need to critique or mock them, like I think we do so often. We don’t mock you for printing out handouts on paper, which was a new form of media at some point. We don’t mock you for writing your books (well, unless the content is mock-worthy), a form of media that hasn’t always been around.
This isn’t to say that we can’t have conversations about social media, about how to best use it, about best practices for these forms of media that are still so new to so many people. But if we do so with an air of “it’s just a fad” or superiority (which I’ve often sensed in these conversations), we do ourselves and our ministries a huge disservice.
Obviously, this post isn’t just about Presbyterians – you could have inserted any other mainline denomination in the title of this post. I think evangelicals have gotten this for awhile, and I hope that we might be able to catch up. Social media isn’t going away any time soon. But we might be if we continue to view it as something that we can simply ignore and mock.