I am a big Internet buff. Some people might say I spend too much time online. That may be true. The Internet can be a dangerous place. Even if you stay on “safe” websites, it can become an escape from the real world.
I especially enjoy spending time on Facebook. It has become a quick and easy way to keep in touch with friends and acquaintances. I can get regular (sometimes daily or several-times-per-day) updates from ministries or organizations in which I am interested. My church very effectively uses Facebook to send out announcements and updates, and our church’s online group is a great place to share prayer requests.
Yet, the positive uses of Facebook can be exaggerated. I have known several Christians who say they get their fellowship on Facebook. I have also read blogs where people talk about having online accountability partners. It sounds good, but it is wrong.
Facebook, or any other Internet resource, is not a valid source for friendship, fellowship, or any other kind of close relationship. It is an excellent supplement, but not a source. Getting your fellowship online is like taking vitamin supplements: It is great, if you already have healthy food (in this case, real one-on-one relationships in the real world), but it would be dangerous to build your whole diet around it.
According to my “friends list” on Facebook, I currently have 197 friends. Roughly 1/3 of them are either people I never met (11 of those, to be exact) or people that I would probably have no, or extremely limited, contact with now, if not for the social-networking site. The other two-thirds are almost all either family members, a handful of co-workers, or people from church. Actually, the church crowd makes up the largest part of my Facebook friends’ list.
Despite having so many opportunities to stay in touch with church people–even people I know–online, I cannot think of Facebook as “fellowship.” A good supplement to fellowship, but not the real thing. Here is why.
Most studies find that the vast majority of communication is nonverbal. Suppose you see me in church; you say, “Hi, Mike, how are you?” I might say, “I’m OK.” Do you believe me? Occasionally, people might respond to me by saying, “Are you sure? You don’t sound OK,” or “You look a little down. What’s really going on?” My verbal communication says I am doing well; but my nonverbal communication tells people otherwise.
Online, you will not get that nonverbal queue. I can continue to pretend all is well. I can edit myself very well. If you see me on a regular basis, you can tell if I am being honest online, or if I am hiding something.
If you see me on a regular basis, you have a chance to know the real me. If you read my posts, either on this blog or elsewhere online, you know that background. You know the other details. You know if I am covering something up, or denying something.
Related to this is the risk that, on Facebook, you can be the person you want people to think you are. That can be very different from who you really are. You can hide your real hobbies and interests online. You can pretend you have it all together, when in fact, you are crying inside. The people who see you on a regular basis know if something is wrong. The people who only know about you through the Internet might think you are a spiritual giant, when in fact you are living in emotional, spritual, or moral defeat.
So, if you have been relying on Facebook, Twitter, or any other online service to provide “fellowship” for you, step away from your computer. Get around some people who live close by. To my Christian readers: Get more involved in church. Find people who will care for you and spend time for you IN PERSON, not merely online. If it has consumed your time, maybe you need to consider giving up some parts of the Internet (including your social networking sites) for Lent.
Go online to keep in touch throughout the week, but make sure you can share about it in person.