10 Ways Social Media is Hurting Your Local Church

Let’s face it—social media plays a pivotal role in nearly everything we do, so why should church be any different? If we’re honest, it isn’t. When we look closely, it’s easy to see ways in which social media can hurt our local churches and, ultimately, even our individual faith. But remember—there are two sides to ...

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Let’s face it—social media plays a pivotal role in nearly everything we do, so why should church be any different? If we’re honest, it isn’t. When we look closely, it’s easy to see ways in which social media can hurt our local churches and, ultimately, even our individual faith.

But remember—there are two sides to everything. Social media may be a saving grace to some people, particularly folks with special needs or limited mobility. Watching sermons online, supplementing your Bible study, and connecting with other people is not inherently bad; on the contrary, they can be valuable and important parts of spiritual life.

Read on and see if these statements have made their way into your own conversations (or thoughts!).

1. “Who Needs a Pastor When I Can Listen to the Most Popular, Mega-church Pastors Online?”

You can learn a lot from listening to other perspectives—they can challenge you and push you to expand your knowledge and examine your existing biases. Many of the super-popular preachers have good things to say, but your local pastor may pale by comparison if he or she isn’t as charismatic.

However, the reality is that pastoring a church isn’t just about preaching on Sunday mornings. The role of pastor is critical to an individual’s spiritual growth. We need leadership, accountability, and a personal touch—not just a handsome face to put on our website banner, but a personal shepherd. Jesus spoke to groups, but seemed to prefer direct conversations. Granted, Facebook wasn’t around then, but even if it had been, I believe Jesus would have always preferred a face-to-face connection. Similarly, a good pastor is tuned in to the needs of his congregation and community, and will address teachings that might be timely or specifically relevant.

2. “They” Make Our Church—and Christianity—Look Bad.

Remember the old saying attributed to Groucho Marx? “I wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have me as a member.” At times, we apply that mindset to church, too.

We’ve all seen it: Someone posts sanctimonious and hypocritical comments; or shares harsh, undiplomatic political views; or bashes a company or individual. And then, the next morning, they post pictures of their Bible in the slanting morning light, with the steam from their perfect cup of coffee, and then “check in” to church promptly on Sunday morning.

It’s easy to understand why someone who doesn’t attend church might be turned off. The truth is we are all ambassadors. When we claim to be Christians, people watch us to see if our behavior matches our professed beliefs. When they do not, we’re judged as hypocrites—and that damages the reputation of our local churches, not to mention that of the Church as a whole. Pay attention to what you post (and what you say, and what you believe). If it doesn’t line up with Scripture, or if it doesn’t look like Jesus, it’s best to skip it.

3. “When I Go to the Church, Half the People are on Their Phones. What’s the Point?”

It’s difficult to resist the lure of social media; our brains crave the hit of dopamine generated by likes and comments. Social media is addictive because we want instant gratification—not just 2 or 4 likes but hundreds. We want our posts to go viral for everyone to see them.

But serving God isn’t about instant gratification. Some of the most profound lessons come to us over time. We learn patience by waiting for answers. Spiritual growth comes one small step at a time. People don’t change overnight, and social media, with its immediate response time, teaches us to expect things to happen NOW. This hurts our faith and leads to our feeling forgotten when we don’t get immediate answers to our prayers.

The solution is spending time in God’s presence. Recognizing the value of companionship with the Almighty. Remembering that the cure for most things—our grief, loneliness, doubts, despair—comes when we saturate ourselves in God’s presence. Through prayer and studying the Word, the Holy Spirit speaks—and that is how things change. Not with the click of a button or application of an emoji.

4. “I Can Watch a Sermon Online Anytime. I’d Rather Sleep in on Sunday.”

I promise you, I like to sleep in as much as the next person. Probably more. Like so many of you, I’m tired. School and work (and team sports) are not really optional events, so the only activity with any flexibility is church. It’s easier not to go.

Church, though, when it operates as intended, is about so much more than the sermon. It offers relationship/fellowship. Interaction. Opportunities to share our experiences and learn from others (not just the pastor). Someone leading us into a state of worship, which we can and should do on our own, but often neglect. The Bible instructs us to meet together, and I think that is because Jesus was all about relationships. He knows we need them.

It’s easier to let online interaction substitute for the real thing. Honestly, it is. But when we settle for that, we’re cheating ourselves—and each other.

