Living in the Facebook Generation is dangerous and too much time on Facebook will surely make you dumber, however, what makes Facebook worthwhile are the opportunities it provides for building community. The reason that I am on Facebook is because it helps me to connect with people.
When I speak of building community I mean to communicate that Facebook helps people with common interests to connect. As a Christian, community that encourages me most is community built around the gospel–Facebook can aid us in building such community and it can deter us from building such community. Facebook is amoral–it is neither inherently good or bad. What makes Facebook dangerous is its propensity to swallow us all up into the world of the superficial and distract us from ever using Facebook for the one purpose that makes it worthwhile, namely building community.
Facebook allows us to connect with people that we might otherwise never connect with, it provides an online venue for community on some level to be formed. So to answer my question, yes Facebook does help us build community. Perhaps the more important question would be is the type of community built on Facebook worthwhile? My answer to that question is . . . sometimes. Facebook can be utilized to develop genuine community, it just takes work to do so. However, if we aren’t careful with Facebook, it becomes less a place for building community and more a place to waste time learning random facts about people we never talk to. Simply put, developing genuine, worthwhile community on Facebook takes some work and discipline!
Let me be honest, many of the people who “friend” me on Facebook never contact me again. The vast majority of my “Facebook friends” never talk to me except to wish me happy birthday or perhaps to poke me (which does nothing for me in terms of building community!). It may sound like I am hurt by this–I am not–I don’t talk to many of the people that I “friend” on Facebook ever again either–I know I am a hypocrite (as long as I know the person, I accept nearly every “friend request” I get because perhaps it might be an opportunity to talk to person about the gospel)! However, there are a number of people who contact me regularly on Facebook who I would have difficulty keeping up with otherwise. As a Christian, Facebook allows me to encourage some of these people in their relationship with Christ and vice versa. Furthermore, many of the members/attendees of my church are on Facebook and thus Facebook provides yet another venue in which I can connect with people from my church. I think I have pretty solid personal relationships with these people and connecting with them on Facebook has mostly been encouraging.
Facebook can be a place where people come together and encourage one another. I enjoy sharing prayer requests with several friends on Facebook, I also love to get on Facebook and share a laugh with a number of friends. Many of the trivial aspects of Facebook are funny and worth a laugh from time to time. As a pastor, I am continaully trying to put gospel-centered resources into people’s hands–Facebook provides a unique venue to do so and I am continually trying to use it to do so–that is primarily what I try to use my status updates for.
Finally, I want to say that it is very difficult to cultivate true, gospel-centered community on Facebook because Facebook’s more trivial elements are incredibly addicting. If we are all honest, we would admit that we have found ourselves at times mindlessly reading people we barely know’s Facebook profile only to then mindlessly look at someone we barely know’s photo albums from their recent Family vacation. Or perhaps playing Pirates for 2, 3, then 4 hours at a time (again, its not wrong to play Pirates at times, but if it becomes a replacement of more important things, perhaps its time to be concerned). When I first got on Facebook, I wasted an inordinate amount of time looking at people’s profiles–which does nothing for developing community. However, when I first got on Facebook, I also spent a lot of time writing on my friend’s walls and messaging them and thus cultivating some relationships which are still important to me today.
So, yes can Facebook help bulid community, but if used unwisely can destroy that same community with numerous distractions and a wealthy of addictingly needless information. So if you want to use Facebook to glorify God by building healthy, gospel-centered community, perhaps its time to discipline your use of Facebook. I don’t pretend to be an expert on disciplined use of Facebook, but I have attempted to set some guidelines toward using Facebook wisely. I will post some of these guidelines tomorrow.