I’ve debated whether or not I should write this post for a while now, knowing that it might not be received well in a culture that has turned social media into an actual consumer good. I imagine the title itself already has some of you prepared to valiantly defend the practicality and necessity of using social media in our Christian culture. In fact, I run the risk of being criticized for the mere fact that I am attempting to question the use of social media while writing on a social media platform.
That being said—let me make myself clear. I use social media. I tweet, Instagram, and Facebook as much as the next person. I’m your average American hipster wanna-be, taking photos of my Starbucks coffee cup and the occasional Sunday Selfie. (Let me pause here to congratulate the 2013 addition to the OED. We are slowly and officially becoming a more narcissistic culture. Who knew that was possible). I post photos of my puppies, Predator’s games, and girly sleepovers, fully aware that no one really cares about my less than exciting social life. The majority of the time, using social media is all in good fun. It can be practical and useful, even. It allows me to keep up with my world traveling classmates, family across the U.S, and the myriad of engagements that result from attending a college whose unofficial motto is “Ring by Spring.” I should also make it clear that in working for a non-profit agency, my work day largely consists of navigating the social world of youth—necessity causing me to find content that will engage our target audience.
I think the key word here is necessity. It has literally become a necessity to engage our culture, particularly our youth, by way of social media. My question is this—is it a necessity to engage the Church by the same methods? Or by doing this, are we actually hindering the upcoming generation of Christ followers?
Stay with me as I share my thoughts. Shane Hipps comments in his article, “Enough about Me, How Do You Like Me?” that “technology is dramatically transforming our understanding of ourselves, our definition of community and our experience of God” (Hipps, 26). It’s scientifically proven that those growing up in what I like to call the “140 characters generation” are thinking differently than those prior to this period in time. In fact, I read an article the other day that stated that the brains of our youth are actually rewiring themselves so that they are not able to focus on or comprehend the same sort of information that has been presented in generations past. Our brains are being rewired to think in short, choppy, and concise sentences. This limits our ability to concentrate for extended periods of time, think critically about longer passages of text, and pay attention to speakers who wish to speak for longer than fifteen minutes. All of these have played important roles in religious practices for centuries past.
So then, what does the Church do? Do we throw ancient, traditional methods out the window and dive whole-heartedly into the world of Christian social media, hoping to engage our young people (and even our adults) more effectively? I am of the growing opinion that we should challenge our audience to think counter- culturally by taking a road that is, these days, less traveled by. Let me tell you why.
Twitter, for example, encourages quick take-aways. In attempting to engage a culture of young people by using twitter, we are perpetuating the idea that God’s message can be quickly scanned over and internalized. While twitter can encourage a deep thought in less than 140 characters, it does not encourage deep thought itself. Hipps notes that it has simply become white noise (30). We see a tweet about the sovereignty of God and in a few moments that thought vanishes as we look at a photo of what our classmate ate for dinner that night. This happens, I might add, in the middle of someone’s sermon or teaching. Twitter is a detriment to slow, deep, and meaningful thought—it discourages us from concentration and meditation. Because of the way it’s rewiring our brains, we literally may not be able to keep ourselves from distraction.
In attempting to engage others in following Christ via over-use of social media—we are often distracting others from Him. Who can hear a still, small voice when our brain is over stimulated with visual and auditory information? We are perpetuating the need to constantly be on social media. We are encouraging quick takeaways. We are accepting the fact that our culture can’t handle long, expository sermons without some sort of entertainment. We are discouraging interpersonal communication, face to face conversation, and verbal processing.
I get why the church is using social media to reach others. I really do. I’m just wondering if maybe there’s a better way. What if we challenged people to put their phones down for an hour? What if we encouraged people to hold the living words in their hands—to look down and slowly meditate on them without the temptation of checking email or Facebook or Instagram? What if, instead of adhering to the accepted norm of our culture, we challenge it to think critically and deeply and for long periods of time? I am of the belief that this would cause more face to face interaction about topics that the Church needs to care about. Our words might not always be quotable, but perhaps they’d offer opportunity for discussion and disagreement and ultimately—a better understanding of our relationship with God.