5. “I Can Join a Bible Study Online, So I’ll Just Stay Home.”

A lot of great resources are available online, and they’re a great supplement to what we can do on our own. The internet brings a plethora of information to our fingertips. We can discover more, faster. But it also means that we might spend more time reading what someone else wrote than figuring it out for ourselves, and it has been proven that information we learn on our own sticks with us longer.

The Holy Spirit can and will reveal meaning to you when you seek God, but if you’re not spending time studying the Bible on your own, you’re cheating yourself. Online Bible study has plenty to offer, but there’s something powerful about being in a room with a group of like-minded seekers that is difficult to replicate over the internet.

6. Since Social Media is Quick and Easy, Churches May Substitute Tweets for Direct Connection.

When church leadership posts to a Facebook group or sends a tweet, it can reach a large number of people quickly. The flaw in this thinking is twofold: One, sharing info online should never substitute for personally relaying important messages. And two, not everyone is on social media, so you may be alienating the elderly members of the congregation or those who cannot afford internet and large data plans.

Social media lends itself to quick dissemination of information with minimal effort on the part of the sender, so it makes sense to use it to notify people of urgent prayer requests or last-minute announcements. Sometimes, though, important things can be overlooked or buried in a sea of meaningless posts, so if an announcement or prayer request isn’t time critical, you may want to consider printing it in a bulletin or paper newsletter that can be posted on a fridge or tucked into your Bible. Don’t stop what you’re already doing, but be aware of whether it matches its intent and reaches those you need to reach.

7. “I See Enough ‘Fake News’ Already; I Can’t Deal with it From Church People,Too.”

The social media environment is rife with misunderstandings and perpetuates misinformation. Most people do not pay close attention to their language and grammar and—best-case scenario—their posts are misread or confusing. One study showed that about 70% of all articles shared were not read by the person who shared them; they simply read the headline and passed it on. This becomes problematic when the information isn’t fact-checked or assumptions are made by the reader that are not accurate.

Worst-case, is that people misinterpret Scripture, they twist a teaching to fit their life at that moment, or they use Bible verses to pat themselves on the back for their holy righteousness. And it makes the whole church look bad, while also casting doubt on everything else they share—even their testimony.

8. “If Church Members Post it, it Must be True—of the Whole Church.”

Related to the last point, incorrect information paints you in a bad light. But that shadow may extend past you to immerse your whole church.

When someone in authority makes a public statement, it’s logical for others to assume those views represent the organization as a whole. A post from a church member may lead people to think that the opinion is coming from the pastor or leadership of their local church or even the Church-with-a-capital-C, but oftentimes, it is no more than one person’s point of view.

Whatever the scenario, the end result is that bad information, harsh judgments, or hypocrisy will turn people away. People who read them may not be able (or willing) to distinguish between the individual’s point of view and that of the whole church.

9. “You Look Like You Have it All Together … and I’m Pretty Messed Up, So I Won’t Fit in.”

The picture-perfect Christian life can make even the best of us feel bad about ourselves. And if we’re not doing what we should be—say, refusing to forgive a friend, or spending zero time in prayer—then it only adds to the guilt when other people post about how holy they are. In their defense, most people don’t mean it that way. But when I see twelve posts in a row about friends’ quiet time, their word of the year, and what Bible studies are speaking to them—and I’ve forgotten how to talk to God, or I’m facing a stumbling block—these posts don’t draw me closer to God. Instead, they push me away because I feel inadequate.

The truth is that we all struggle. Some people let it all hang out and hold nothing back online, and others are more reserved because it’s important to them to only put their best foot forward, but none of us are perfect. We need to be careful how we show ourselves publicly.

We can be “real” while not being vulgar, hypocritical, or judgmental. When people see we’re flawed but still serving God anyway—recipients of His grace and love in spite of it all speak louder than any meme ever will.

10. “I Don’t Really Want to Talk to People Because I’m an Introvert, So I’ll Stick to Online Connections.”

Makes sense—except for the fact that much of what happens online remains superficial. Even when it goes deeper, we often allow it to substitute for direct interaction. I read an article once about how social media has damaged dating. People might have trouble making conversation because they’ve shared every detail of their lives all day—what they had for breakfast, which outfit they wore today, what book they’re reading, and so on. Then, when it’s time to talk face to face, they’ve used up all their small talk.

