Are Facebook and Mobile Phones Killing the Church?

At the Experimental Theology blog, Dr. Beck posits that the reason millennials aren’t going to church is because of Facebook and mobile phones.

His argument hinges on the assumption that the majority of online social interaction happens between people who know each other in the real, offline world. According to research he’s done for the university where he works, most people easily distinguish between their true friends and random acquaintances on Facebook.

Here’s a meaty excerpt from Dr. Beck’s post, How Facebook Killed the Church:

Young Christians and non-Christians tend to feel that the church is “unChristian.” Too antihomosexual. Too hypocritical. Too political. Too judgmental. That’s how young people see “the church.” And it’s hard to blame them.

But my argument … was that the church has always been this way. Is the church of 2010 much different from the church of the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, or ’90s? I don’t think so. So, yes, the church is screwed up. Always has been. The church has been a depressing constant over the generations. So the change isn’t with the church. The change is with the Millennials. […]

So why has mobile social computing affected church attendance? Well, if church has always been kind of lame and irritating why did people go in the first place? Easy, social relationships. Church has always been about social affiliation. You met your friends, discussed your week, talked football, shared information about good schools, talked local politics, got the scoop, and made social plans (“Let’s get together for dinner this week!”). Even if you hated church you could feel lonely without it. Particularly with the loss of “third places” in America.

But Millennials are in a different social situation. They don’t need physical locations for social affiliation. They can make dinner plans via text, cell phone call or Facebook. In short, the thing that kept young people going to church, despite their irritations, has been effectively replaced. You don’t need to go to church to stay connected or in touch. You have an iPhone.

Sure, Millennials will report that the “reason” they are leaving the church is due to its perceived hypocrisy or shallowness. My argument is that while this might be the proximate cause the more distal cause is social computing. Already connected Millennials have the luxury to kick the church to the curb. This is the position of strength that other generations did not have. We fussed about the church but, at the end of the day, you went to stay connected. For us, church was Facebook!

I think his idea has merit. Even though the physical distance between me and my friends from high school and college has increased, I still have a fairly good sense of what’s happening in their lives. When we reconnect in person, our conversations are littered with “Oh, I saw on Facebook that…” or “I read your tweet about….”

Rather than supplanting or diminishing our interaction, social networking has more closely connected us to the daily ins and outs of each other’s lives. This kind of interaction is something that I used to only experience during extended chats before and after church functions. Without the social necessity of church, I can easily see how church has become “unnecessary” in the eyes of some.

What do you think of Dr. Beck’s argument? Has social networking changed, or even replaced, your interaction with your church community?

14 Responses to “Are Facebook and Mobile Phones Killing the Church?”

  • There is some real truth in Dr. Beck’s overview of easy electronic connective communication. No argument there, at all! However, my gut keeps telling me that although seekers (of all sorts) have found that connectivity, the reality of which is rebellion and replacement of idolatry. When man’s motivation is independance from authority, be it parental, societal, religious or government what is displayed is a misguided sense of self worth and self determination. Don’t get me wrong, many pews are occupied with that same line of thought. Is there a god of gadgetry and technology? The comfort found in that god is very temporary. There are many who become addicted to Facebook, Tweeter and email. For most however, it becomes boring and trivial after a fashion. Only a God of mercy and faithfulness will endure. Some find that out very quickly and others will find it out at the throne of grace. We are beings of physical and spiritual makeup. When either one is neglected or abused, the other suffers.

  • Pat says:

    I dont think Facebook and Mobile Phones are killing the church. I think mis-education of God and the bible are killing the church. Facebook can be used as a tool to relay the Gospel, same as a mobile phone via texting and email. If the church is used as a social gathering place ONLY then that is not right. If God’s message is not being taught in the PRIMARY then that is what kills the church. Anything else should be secondary and spirit-lead.

