Tuesday Re-mix –
If you’re reading a blog (and you are, by the way), then you probably already understand that this youngest adult generation in the church, the “social media generation”, is learning to do relationships a little differently than relationships have ever been done before (and I should add here that social media has now made huge inroads into all the generations and no longer “belongs” just to the 18-35 crowd–the “social media generation”, therefore is not an age-label, but rather an era label for our time). Between Twitter, Facebook, My Space, Linked In, and a host of other social networking worlds, this generation is more connected with one another than any generation before it. Reportedly, more than 95% of American college students today are actively connected in one or more of these social networks. Their culture has them receiving massive amounts of information about one another all day and night through steady streams of photos, videos, and text. Never before has an entire generation been more “connected” with one another. Tony Steward of church.tv observes, for example, that the concept of a class reunion will be completely foreign to this generation, who will have stayed “connected” with each other throughout the years following their graduation so that a “reunion” will seem superfluous.
An older generation of Christians has stood back and observed all of this “interconnectedness” with varying responses. While some of us have worked to embrace it and participate, others are more wary, calling into question the long-term ramifications. The concerns range from “what does this do to intimacy in relationships?” to “what does this fast-paced, fire-hydrant delivery of information do to the brain?” For purposes of my point here, I will not engage that debate. But I will say it is more than just a little bit interesting…fascinating, in fact.
No, the question I want to explore is this: what does this communication make-over mean in terms of how we experience unity in the church?
The answer will depend on how you define unity. I define it this way: living in community with one another in such a way as to regularly experience Christ Himself through each other. In that light, then, how this generation will experience Christ in one another is the real question. Does this new “connectedness” give us a leg up in that arena, or does it actually present us with new challenges preceding generations have not had to face? Here are a few of my observations:
1. Web-based social networking may create more opportunities for friendships, but it will not replace face to face encounters. This point has been made over and over again, and is actually old news by now. I suspect that few facebook friends or twitter followers are so disillusioned as to think they no longer need actual face time with their friends. Still, the point needs to be made right up front. My own experience is that the more connected I have become with casual friends and long-lost acquaintances, the more desire I have had for face time with them, not less. My conclusion, then, is that this generation may actually be more motivated for physical face time with each other than my generation has been. Then again, that is not saying much…my generation (the “me” generation) has been ALL about self-sufficiency and independence. We are addicted to our anonymity, almost the antithesis to genuine community.
2. This generation will value community more than we have. For them, there is no choice but to become interdependent on the community for information, expertise, and even counsel and guidance. Being “self-made” or “self-reliant” is nearly impossible in this culture. Those are icons of the Baby Boomers, but not of this generation. The social networking generation literally depends upon millions of people they do not know, have never met, and will probably never meet. Wikipedia, with all its flaws and critics, is a prime example of that interdependence. This generation needs and relies upon each other unlike any generation before it.
3. The prejudice and politics are not gone, they are just different. The on-line community (and the church which follows) will not struggle so much with racial or gender or age discrimination. Political power will not follow money so much. But this community is not without its bias and prejudice. It may indeed measure the value of an idea on its own merits (apart from race, creed, gender or popularity), but it is a community of creative expression and articulation. Those who are creative, articulate, expressive and captivating will enjoy favor. Those who are not creative and not particularly expressive with the written word, those who are not skilled “communicators” will become the overlooked and downtrodden. The online community may be unaffected by outward appearance (since outward appearance is obviously not so “outward” online, but what IS “outward” online does very much create biases. Interestingly, the lines of prejudice do not disappear, they are just redrawn.
4. The Spirit of God is quite capable of revealing Himself through on-line relationships. As this generation gets better and better at expressing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control through on-line expressions, they also get better and better at recognizing their Savior through those very expressions. And when that happens (no matter the environment), we experience unity. In a sense, our question about whether this generation can experience unity is as much a question about God as it is a question about us. And in my experience, every question about God which begins with “Is God capable of…” ends with the same resounding answer: YES! AND MORE!
And so I look forward to the future with much anticipation and excitement. As a church leader who has been writing about church unity for almost 20 years now, I truly believe my children and their generation are going to teach me a thing or two about genuine unity in the church. I can’t wait!
What do you think? Are we getting closer to unity or further away?
© Blake Coffee
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