The Episcopal Cafe continues to direct us toward debates on the relative merits of churches using social media, and the longer range implications of the growth in social media for religious institutions.
Most recently: Four questions on social networking. They are:
- What will happen to churches that are anchored in historic beliefs and hidebound in traditions, where hierarchy prevails over democracy and where expectations are that individuals will support the institution without question?
- How will clergy of all ranks respond now that church institutions are being peppered with demands for accountability from people in the pews?
- How will scholars debate online with integrity disciplines such as theology, ethics, and discipleship when the conversation opens up to those misled by the many irresponsible, unfounded myths, legends and outright lies passed along via the Internet?
- Can enthusiasm for various missions and ministries expressed via social networking be translated into real-life, feet-on-the-ground human effort and relationships?
They also comment on Ian Paul’s discussion of the benefits of facebook for ministry: Using facebook to build Christian community. I find his first two observations especially trenchant. Facebook connects me with people I don’t see except on Sunday, and people I don’t see at all regularly anymore. I think it strengthens community and it also nurtures the bonds of community and pastoral connection with people who have moved away.
We are in a rapidly changing culture with the decline of institutional religion and the rise of social media. What will happen is not at all clear, but what I am seeing is that social media, my blog, facebook, etc., are ways of reaching out to people who might not be closely connected to the church and finding ways of tightening those bonds.
I was struck on Saturday by comments from a number of people who walked past while I was standing outside of Grace, talking to people. Strangers came up to me and said that they had heard what we were doing, praised our hospitality, and thanked us. Had they learned of our open doors by seeing the sign? My guess is, most heard through the grapevine, facebook, or twitter. It has raised our profile in the community.
Now, we will we get new members or “pledging units” from this effort? Who knows? What I do know is that we are making a difference in people’s lives, in some small way.