the weblog of Alan Knox

Disconnected Church Connections – Of Online Friends and Followers

Posted by on May 8, 2013 in community, discipleship, fellowship, gathering | 12 comments

Disconnected Church Connections – Of Online Friends and Followers

In a previous post, I explained that I was starting a new series on the topic of “disconnected connections.” (See my post “Disconnected Church Connections – Introduction.”) I’ve already discussed the “disconnected connections” that we make by reading books, articles, essays, and, yes, even blog posts. (See my post “Disconnected Church Connections – Of Authors and Similar Personalities.”)

What do I mean by “disconnected connections”? We can often feel “connected” to other Christians without face-to-face interactions. We often feel like we “know” people who we have never met. (As I explained in the introduction, I am not condemning disconnected connections. Instead, I’m cautioning that these types of relationships should be supplemental (and secondary) to real life, face-to-face interactions.

In today’s cyber world, we are “interconnected” with people all over the world. We have Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections, and Twitter followers. After we read someone’s updates, statuses, and tweets day-after-day, week-after-week, month-after-month, and even year-after-year, it can seem that we actually know each other.

And, remember, I’m not condemning these kinds of online relationships. As you can tell from the links above, I participate in online relationships, and I’ve benefited greatly from them.

However, as is the case with authors, online relationships should be secondary to our face-to-face, real life relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s primarily through these face-to-face relationships – not pixel-to-pixel relationships – that God works in our lives to help us grow in maturity in Jesus Christ.

Of course, like I said above, there are many benefits to our cyber connections – especially when it comes to understanding other Christians who are different from us and when it comes to seeing how God is working around the world. Often, these online relationships can even become face-to-face, real life relationships.

Four years ago, when I first joined the titterverse, I met a fellow tweeter named Art. A few weeks after that, we met face-to-face for the first time. Since then, we have coffee or lunch together a few times. Today, we work together, and see each other almost daily.

I’ve met other people online who I’ve also later had the pleasure of meeting face-to-face once, twice, or a few times. As great as online relationships may be, the interaction becomes even better and more discipline the more we spend time together in real life.

The best online interactions – in my opinion – are with those people who I already know in real life. In this way, cyber connections become an extension of our real life relationships instead of a replacement for real life relationships. (I think this is very similar to what we see in Scripture concerning letters. They were almost always written to people who the author already knew. Even when the author had never met the recipients, the letters were sent with someone who would then give that face-to-face interaction that is so important.)

So, yes, maintain and build those online disconnected connections. But, don’t allow those cyber interactions to take the place of real life, face-to-face interactions. It is through the latter kinds of relationships that we truly come to know one another and that we help one another grow and mature in Jesus Christ.

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Series on “Disconnected Church Connections”

  1. Introduction
  2. Of Authors and Similar Personalities
  3. Of Online Friends and Followers
  4. Of Speakers at Seminars, Conferences, and More
  5. Of the Lack of Relationships Among the Church

12 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 5-8-2013

    another great reminder post for us all.

    I had to get off FB because I was finding that I was using it to connect with people who lived RIGHT across the road from me… instead of walking outside my house and checking in on them. It irked me to no end….

    Also, I actually am one of those weirdos who is OK with people knowing everything I post… and then being okay to talk about it when I see you in person… just like we are continuing the online convo in person…. but SO many people are soo awkward when you try to talk to them about what they are posting online. and also, it’s a weird transition… how much of the story do they know? and then sometimes people assume you know everything that’s going on with them and they don’t want to duplicate, so they just don’t talk at all.

    So I really figured it was just better that I just DON’T KNOW what is going on… so I wouldn’t be tempted to talk about what I see online to people and embarass them….. and so now they can feel free to talk to about anything, because they know that I don’t know unless they tell me!

    but now I have 2 difficulties

    1) I miss connecting with my family & friends who live far away

    2) I am missing out on vital information I could have figured out from online. Like when a neighbor shares on FB some major challenges, stresses, a death in the family…… I used to use that information to reach out to them – and use it as a way to connect. But now for those people who I am not close friends yet, I can’t and don’t have any information to connect. and very few people are outside… unless they are my age group with kids and we all play outside.

    Facebook IS the new department store from the 50s…. or the well in Isaac’s time where the women gathered water….

    and so I don’t know anything about my neighbors anymore. We are trying to form a social committee in our HOA and make ways to connect… we will see.

    I just don’t feel lead to get back on FB though…. the bad outweighs the good.

    IDK. I wish it (EVERYTHING IN LIFE) wasn’t so difficult

  2. 5-8-2013

    Randi,

    “Facebook IS the new department store from the 50s… or the well in Isaac’s time where the women gathered water…” Yes, or the water cooler or “the city gates” or the “market”, etc. The only difference is that all of those other “gathering places” include face-to-face interactions.

    -Alan

  3. 5-8-2013

    YES I KNOW….. grr my love/hate with FBook. I can’t see myself going back on…. but there is an information void.

    so WHERE is the gathering place face to face!?!? We spend more outside time than any family I know…. and still don’t know many regular gathering places.

  4. 5-9-2013

    I like the analogy…FB is the new Department store or well. It’s true in so many ways. But really, let’s ponder for a minute what happens when we DO meet face to face. I mee folks at church weekly, face to face but the interchange is no more and in fact, less, than what it might be on FB. I even learn about folks when I see what they hit the LIKE button for.

