In Defense of Facebook

19 Jan

As a member of a mainline Protestant church (MPC), it seems like we have spent much time over the past decade talking about our future, and, given the numbers, it’s probably wise that we are looking ahead.  As is pretty common in MPCs, our members are aging, and aren’t being replaced at anything close to the rate at which they are being lost.  After this sobering fact is noted, there is a moment of quiet, and then someone always asks, “Why do we think this is?”  Of course the answers to this question are complex and involved, but increasingly, over the past few years, as people throw out their hypotheses, I have heard similar versions of the same answer:  “It’s because of Facebook.”  Most recently at a denominational gathering, I heard Facebook described as “a Trojan horse; you open it up innocently, and next thing you know you have been sucked completely up and away from real people and real community.”

When people make assertions like this, I think they are trying to express a multitude of feelings.  The first is generally some combination of fear, and distrust, and incomprehension.  The internet is still a relatively new phenomena for some of us (and at age 44, I’ll include myself in that category.  There was no World Wide Web, or even email, when I was a college student) and as such, if can be disorienting and incomprehensible.  The second piece of that is born from the first:  if the millennial generation lives lives that are computer-centric AND they are not joining churches, THE TWO MUST SOMEHOW BE RELATED.  I think the theory falls along the lines of “if we didn’t have all these online communities and distractions with which to compete, our churches would be just fine.”  It always at this point in the debate that I find myself in the (uneasy) position of defending Facebook in particular, and the internet in general.

It is undoubtedly true that Facebook has its limitations.  Like any tool, it can be abused, misused, and can cause harm.  Also like any tool, if used properly it can inform, educate, bring people together, and, yes, dare I say it, create community.  As someone who works with college students, believe me when I say I’ve seen the best of and worst of what can take place on Facebook.  Believe me, too, when I say that I think as people who care deeply about the future of our churches, we make a grave mistake when we posit this as an either/or:  either we can have online communities, or we can have face-to-face interactions in our communities of faith.   The internet is with us for good, it’s not going anywhere.  Facebook is a reality, and will be with us, until too many of our great aunts join and the Millennials leave for the next big thing.   Regardless, I don’t think they are the cause of plummeting number in MPCs, and the time we spend debating about it could be better spent having a dialogue about the ways in which the millennial generation does find meaning and purpose and community in their lives.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Message me on Facebook.

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Nancy Eggen is a United Church of Christ minister who has served since 2002 as campus minister at United Campus Ministry at The University of Tulsa,  an ecumenical and interfaith ministry committed to the pursuit of peace and justice.   She lives and works in Tulsa with her husband, 7 year old daughter, and an ever-revolving cast of quirky, committed, passionate, empathetic, strong, tender, enthusiastic, and inspiring college students and alumni.

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One Response to “In Defense of Facebook”

  1. Tom Cheatham January 19, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    When I was a campus minister, our ministry depended on our Facebook group to share news about what was going on. Quick, easy, and free! Now that I’m a pastor in a small church, living in one town but working in another, I depend on Facebook both as our church’s web presence (congregation and youth both have their own pages) and for messaging members on a list. I also see posts about surgeries, troubles, etc. on Facebook that I would not hear about otherwise. Facebook is a great tool, and the Internet in general is a must-have in ministry.

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