"Now let's all stand and greet your neighbor!"
If you've ever visited a church, you'll find that at least 8 out of 10 times, there will be some moment in the service when you are asked to do this. It's a noble effort to help people connect, and it works pretty well in small churches like mine, especially if you are strategic about using the time to connect with visitors (something I try hard to be good at). But back in my Dallas days, I found it discouraging every time we tried it. It was a huge church, so the people i met this week I would very likely never see again, even if we sat in the exact same seats every week. And so, when we did this, it didn't make fill me with joy, but with loneliness. There was no connection in the connection.
One of the trends I've noticed over the past few years, and which concerns my pastor's heart a great deal is what I've decided to call the "Facebooking of the Church." No, I don't mean that a church shouldn't have a Facebook page. Our church has a (much-neglected) page. And no, I don't mean that individual Christians ought not spend time on Facebook. I have a page also and I try to keep up with friends old and new through it. Instead, what I mean is this: it seems to me that in the midst of the communication revolution, with more tools for connecting with people we know than ever before, we increasingly find ourselves more lonely and disconnected than ever. We have hundreds, sometimes thousands, of Facebook "friends," but haven't been out on a really good date with our spouses or played cards with our buddies in so long we can't remember when. We send texts, tweets, posts, and even videos out into the ether, but honestly don't know who we would call if life ever really fell apart.
I see the same trends happening within the wider American church. Pastors have long lamented the consumerist mentality of many church people (aka "The Church should meet MY needs!"), but what I mean is a bit different. People still look to church to meet needs, but one of the biggest, the need for deep friendships, often goes unmet because they aren't willing to invest that much of their life in any one place. It's hard to build friendships when you have several churches with which you're "friends" but no place which is home. It's even harder when the dominant model of church consists of me trying to worship God with 1500+ other people, none of whom I really know at any deep level and then going home, having done my nod to God for the week.
I'm definitely biased, (I'm a small town, small church pastor, after all!) but I think that we need to re-think whether or not this type of church experience is all it's cracked up to be. I think it contributes greatly to the creation of Christians who have an army of acquaintances but no brothers and sisters. I also think it doesn't help make disciples, because I don't believe that even the best content in the world, in the absence of highly personal, visible models, is ever transformative.
That said, I'd be curious to know what y'all think. Am I right on, all wet, or some of both?