When the typical day consists of work, kids, shower, and bed, it can be hard for members of any congregation to think about their spirituality. In fact, 6 out of 10 Christians surveyed in a 2007 study said that it is “often” or “always” true that “the busyness of life gets in the way of developing [their] relationship with God.”
In the wake of all of this distraction, though, just about all Christians will tell you that they stay with a particular church because of “the people.” Of course, the role of the church extends well beyond meeting new people and maintaining friendships, but, let’s face it, humans are social creatures. Fellowship helps round out and connect the church experience to the fabric of everyday life. Or, in other words, if the feeling of community that exists on Sunday continues over into couples night on Tuesday or Bible study on Thursday, the secular/spiritual balance feels more correct.
Unfortunately though, without fellowship to fill in this space and keep the church present in the minds of members, secular patterns of thinking slowly take over and the church can begin to take a back seat.
This is where online social networking can help.
It fits in where other, more time-consuming things don’t. You can check your profile quickly after dinner or during your lunch break. You can update your blog once and keep all of your extended family and friends constantly in the know. You can post your pictures from your rebuilding mission before you wipe the sawdust off your feet.
More importantly, online social networking offers church members a more direct link to fellowship experiences. With an online base, church members have more flexibility in scheduling new fellowship outings and they can participate in fellowship directly on the site – sharing photos, updating profiles, writing a personal blog
Alternatively, one might argue that online social networking is part and parcel of the modern virtual lifestyle and busyness crisis. These would be the same people who lament the ever-present blackberry and blame modern technology for ironically making our lives more hectic.
From any perspective, this adds up to an old question. How can Christianity best impart its core belief – that each person should have a personal and unfathomable relationship with God – in a continually flawed and changing world? How can church leaders navigate new advances and decide how each complements or detracts from the work of the church?
Traditionally, this process plays out as a give and take. Something will be lost in the church’s embrace of social networking and something will be gained. Change always involves a trade off. One thing has seemed certain in modern history, very few have been able to ignore progress all together.
What we do know is that social networking is popular for a reason. People are spending more and more time on the internet and are therefore used to reaching for it. This may seem too obvious, but it is worth pointing out – church members across the world, especially younger members, reach for their computers much like your grandparents reached for the stamps or the telephone. Online social networking has become natural.
It is therefore tempting to ask whether the phenomenon will prove to be a trend or a paradigm shift, but this question misses the point. People are involved with online social networking — in all its different incarnations — now. It might not last forever, but it will influence what takes its place.
As for how your church can take advantage of online social networking, here are a few sites that I believe offer the best value:
If you would like to offer your members a no-hassle platform that will be custom-designed and maintained for your church, check out the Online Family Center. It has taken the best of all the features from various social networking sites and put them in one customizable package. Perhaps more importantly, their technical staff will set up the site for your members, maintain the site for the church, and provide church leadership with training if they are interested in maintaining the site themselves.
Another site, MyChurch, offers churches the option of setting up and maintaining their own site. MyChurch does give its members the option to upgrade to a premium account for more disk space and technical support, but the site seems to be more geared toward those churches that have programmers available to them and are looking to set up their own sites. As for functionality and features, the Online Family Center is the more solid choice.
And, last but not least, many churches turn to Facebook and MySpace. The only problem here is the background “noise” from all of the other users and the lack of church-specific feature use (RSVP event calendar and family tree, for instance).