A while ago, I was browsing the Internet, and I came across an article titled “How Facebook Killed the Church.” Pretty catchy. Certainly made me curious. So, I clicked on the link and found myself on the Experimental Theology blog. And it was here that I read about how Facebook killed the church. But to say that Facebook killed the church isn’t really accurate. Facebook hasn’t killed the church, we have. Or rather, we are. We are killing the church.
Now, it’s no big secret that church attendance is down.
All across the country, church attendance has dropped over the last couple of decades in every major denomination. Episocapalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and even the Methodists have all seen a dip in numbers. And this is true everywhere in the country. Attendance at Sunday worship has dropped whether you live in the Bible Belt, the Sun Belt, the Rust Belt, or even the Jell-O Belt. Yes, it’s a real thing. I had to look it up, too. The Jell-O Belt is also called “the Mormon Corridor” and its pretty much all of Utah and some of the surrounding areas, and it was named that because Mormons like Jell-O. In fact, Jell-O is the official snack food of the state of Utah. But I digress. All that is to say that church attendance has dropped everywhere. People are just not that interested in coming to church.
The reasons are not all that surprising.
We’ve talked about them before. People who don’t attend church feel we are antihomosexual, judgmental, hypocritical, too political, out of touch with reality, old-fashioned, insensitive, and boring just to name the top 8. But here is the funny thing. The church has been that way for a long, long time. This isn’t something new. It’s not like out of the blue, the church went from being filled with saints to being filled with human beings. There are tons of examples throughout history of the church being ALL of these things we are accused of – judgmental, hypocritical, too political. But people came anyway. The problems have been there, but we ignored them. But we can’t afford to ignore them any longer. By ignoring them, we have developed a much bigger problem. We’ve forgotten what it means to be a church. In study after study, that message has been made clear. We’ve forgotten what it means to be a church.
“How Facebook Killed the Church” is about the loss of that “third place” in American culture.
Home and work are the first two places in our lives. They are the places that we spend most of our time, but this “third place”… this “third place” is where we connect to the broader community. Church is one of these “third places.” Way back when Christianity was first starting out, the church became a gathering place for Christians to share and profess their faith. They would often gather to talk about Christ and to teach each other the lessons of life that Christ wanted us to follow, and so community became vital to the life of the church, not only to be the hands and feet of Christ, but to be a safe haven from a world that hated and ridiculed them. But as the centuries passed, the church evolved into more than just a place to teach and learn about Christ. It became the hub of community activity. It was where people met, socialized, made plans for the future, caught up on what was going on, and gathered. It was the place you always knew your friends would be and where you could find your future spouse. So even if the services bored you, you weren’t learning anything, the preacher was no good, and you thought many of the people were hypocrites, you came anyway and when the church failed you spiritually, you came anyway, and somewhere along the way we started fooling ourselves that everything was fine because people were still coming in the doors. But we didn’t realize or didn’t pay attention to the fact that people were only coming because it was one of the ONLY places they could go. That’s not the case anymore. Not only have churches changed, but so has the culture. Technology has made us HYPER-CONNECTED. We can text, Facebook, Twitter, and blog online all the time. With iPhones, Droids, and Blackberries, we are constantly in touch with one another and that “third place” is disappearing.
Not surprisingly, people are leaving the church.
And it’s not because Facebook is offering amazing worship, but because technology has taken away the one thing they were coming to church for – social networking. People have been coming to church to hang out. But that’s not what church is supposed to be about. It wasn’t supposed to be a place filled with programs and events to keep you busy and isolated from the rest of the world. Church was never meant to be only a gathering place. Instead, it was supposed to be about much more. Scripture shows us what the church was meant to be. If you have your Bibles or a Bible app with you, please turn to Colossians 3, beginning with verse 12. In this letter, Paul is writing to the church at Colossae because they have lost their way. They’re beginning to lose their focus on Christ and turning to mysticism and angels and stuff like that instead of keeping Christ at the heart of the church. Sounds a lot like religion today. So, Paul is encouraging them and reminding them of who they are and what the church, the people of Christ, is supposed to look like.
12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
This is what the church is supposed to look like.
Compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, and patient. People bearing with each other instead of complaining, forgiving each other instead of holding grudges. And over all, loving one another in unity. That is the picture of the church that Paul paints for us. But what makes the church truly special is what Paul writes in the next few verses. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…” “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another…” “And whatever you do…do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” When we get down to it, the church is the place where we come close to Christ, where we learn about Christ, and where we come to give thanks to God for all he has done for us. Church is a place where Christ dwells in us richly! It’s such a vibrant image and speaks to the transforming work done in us by Christ. So when the church simply becomes a social gathering place, it loses what makes it special and important – the focus on Christ and the answers to life we receive in Christ. Dr. Howard Hendricks once wrote something profound that pertains to this. He wrote, “If anything has kept me on track all these years, it’s being skewered to this principle of central focus. There are many things I CAN do, but I have to narrow it down to the one thing I MUST do.” There are many things I CAN do, but I have to narrow it down to the one thing I MUST do. The secret of concentration is elimination. The secret of concentration is elimination.
That’s what we need to do to reclaim Christianity and the purpose of the church. Christianity isn’t about buildings and tables and banners. It isn’t about pews or stained glass windows or pianos. It’s about a mutual love for Jesus Christ and a central focus on his message and mission. As Paul wrote in verse 17, 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. That’s our focus. When Dr. Hendricks wrote, “There are many things I CAN do, but I have to narrow it down to the one thing I MUST do,” there IS only one thing we MUST do as a church. Love in the name of Jesus Christ. It says so right in the Bible. John 13:34-35. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” Our purpose as the body of Christ is to show the love of Christ in the world. The qualities that Paul writes that the church must exhibit – compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience – all of these are qualities of love and qualities that embodied Jesus.
People still need the church.
They may not need the buildings, but they need the church. They need US to be the Body of Christ and to show them Christ’s love. I don’t know of a single person who hasn’t at one time or another struggled with the question, “Why am I here? What’s the meaning of life?” It’s a question that haunts us and we spend a great deal of our lives, either consciously or subconsciously, wrestling with that question. As Kerry Shook, the author of One Month to Live said, there is a God-shaped hole in our hearts that only God can fill, and until we find him, it will continually gnaw at us. People try to find all sorts of substitutes to fill that hole, like power, money, fame, but until we know the overwhelming love of Jesus Christ, that hole will always be there. There will always be something missing. It is up to us, as the Body of Christ, to help people fill that God-shaped hole in their hearts. It’s up to us to remember the one thing we MUST do is show the love of Christ. It’s up to us to have that singular vision, that singular purpose for our existence and to remember that the secret of concentration is elimination. To not be afraid to eliminate those things we do that don’t serve this vital purpose. Because people still need the church, and if they don’t find it in us, where will they find it? In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A great example of what it means to be a missional church turning outward into the community!
 UnChristian, the Barna Group
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_place – the concept of the “third place” is from sociologist Ray Oldenburg.