    Meeting face to face has no more value, simply by being in person, if it has little or no personal content and depth. Very often over the years I’d come home from church (you know, that place where we meet face-to-cowlick!) feeling more lonely instead.

    It isn’t the media or medium. Community can’t happen until we get Personal with one another!

    Just my $0.02

  5. 5-9-2013

    heartspeak – exactly.

    some other thoughts:

    Interactions are simply interactions….it is true they aren’t intimacy…..but interactions can lead to connection which can lead to regular meeting which can lead to intimacy/true community! So interactions are so important for many reasons. One of those is what they can look to…

    but the other reason is what I shared above… an awareness of the world around you. passing of information in your physical community.

    There’s all different levels of relationship.

    I have found that the Lord has gifted me with 2 deep/daily/life together relationships (outside of my blood family) and he didn’t use the internet at all for those.

    Then I have close friends that I’d say I interact with weekly…God did use the internet to connect many of those initially and because I don’t see them every day, we do connect via email, too.

    Where I find a lack is the regular just neighborly friendships that happens in small towns, like the one I grew up in. The more than acquaintances but not daily or close friends.

    Like you pointed out to me in a previous post…. we can’t have intimate/daily relationships with more than 2 or 3 or (however many you think)….but I am missing the grocery store relationships. If you’re not on FBook, you are missing out on knowing needs you can help with. And that sux. For example:

    The “did you hear Caroline Smith’s husband hurt her back and she is looking for somebody to drive her child to school”…. and “Marge Brown’s ankle is twisted and is looking for somebody to mow her grass”….and “Sue Jones’ mom is in the hospital and she has been there every night this week and could really use some meals”

    Traditionally, towns were more closely connected so people would pick that stuff up around town…. which I don’t see happening often, because we don’t really go “around town”….so that is why the FB is the new “well” and “watering hole” or whatever….. because the only other place to really pick up that info besides Facebook (boo) is “church”

    so that leaves many of us that are outside traditional “church” in an interesting place. Because my church family consists of 4 families…. we don’t have a great information flow of needs – and we also couldn’t provide a lot of help anyway. But that’s a different story.

    So I do miss Facebook for that reason..for knowing the “gossip” so I could know who I can help….people aren’t going to vent/show they are upset to you if you’re not close to them….or if you just don’t see them…. but they do complain on Facebook….. but I just do not want to get on it again. I’m fighting it.

    I would love if every Christ follower in a 20 mile radius had to meet once a month to pool resources & talk about needs in the 20 mile community. You could only go to your designated place…all people in that radius HAD to go…. like a census :) Terrible idea I know… but I would love that :)

  6. 5-9-2013

    Heartspeak,

    Your echoing many of the same issues that I raise in the conclusion of this series, which will be posted tomorrow. :)

    Randi,

    About your last paragraph… I think it’s great that you recognize that about yourself. Historically, people who had that same idea – and who had “pull” – would then require everyone to abide by their own desires in that area. And, thus, we end up with a highly organized, though immature, system of gathering together.

    By the way, I’m not saying that you are immature for wanting that. I’m saying it causes the church to be immature when we force our “vision” or desires on everyone.

    -Alan

  7. 5-9-2013

    yeap! I would so love to control everybody and make that happen. Sooo not God’s way….

    Because I have that in my own self… I really have greater understanding as to why many things are the way they are…

  8. 5-9-2013

    Randi,

    In the same way, because I love to teach (and because I do well in a formal educational environment), I can see how formal teaching became the focus of those organizations.

    -Alan

  9. 5-9-2013

    Interesting!….

    I have questions for you but I can’t think of how to phrase them.

    Is God still using your like/inclination of formal educational environments in other ways even if not with Church?

    and

    Is this blog a great productive release of that desire?

    and

    Do you desire to teach formally anywhere? a university?

    and how does your desire for that formal teaching impact the way you relate to the Lord?

    Sorry… just trying to process some things. Like when or how did the shift happen to understand that growth with the Lord didn’t mean acquiring more information from Him. because I assume a weakness of liking that formal education is trying to relate to the Lord through that way rather than relationship. Or maybe it’s not an issue at all, IDK. Maybe moreso than the relationship with the Lord, it just affected your relationship with others more than anything. Opening yourself up to learn rather than teach.

    I am on the flip side, where I am am a student of life and love to absorb information and constantly go back and forth between not absorbing enough info cuz I’m trying to focus on relationship…. and then I’ve gone too far that way, so I need to absorb more information.

    Sorry just rambling.

    I won’t be offended if you can’t answer or don’t want to :)

  10. 5-9-2013

    hmmmm… now that I think about it….. I guess that most of us on the internet regularly are those personalities who love the education & seeking knowledge/info….and did/do thrive in that area….

    we transferred over to informal education.

  11. 5-9-2013

    Randi,

    In school – from elementary through post-secondary college – I excelled at formal education because it was easy for me to hear/read something and remember it. Because of this ability, and the way “success” in education was measured, I was often considered “intelligent.” Lately, I’ve learned that this kind of success in education does not actual mean that someone’s life has been changed. So, while I can do the formal education thing (lecturing, etc.), I do not have any desire to do that among the church. I hope this makes sense.

    By the way, because of this tendency, I have to be very careful about speaking too much when we gather together with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Just because I “know” something about the topic, it does not mean that I should always be sharing that information.

    -Alan

  12. 5-9-2013

    Thank you for that insight!