Being an old geezer and a counselor, one of the areas I have to constantly rethink is my view of the “social networking” trend. Listening to a recent WelsTech podcast (welstech.wels.net) again brought this to mind.
I do think a little background might be helpful here. While I’m not a full blown techie, I’ve been involved in online ministry since the 80’s. Back in the day I was one of the editors of “Morning Star” magazine. This publication went world-wide via bulletin boards (check Goggle for those to young to know what that is), and was published monthly for about four years. It was the equivalent of 40 plus pages per month and included Bible studies, Christian living articles, interviews, and miscellaneous small pieces.
For a period of time I also was a host and advisor to a number of Christian chat rooms on AOL. In fact for a short period of time I was actually an employee of that renown company.
Even today I’m still use the online world for outreach opportunities, serving as pastoral advisor to the Christian Fellowship Ministry (CFDevotionals.org), and posting thoughts daily on Facebook and Goggle+. (Contact me if you want to be added to the email distribution list at GKragen@aol.com.)
So clearly I’m not a technophobe. Technology can be used for good or ill. While there are outreach opportunities on the internet some can’t minister there because of their own struggles and the temptations.
But getting back to the WelsTech subject that stimulated this column, I want to touch on the issue of social networking as “community.”
As believers in local churches we need to understand how, for want of a more familiar tool, Facebook can be used to enhance community or create the illusion of it. For members of a local church using a Facebook tool like “Close Friends” we can create a forum for prayer requests and discussing sermons or class discussions, etc. (By the way I think this may be a bit easier to do at Goggle+ but I don’t spend enough time on either to have an informed position.) In any case, we find there is community because community already exists.
On the other hand having numerous “friendships,” made on line, can create the illusion of community. Community is created by relationship and relationship is not generally built in the arms length environment of a social network. While relationships can be started online it takes investment of time, commonality, and emotional contact to deepen them. This is where the balance between “real” and “virtual” becomes clouded. (Second life is a good example of the merging of the two, virtual and real. [Secondlife.com])
Having said this, relationship can, with the investment of time, be built even in the electronic world. After working with other editors and staff of “Morning Star” we got to know one another pretty well even though the majority of the staff was back east and in the south. Only three of us were here on the left coast, one of whom was my wife. I never met any of the staff face-to-face, though a few of the others did.
I believe, as the use of the online world expands, believers will be challenged to see the opportunities, challenges, and dangers. But I don’t know we will be able to discover fixed answers to general questions because the technology keeps changing.
As with any other opportunity of “go and make disciples,” we will have to grow in our understanding of these environs. This means, even if we’re not techies, we still have to keep up with the social impact of technology. So we read the Word, we pray, we are filled with the Spirit, and we keep on informing ourselves about the world around us. When we do this we will continue to have impact for the Truth.