With a post title like that, I could start a whole blog, not just a post. I don’t intend to use this post as a big-picture analysis or soapbox about the nature of the Church. This is more of a mini-rant focused on a rather small issue. But issues add up, even the small ones. And they can matter.
In my freelance business and in my participation with various ministries, I often work with local churches who are trying to reach out to folks in their twenties – forties, and a common way they want to do that is with a church/ministry Website.
I tell them yes, that’s important. But usually I mention that the church should also become as active as possible on various forms of social media like Facebook, Twitter, etc. because that’s a really good way to make connections and be in conversation with the so-called “target demographic”.
And more often than not, people ask me WHY that is so important. If we make a good Website with pertinent information, a sleek and attractive layout, and lots of pictures of happy people of all ages doing happy things at Happy Church, then why is it also necessary to make a Facebook page, or a Twitter account, and try to build connections through social media? Should a church in these difficult economic times be expected to devote staff-hours to proactively make friend/follow connections and keep up with what sandwich so-and-so is eating for lunch or what coffee house their meeting a friend at on any given day? What is the benefit to the church?
Well, I’ve always had a few decent answers to give to those questions. But not ever a really good, concrete, concise way to make the point.
Now I have one.
Our family dog, Mulder, was euthanized yesterday. He was very old, had developed incurable joint pain, could barely move on his own and was becoming increasingly surly whenever anyone would come near him. Once it was clear that nothing could really be done to ease the pain, we chose to put him to sleep.
In the big picture, with flooding, and terrorist-hunting, and the economy, and people having health issues and family members who are hurting, I will be among the first to admit that the death of a family pet – even one that you’ve lived with and bonded with over twelve years – is not something that should be high on the list of things that ought to go into the ‘Prayers of the People’ part of a worship service. “My dog had to be put down” doesn’t seem like something that ought to mix in with “My wife has a malignant tumor”, “I lost my job last week”, or “Thousands of people have died, wars fought, and blood is on a whole bunch of peoples’ hands and killing one bad guy doesn’t make that any better”. So I would not ever bring up my family’s loss of a dog in that situation. And furthermore, whereas I probably would tell some of my church family about it in conversation before the worship service, I’d feel pretty uncomfortable if one of them – or the worship leaders – said anything about it in worship. Uncomfortable to the point of shame, even.
You might be reading this and wonder why I’d feel that way, or what the problem would be. Well, I’m not saying it is rational or sensible – but it’s how I’d feel. And it’s how my wife would feel, too. And I am pretty sure it’s how a lot of people in my generation or the younger generations might feel. Not all of us, no. But many. Trust me on this.
On the other hand, what we WOULD do – what Leah and I DID do, was to post about Mulder’s death on Twitter and Facebook. That’s where we and hundreds of people like us would choose to share this kind of grief. And it’s where we and hundreds of people like us would find condolences, empathy, support, and expressions of love in return.
Through the past few days, bunches and bunches of my Facebook and Twitter friends have expressed support and prayers to us about Mulder’s death. My local church – although it has a Facebook page that follows my posts and Leah’s posts, has responded with nothing. A couple of people who attend our church have shared love & prayers, and as representatives of our congregation, I admit, that counts for something. I also realize that people are busy, overworked, and that Facebook streams can be hard to sort through if you’re not able to stay on top of them regularly. But that is part of my point. When our family needed some extra support and love and prayer this weekend, I ask … who has been our Church? Has our church been our Church? No. Our friends & family, via social media, have been our Church. My local church (in the institutional sense) hasn’t done anything bad or wrong by missing this opportunity. But they DID miss an opportunity. They lost a chance to connect with someone of my generation. They lost a chance to make me exclaim “Wow, I really appreciate my local church.” And while it is not, in the larger sense, all that big a deal, it IS something worth pointing out when so many institutional churches keep bemoaning their inability to connect with “the young people”.
I’m posting about this not to denigrate my local church specifically, but to point out that in my experience, this is a widespread issue. Churches and ministries all over the country are wrangling and worrying and trying to come up with ways to get “young people” into their pews, but when you tell them “Here’s an avenue through which you can minister to the people you’re asking about, as long as you proactively USE it as the tool it is intended to be.” … you get lots of “Why? I don’t get that stuff. Why is it useful? what’s the point.”
Well the point is, whether you “get it” or not – this is how we commune. It’s not the ONLY way, it’s not a substitute for face-to-face community, but it’s a very useful tool that serves a purpose. And sometimes, for people of certain ages or certain personality types, it serves the function of Church really well.
So next time somebody asks you why a church should proactively participate in social media, and really put effort into it, tell them about Mulder and the Bradleys. Maybe then, it’ll become a bit more clear.