When we see someone on social media, we think we know them—but remember, people can carefully guard what they post and share. There’s more to a person than their profile reveals. Have you ever met someone and not recognized them because they look nothing like their profile picture? That shows that we really don’t know those people. An online presence is just one dimension of our personalities; true bonding between people may be more likely in person. A church is meant to equip believers to reach out and serve God together—and “together” is the key. Jesus and the Disciples were all about the personal connection and sharing of stories, so don’t give up on meeting people face-to-face, introvert or not. Your church will be stronger because of it.

This article first appeared on Crosswalk.com.

Should You Feel Shame for Missing Church?

If we could read people’s minds on Sunday mornings, we’d see all kinds of interesting thoughts… I’m tired. This is my only day to sleep in. People at church are hypocrites. They won’t even notice I’m not there. The ceiling would cave in if I walked through those doors. I know I should go, but ...

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If we could read people’s minds on Sunday mornings, we’d see all kinds of interesting thoughts…

  • I’m tired. This is my only day to sleep in.
  • People at church are hypocrites.
  • They won’t even notice I’m not there.
  • The ceiling would cave in if I walked through those doors.
  • I know I should go, but I don’t feel like it.

Sound familiar? I’ve been there. This article is for you, whether you attend regularly but feel guilty when you need to miss a week, or whether you do not go to church at all. I do go to church on Sunday mornings (but, I’ll admit, not to every service our church offers). I love it and I honestly don’t know what I’d do without it—but I’ll be the first person to say that you should not feel shame for missing it.

Because here’s the truth: God doesn’t exist only within the walls of a church.

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NIV)

That’s right. The Holy Spirit dwells within us. We can—and should—have a relationship with God that extends outside the walls of church, beyond the formal times of praise and worship, and even when we’re not around other believers.

The reality is that church can be complicated. And the words “church” and “God” are not interchangeable.

Countless people have been hurt by others in the Church. People have been judged, chastised, and abused in the name of religion. Some have been taught false beliefs about God and faith. No matter how well-meaning we are as a whole, the Church will hurt people and lose people. It’s inevitable.

The Bible instructs us to devote ourselves “to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42)—in other words, to gather with other believers for times of fellowship. It also teaches us to “not giving up meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25) and to worship God. You can do that outside of church, too, so why does going to church matter?

According to Ephesians 4:11-13, the purpose of the church is to build up believers, to equip God’s people for works of service. The church exists to teach us how to interact with others, to grow deeper in our faith, and to hear the Word of God (which instructs, teaches and convicts us). Why would the disciples tell us that some are appointed to be pastors and teachers and evangelists and prophets, if we weren’t supposed to gather together somewhere to learn from them?

1 Corinthians chapter 12 explains that all of us who have placed our belief in Jesus become members of one body. For the body to function correctly, all parts are necessary. In order for the Church to function as God intended, it needs all of us. Does that mean you have to go to church to be “saved”? No, because we cannot earn salvation—God offered it freely. Nor are we saved by our works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Doing what the Bible tells us to do doesn’t save us from our sin, and nowhere does the Bible say “attend church diligently every Sunday or you will go to hell.”

God calls our hearts to obedience, and the concept of church fulfills all of the instructions the Bible gives us. Personally, my faith has been formed in large part due to the people within my faith community—by hearing good teaching, by witnessing changed and faithful lives, by walking alongside others trying to live for God. Is my church perfect? No, and neither am I. Any time people interact with others, there’s a potential for strife and misunderstanding, for discord and hurt feelings. I’m not trying to downplay the very real damage done by some people within the church, and sometimes there are legitimate (and wise) reasons for people to leave their church.

But all in all, going to church can be valuable. What we stand to gain is so much greater than what we miss if we do not go.

So that settles it—we should feel shame and guilt when we don’t go, right? Nope. Because shame has no place in a relationship with God. We live under grace, which means that Jesus came to pay the price for all of our failings, all of our sins, all of our mistakes.

If we fall short (as we all will do), we don’t have to fall into despair. Instead, all we have to do is tell God that we know what we’ve done and want to turn away from that behavior. When we ask God to forgive us, He does. And then we can let go of it, and all related guilt and shame and remorse, because that is exactly what He will do. Let it go.

