Churches are declining in membership and in attendance. Does that bother you? It doesn’t bother a lot of people. Even among those who say they love and follow Jesus, there is a sentiment that involvement in a local church is not as necessary as it used to be.

Look at it from their perspective:

  • “I can go online and listen to the best preachers and speakers around. I can do it at anytime. And I don’t have to get dressed!”
  • “I can particpate in a host of online Bible studies.”
  • “I can text and chat with other believers all over the world. We can even have theological discussions.”

So what do I need a local church for?

Old geezers like me would say that mindset is missing the strength and encouragement that come from relationships, but this generation of millennials would disagree. Glenn Sparks is professor of communication at Purdue University, and he contends younger adults do feel connected through social media. “They are managing their relationships and feeling of being close to people through electronic technology, They probably don’t feel as much of a need to go and physically congregate in a place.” [Source]

They can say they are connected and they can even say these online relationships are their community, but there’s a huge part of community and connectedness they’re missing.

Connectedness is more than just communicating. It’s fellowship: being together and sharing something in common. I have friends on Facebook I’ve known for years. I enjoy our online conversations, but it’s nothing compared to the hourse we spent in a van together on a mission trip.

Face-to-face community requires a level of commitment that’s absent in online settings. I can participate in an online dialogue  without really be engaged. For all you know, I could be carrying on three other online conversations at the same time or I could be engrossed in a video game while talking to you. If I were to do that in person, I would be considered rude. Extremely rude.

There’s one other thing an online virutal community cannot do for us: In the middle of the night when you need a shoulder to cry on, how do you call? How do you get a hug from an avatar or online photo?

All this digital connectedness is not community. Granted, it is virtual community, but that’s not true community. We’ve mistakenly let our online conversations replace community. It’s too easy to log out. If you disagree with me on an issue, no problem; I’ll just unfriend you.  Do you see the disconnect? I’m not required to work on the relationship. In face-to-face community, I can’t completely ignore you. Community requires something from me: to do my part to improve the relationship.

Virtual community also does not require any great commitment or sacrifice from me. Online I can express my opinion (and online makes it easier to be obnoxious about my opinion) without stepping in to actually do anything productive. And I hate to break it to you, but if you hit LIKE to one of those “If you agree that ___________ should be stopped, hit ‘Like,'” you’re not making a difference. Not one bit. The only thing you’re helping is someone’s ego. “Look, Mom, I got three thousand likes!”

On the other hand, things happen in a real community. There’s strength when we get together and work together.  The Bible is full of commands related to what we do as a community of believers.

  • Strengthen one another (Rom. 14:19)
  • Serve one another (Gal. 5:13)
  • Carry one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2)
  • Be accountable to one another (Eph. 5:21)
  • Encourage one another (Col. 3:16)
  • Comfort one another (1 Thess. 5:11)
  • Help one another (Heb. 3:13)
  • Spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24)
  • Meet with one another (Heb. 10:25)
  • Commit to one another (1 John 3:16)

Use the Internet to aid your spiritual growth. Listen to some good podcasts. Use Facebook and Twitter to communicate, but remember this: that virtual community can never replace the love, grace, and strength we gain when we’re together.

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