    • Ricky Malone says:

      I totally agree with what pat says. I believe that all of this technology can be used as a tool in order to get the Gospel out. I believe as a Christian that, whatever we have is to be used for Gods glory. There is nothing wrong with facebook if a christian is using it as a tool to get Gods word out there. The only way that it would become a problem is if the believer started to idolize it and talk idle talk. Me personally, I go to church to get the word and worship God in a corporate anointed atmosphere. Not to socialize. I have a facebook and I tex. And i would say that most of the time I am saying something about Jesus. Thats why I dont have many friends on facebook other than My christian brohters and sisters. Because I not speaking the worlds language.

  • Kurt says:

    I have to agree with Pat. We’ve had phones and other forms of communication for decades that could allow people to make those social connections outside of church. You could even have community or group events that replace that. If social interaction was the only reason to go to church, wouldn’t the old rotary clubs have killed the church? If you only see church as a social event, then you’re completely missing the point. We go to church to worship God, hear the Word, grow in our faith, encourage and minister to others, keep the sacraments, and yes, fellowship. If Facebook can kill a church, then that church had serious issues.

  • Paul says:

    If this is the only reason (so-called social networking/affiliation) people “tolerate” church, therein lies the problem.
    As I see it, church is not simply a social club, but a place were saints come to build each other up in love, get fed the word, serve each other and the list goes on.
    If people are leaving the church because they have found other avenues to chat, it may not be all bad.
    It may actually help reduce hypocrisy and encourage the faithful remnant to grow.
    Who knows maybe the church will become attractive again and things will come full circle as we know can happen.
    That being said, it does seem that “church” needs to be “redefined” in the 21st century or at least the mystery of what the body of Christ really is needs to be revisited and superficialities need to be removed.

  • H P says:

    Pat has it right. innovations in technology and communications isn’t whats killing church, its the lack of understanding of it and how it can be used a channel of communication is whats killing the church.

    there are so many possiblities and so much potential to use social media, twitter, facebook, etc to evangelise and have outreach events. it should be used as a channel to draw the people in rather than drive the people out.

  • Barbara says:

    Our dads got fed up with the church separating their families. Children entertained in children’s “church,” teens going to youth group to play games and to qualify for the trips. The trips cost money, some of which the teens earned with car washes etc., but parents still got soaked with every trip which seemed to constantlay increase in frequency. So our dads went to the Pastor and said, “We don’t like what we are seeing. We are kids to be discipled, not entertained. So Pastor said “Good idea, are you able and willing to do it yourselves?” The dads said, “Yes!” So we have no more children’s church. There is still nursery for infants and children up through 2nd grade. Most parents keep all their kids even babies in the worship service. Our church is actually growing. When we have visitors with children, they raise their eyebrows coming in. Going out they often comment how well behaved our children our. Well, yeah, when you’re sitting with Dad, it does tend to affect your behavior. When babies get fussy, often it is the dad who takes the child out until it settles down. It is really exciting to see our dads and kids interacting in church and around town. Parents are often asked how they get their kids to be so well behaved in public. Amazing what can happen when children know where they came from, why they are here, and where they are going when they are finished here.

  • Barbara says:

    I should have proofread that. Sorry. I think you get the gist of it.

  • Rick says:

    I have tried to attend various Churches now for years. But after I had been in an initial congregation that went through so many Pastoral and leadership changes, and in some cases was simply “kicked to the curb” becuase there wasn’t enough money to support such leadership….I eventually became rather disenchanted. Since then, I cannot seem find a place where I and my family “fit”. I don’t necessarily blame anyone other than myself for that, but at the same time, I have often felt that there was “something” preventing me. Maybe God, maybe not. But the fact is, I am fairly active on the net, and I have a cell phone, and I can contact anyone I want in in a myriad of ways; but in my heart I desire something that I simply cannot find in Church today. It would be difficult to put that something into words here, but I know that if I found it….I’d know it. And that hasn’t happened.