Honestly, if I thought God would beat me up every time I turned back to Him, I’d never do it. And if I believed He held Himself back and only made Himself known within the walls of the church, I’d start asking what kind of God He is.

When we ask these questions, though, we discover something amazing. He’s magnificent and holy and omnipotent—and yet He chooses to dwell inside us. If we are the temple, we don’t need church in order to find Him. He’s already everywhere we are.

As Christians, we can show our love for God by trying to live as Jesus taught his disciples. This includes having fellowship with other believers; encouraging, serving, and honoring one another; and hearing, reading, and studying the Word of God. Each of these things can be done outside of church, but the reality is that if you’re not gathered together with like-minded people, it’s more difficult to reach spiritual maturity. I know that in theory I can have a strong relationship with Christ on my own, apart from church, but in practice, my faith deepens and strengthens the more I am around other members of God’s Church. If, for whatever reason, you can’t be there (on a given week, or for a specific season of your life), then be intentional about filling your life with the things the church can provide.

But that pesky guilt? Those feelings of shame or embarrassment you feel when you don’t go? Let it go, and instead hold tight to the God who created the Church. The One who wants to capture our hearts. The One that is with us no matter where we are.

Please pray with me:

Heavenly Father, help me to let go of my shame and to trust in the reality of Your deep and abiding love for me. I want to honor You and know You better, both within and without the walls of the church. Help me do that in the place where You want me to be. Thank You for not hiding Yourself but for dwelling in me. Please show me how and where I can serve You best. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

This article first appeared on Crosswalk.com.

Church and the power of a shared story

One day during a writing workshop I attended, the teacher (a well-known author) assigned us the task of sitting for 30 minutes in three very different locations and writing down every single detail we observed. That evening, after we shared the details with each other, she told us that now they belonged to us. What ...

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One day during a writing workshop I attended, the teacher (a well-known author) assigned us the task of sitting for 30 minutes in three very different locations and writing down every single detail we observed. That evening, after we shared the details with each other, she told us that now they belonged to us. What the other women observed became part of my repertoire, and my observations became part of theirs. Now I can take these ideas and absorb them, hold them close, make them part of my story — weave them into the fabric of who I am.

There are a million reasons I could give for getting involved in a church — not because you have to be in church to have faith or practice it, but because it is the ideal place to learn from other people who are, at least in theory, trying to live out the faith we share. No, the people there won’t be perfect. They most likely will fail miserably, as we all do, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. It also doesn’t mean you have to go early for Sunday school or sign up for all the Bible studies — although you can. It just means that it’s a good place to observe. Open your eyes. Listen. Talk. Share. Ask questions. See how someone clings to God in the darker moments of her life — or notice how she doesn’t — and watch how that changes her. Don’t hide your secrets. If you want to have a perfect little life on Facebook, be my guest. But somewhere in your life find people with whom you can be real.

Because it is in the sharing, in the seeing, that you find the knowing. And it is the knowing that strengthens you and develops a faith that is lasting. When you look through the eyes of faith and notice how God works, it will change what you see when no amount of money-juggling will prevent overdraft fees. It will help you distinguish Him when your nephew responds again to the siren song of his addiction, or your child fails another class, or a herniated disk cancels your golf vacation. It will help comfort you when the biopsy shows that you really did spend too much time in the sun or that there’s no getting around it, you have to seriously change your diet because your health has hit critical stages. No matter how much you love chocolate. Or salt. Or bacon. He will guide you when your reputation tanks, or your investments do, or when the tanker jackknives on the interstate and kills a four-year-old child. It will sustain you when you can’t please a boss or seem to make a smart decision or salvage your marriage. It’s not dependent on you — because the Bible tells us, “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.” (2 Timothy 2:13, NLT)

Sweet and precious Lord, help us not to overlook the gifts you’ve given us, the ones surrounding us in the pews at church (or surrounding us in life, if we don’t go to church). Teach me, Lord, to see You, honor You, pay attention to You. Grant me Your unfathomable peace. And thank You for putting people in my life to walk alongside me. Help me learn from them, no matter what I’m going through. Amen.


P.S. If you don’t go to church, please don’t think I’m criticizing you. We each have to find our own way and our own place and I’m glad that my blog is part of your spiritual life. In fact, I wrote an article called Should You Feel Shame for Missing Church?, and the short answer is no :-). But I have been forever changed—in a good way—by the people at my church and I know the powerful things that can happen when you find a church to call home.

