Your Church and the Facebook Friend Ignore


Facebook friend ignoreCommunity has been a buzzword in contemporary Church circles for the last dozen years, but I have yet to hear of a local church that does it well. Too many churches are lucky if they can find a way to get together once a week, much less three or four. I don’t hear of enough churches where the church members meet in each other’s homes regularly, outside of  the occasional small group.

In fact, my conversations lately have centered around how more and more of us are realizing our primary means of fellowship with other Christians outside of Sunday mornings is through Facebook. Which is why a recent discussion troubled me.

A friend mentioned that she stopped accepting Facebook Friend requests from others at her church. Evidently, she shared something with her carefully selected group of friends and it got back to an elder at her church with whom she was not Facebook friends yet. (I suspect another of her Facebook friends passed it along.) That elder then told the pastor of the church, and my friend ended up getting a pointed little “chat of correction” from the pastor the following Sunday morning.

The upshot is she stopped accepting Facebook Friend requests from everyone at her church.

I could identify. Something similar happened to me. While I haven’t ignored everyone in that circle of fellowship, I’m much more selective of Facebook friend requests as a result. Truthfully, that disappoints me greatly.

Only a fool would think the 21st century Church is immune to gossip. Still, that said, by their nature social networks tend to foster gossip, and I suspect some of you reading this who have been on Facebook for a couple years have been burned by something you wrote in an update. If fellow Christians precipitated the scorching, especially those at your own church, it hurts all the more. No one wants to share an update that they enjoyed a certain book and end up having to defend themselves on Sunday because someone at church found out through the gossip grapevine and took issue with their choice of reading material.

Given how much of our sense of social connection now exists through online means, I wonder if social networks such as Facebook are ultimately damaging our shot at real community. It’s something I’ve pondered for years, and when I get a friend request from someone I’ll chat with in church on Sunday but with whom I’m leery of sharing my Facebook updates outside of church, it makes me wonder if something vital is going unaddressed in our Christian community.

I truly believe a more fully realized community within the Body of Christ exists, but we certainly are not nurturing it as well as we should. And Facebook may not be helping, especially when Facebook friends talk about us in inappropriate ways and to the “wrong” people.

What do you think?

9 thoughts on “Your Church and the Facebook Friend Ignore

  1. Of course, another way to look at it is that Facebook only accelerates the inevitable. Information about people (true or not; personal or not; believers or not) will get around.

    Facebook and other social media also offer the opportunity to respond and be confessional when necessary, or to say “Friends who know me will also know there is no truth connected with this rumor about me.”

    But we need to let scripture, live and our golden-rule ethic toward others drive the way we interact whether face-to-face or online.

    • Keith,

      When one is hiking through rattlesnake country, the wiser course is not to overturn every large rock along the way.

      I wonder if our openness in America has backfired. Our exuberantly confessional society seems to be failing when compared against those cultures (Asian comes to mind) that keep nasty things under the rock and punish them more fiercely should they crawl out.

      I’m no longer certain that these add-ons to our lives that facilitate exposing corruption aren’t producing a culture immune to the corruption and more likely to pursue it. “Hey, Dad, can I keep that rattler for a pet?”

      Lastly, While I agree with you regarding the place of Scripture in driving us in a better direction, I seem to encounter more and more people who say they love the Bible but who can’t seem to see how it applies in this situation or that. It makes me wonder if we are becoming less thoughtful, less wise about the world and what the Scriptures speak to our daily lives. Sure, we know not to tell fibs and to treat our neighbor kindly, but the question of “who is my neighbor?” persists, and we seem less willing to explore the depths of that question—or any other that asks something of us regarding Scriptural admonitions and their applications to real life.

  2. Chris E

    The problem is one of register. Even when things aren’t confidential as such, there are plenty of things that we are comfortable sharing with those immediately around us, but no further.

    Of course you can manage this via multiple circles/friends lists on facebook, but it doesn’t come intuitively to most people.