  • Amelia says:

    I am part of the generation being referred to by Dr. Beck.
    I am also a new Christian (8 months and counting!). I do have to agree with certain aspects of Beck’s argument. Particularly about Church being social (as well as spiritual) event. Also I agree that yes, the “Millenials” do socially interact via iPhone, Facebook, text, MSN and other synchronous communication forms. However, I don’t think these are the prime reason for our demographic “kicking Church to the curb”. Yes, making plans and interacting with each other is so much easier via facebook, corresponding to check if a friend wants to have coffee doesn’t require waiting to see them at church to make plans (afterall, a text message only takes .2 seconds to write, half a minute to send and read, and the recipient 10 seconds to formulate an answer and reply). No, the social networking resources have not replaced what Church offers in the social interaction department.

    Only yesterday were my housemates and I discussing a point in this arguement. It was in response to a “friend of a friend of a friend” requesting for me to add them as a “friend” on facebook. (For anyone who has not had the priviledge of being friend requested by a complete stranger- let me know. It’s an unsettling experience.) We all thought this to be so strange- “But I’ve never even MET the guy!” Housemate number one exclaimed. “How does he think he knows you then?” I questioned.

    She then participated in what “Facebook-ers” refer to as Facestalking (although a catchier name is yet to be found). The process involves looking into a person’s (friend or pendingfriend) profile and sussing out who they are based on their provided information. This includes their profile picture, which is sometimes deliberately inaccurately portraying the person. Which means one needs to look into their photos’s. This also show who this person’s REAL life (RL) friends are, (and sometimes family, if you’re keen to have your mum see your page too). And a survey of who they are Facebook Friends are, also reveals their identity.

    It turns out the “pending friend” was a friend of a girl whom my Housemate had met a handful of times at Bible Study. Interestingly enough- they were Homeschooled and we deduced a) Homeschooling means “making friends” is much more difficult, b) it’s really irritating that complete strangers think we will be friends with them, and c) we are never homeschooling our children in the hope of having socially mature offspring.

    But it raised the question: ‘Why is it socially more acceptable to meet a “friend of a friend” at someone’s party or house or other social gathering, and talk to them without having met them previously?’ And when trying to communicate with a “friend of a friend” via facebook without this interaction prior, is it so strange?

    My point (yes, I have one) is that although these networking facilities are one stream of communication, we can’t live on facebook alone. You can’t fully interact socially with people purely as online friends. And this is where Church is still an important part of life.

    Therefore, to try and attract this younger demographic- Churches (remember that a Church is just a ‘bunch of people’ when it comes down to it) need to actively create fellowship opportunities. Bible study and dinner, Book Clubs and coffee, Live Music, Craft, Sport, Choir (yes, our age group still enjoy singing), these are all great events that I am fortunate enough to partake in at my Church.

    So, the Church is not doomed because Facebook is so popular- God made us relational beings. Hallelujah!

  • Amelia says:

    And I have “The Church of Facebook” on my list of things to buy when I can afford it. It’s in the Church bookshop. Waiting patiently… But such is the life of a university student.

  • Laura says:

    facebook definatly is not killing the church.. I have so much support from fellow Christians I have met on facebook.. We pray for eachother and help eachother. I can share the word of God daily with the over 300 friends i have on facebook, most who aren’t Christian. I have had people ask me to bring them to church based on facebook.. Also, my cell phone is always on me. At a time when I need help or support, encouraging words.. People always seem to text me a good bible verse.

  • tony diaz says:

    What is killing the church is the church and her inability to redeem herself. We as the church have left the world in its depravity with the impression that we are less depraved and in turn much better off. We who with unveiled faces (real people with real problems) all reflect the Lords glory with ever increasing glory. Once we are honest with ourselves that God has handed all men over to disobedience then we can help those in the world, who have all ready unveiled themselves to see Gods glory. What kind of a people looks for trivial things to blame for our disobedience to true righteousness? The church needs to repent before the world can. Repent of her own righteousness:( Godrock

  • Joe says:

    I agree. The church, is killing the church. A form of evangelical suicide! From years of hearing and reading the word, and then, slowly but surely beooming more like the world, than the world. Or as an unsaved friend of ours stated not long ago..”why go to church, you tolerate the same stuff as everyone else nowadays”. Wow, what an indictment!