Are you jaded?

My friend Marcia, talking about why she loves writers and books and the writing process so much, said, “Books change me.” And they do. Or they should, if they do their job well. I’m possibly the worst book reviewer there is. Really. Because I always take the book and make it all about me. All ...

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GRAPHIC God can soften

My friend Marcia, talking about why she loves writers and books and the writing process so much, said, “Books change me.” And they do. Or they should, if they do their job well.

I’m possibly the worst book reviewer there is. Really. Because I always take the book and make it all about me. All Kelly, all the time. I’m so sorry about that.

But when I read, I want my thoughts to be engaged. I want to come to a new understanding. I want to puzzle through motivations and emotions, and I want the people (whether fiction or non) to become real to me. Therefore, when I review a book, I tend to talk about where it took my thinking more than the actual book itself. It’s the best endorsement I can offer, really. When a friend recommends a book to me, I want to know what my potential take-away is. So that’s how I review.

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 10.23.16 AMIn Jaded by Varina Denman, Ruthie and her mom were shunned—completely ostracized—years earlier by their church. Ruthie’s wounds ran deep and she was brittle and bitter. She didn’t want any part of their religion, and all she really wanted was to run from all of God’s people and go far, far away. The story is complex and real, engaging and moving, and immediately after finishing this book I downloaded the next one.

Know what I loved? That in spite of it all, Ruthie still believed in God. Although she felt that He had let her down, she couldn’t let go of that connection entirely. Ruthie understood what I think so many people do not: that God and church are not necessarily the same thing. And Ruthie wanted God. She wanted people to behave like they were supposed to, and she’d witnessed firsthand the cruelty that can be perpetrated in the name of religion. And in the story, she faced countless people who were willing to unquestionably believe lies proferred by a “Godly” man.

It’s a danger we in the church face, and we need to be wary. To turn to God, to beg Him, for discernment and wisdom in all situations. To stay in touch so we can see Him, hear from Him, respond like He would. I also think we need to remember that although churches should be the places where we see God most clearly, the two are not interchangeable. And God doesn’t live only within the church. I know that genuine faith can exist outside of that framework, and it often does. And that only serves to deepen my faith in the sustaining power of a relationship with God.

But sometimes the church itself is the thing pushing people away from God. Because God’s people don’t always behave as God would have them behave. In their passion and fervor, throughout time, men have used their belief in God as a trump card, twisting their religion to line up with their personal agendas. I don’t have to tell you this. We see it almost daily in the news.

But here’s the important thing to remember: God is the ultimate and final judge.

I can’t imagine how my faith would suffer if I didn’t have a body of people with whom to share my stories. People who pray with me, stand behind me, teach me, inspire me, and help guide and direct me. I’m fortunate. I know that everyone does not have this kind of support in their churches. And if you do not, can I encourage you today? Maybe you can initiate that—reach out to someone at your church. Intentionally develop friendships. Pray for one another. Try to create what you long for.

If you’ve been hurt by a church, pray about how to find reconciliation. Take the first steps if you can. Or if the wounds run too deep, take that leap of faith and walk through the doors of another church. Remember that people there—anywhere, everywhere—will be flawed. We all make mistakes, no matter how well-intentioned our motivations. It doesn’t excuse the wrong-doing, and I am not belittling the very real things you may have experienced. When we focus our attention on man, though, we miss out on seeing One who is so much bigger than all of that.

Because there is One who never makes a mistake. One who can bear the weight of the pain you’ve been carrying. One who will meet you wherever you are, whenever you reach out. One who longs to heal you, comfort you, reveal Himself to you. One who really can mend. Who can soften hardened hearts and open closed minds.

Dear Lord, help us to see You. Help us to represent You in truth and generosity, in love and kindness. Continue Your healing of all those who have been hurt, and strengthen our faith. Help us understand that You are worth whatever we have to go through in order to find You. And give us the resolve to keep searching. Surround us with bodies of people who are also seeking to find authenticity in their faith. Help us to find You. In the sweet, sweet name of Jesus I pray, Amen.


I received a copy of Jaded in exchange for an honest review. You can purchase it anywhere books are sold (including here). But don’t stop there: Justified, the next book in the series is also now available!

 

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