Recently, I have been thinking about community. I know the word "community" is possibly the broadest term out there, so let me bring it down a few notches. Digital community is all the rage. Online, you can attend a church service, do a service project, or even "have community". A lot has been made about this in recent months...you can read some comments on Out of Ur by Bob Hyatt. While I don't really feel the need to weigh in on this is debate, an aspect of this discussion has stuck out to me in recent conversations and readings.
I was reading a newsletter recently that was talking about the use of Facebook as a marketing tool. The premise of the piece was that the beauty of Facebook is that you can check in on someone's life (stay connected, follow what someone is doing) with little to no actual interaction with someone. Some may just call this "Facebook stalking" and there isn't anything inherently wrong with this. The article was praising it is as good thing. From their perspective, your customers can tell everyone via facebook that they are involved in your brand without actually needing to say much in person.
Don't get me wrong here...I tweet and facebook with the best of them. But the point here is the disconnection between feeling connected with someone's life by vicariously experiencing events through pictures, descriptions or status updates and actually being there, present at the event. The problem here is that it is really easy to confuse the two. They can each have their place, but let's not consider them the same.
In college, relationships would spring up between completely incompatible couples based on the shared experience of school. The proverbial seeds scattered on rocky soil. The feeling of closeness was manufactured by proximity and a few classes together. Because of proximity, these 'dating couples' spent more time together than I do with my wife. Some of these relationships made the distance and some fell under the first strain of true intimacy. But it was only by breaking out of the false reality of the shared college experience that these relationships could be tested. In the same way, social media and online experiences present a reality, but it is not the fullness of reality. It is by nature artificial and limited in what it can and cannot do. This must be recognized as we continue to think through the relationship between ministry and technology.