    • Chris E,

      I’m not sure “intuitively” is the issue. The complexity of life has reduced many to a state of learned helplessness or obliviousness by choice: What we don’t know can’t hurt us, and knowing too much only asks more of us.

      • Chris E

        Well – I’m not suggesting it should come intuitively. The problem is that we have a fairly difficult to drive set of tools overlaid on top of behaviour that made sense in a completely different social context.

        I don’t think there are any easy answers apart from opting out to some degree or another (which as you allude to has other side effects).

  3. Jenny

    I always wince internally when I read the words “online community.” It’s rather an oxymoron, after all. Perhaps my formative impressions of the Internet are founded on that old cartoon, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” Someone can “be” whomever they want, online, and I’ve never understood why people trust so completely what they read
    in an uncensored and unmonitored place. (Perhaps my beliefs also tend toward “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”)

    And I have also always been aware that once something is posted, it cannot be retrieved–what has been seen cannot be un-seen. No matter how quickly you edit that comment on my status, I’m going to get an email about your first post. Usually it’s harmless enough, a misspelling or hitting Return instead of the apostrophe, but sometimes it’s a catty or sarcastic remark, a hurtful comment that leaked through the common courtesy filter that some of us still have on our brains. And even if it’s promptly removed, I’ve still got that email notification that someone commented…

    Because of those two ideas–easy falsification and irretrievability, I have always tried to temper my posting. The burns I have suffered (and caused) have been not from and to my church family, but my blood relatives. There’s a lot more regret there, for me. It may be that because I haven’t necessarily suffered burns from my church siblings, I’m not really qualified to comment at all.

    I have to plan a worship service this afternoon, and the theme I’ve been assigned is “community,” so the subject of your blog today caught my eye. It made me think about what community means in our church. I believe our congregation first thinks of that word as meaning “neighborhood,” which automatically slots it into “mission field” rather than “support.” While I agree with you, Dan, that as a culture our sense of connection comes more and more online, I’m not sure that my particular church community can relate to that idea. For most of them, the Internet is an extra degree of connection, and usually not the first thing they think of when they need to connect (due perhaps in equal parts to their age and their lack of access). But for the rest of us, I worry. My siblings, at least two of them, live within ten miles of my home. In general, the only contact I have with them is online, except for Thanksgiving/Christmas. I “speak” to my long-time friends and acquaintances online much more often online than any other way. When was the last time you and I saw one another face to face? My wedding party was made up of the closest friends we had, and we still consider them to be close friends, and yet the only one we see regularly is Gary’s brother.

    This really feeds my fears for our country and our children’s lives. I’m going to choose to let it drive me to my knees in prayer more often. And I think I’ll forgo that second cup of coffee, because my heart is racing fast enough now.

  4. Bill B

    One would think that facebook would be a place to share something that you mean to stay within a small circle of people, but it isn’t. It is more like being in public with a group of people you know – some well and some not so well.

  5. connie

    If something needs to be a secret, then it does not belong on Facebook, period. OTOH, if we are true community, sometimes we need to challenge one another. My thought is it would need to be directly and not cowardly like going behind someone’s back (which is what you described, if I read you correctly.)

    I have tons of church members on my facebook, along with tons of people I know in other venues-all types of people, I might add. I have never had the trouble that you speak of. I have had internet conversations-very few in number, thankfully-where someone has either taken issue with something I have posted or vice versa. But these were the same types of discussions that would have been held in person. One was when I had posted my dislike of a particular popular book, and I got blasted for it. Another was when I questioned whether or not my fb friend was wise in posting a particular picture.

    As far as gossip is concerned, that should not happen, but it is an unfortunate fact of most communities, online or not. Blaming facebook for anything is silly. It is simply a mechanism by which people communicate, no more, no less.

  6. Mr. Poet

    I have a lot of “Facebook friends” for which, without Facebook, we would not be “friends”. And if I unfriended them, I would be closing the door on our “friendship”, and we might never be “friends” again.

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