Social media is taking the world by storm, but the jury is still out on the effects it might have on the church.
Jerome Gay Jr., pastor of Vision Church in Raleigh, N.C., recently wrote a post for Mark Driscoll's The Resurgence website titled, "Practice What You Tweet," exploring the pitfalls of online interactions.
He writes that "in a world of Facebook status updates and 140-character one-liners, it's easy for us to drift further and further into an electronic personality and identity void of authenticity."
And while Gay is not opposed to the church using Twitter for awareness and announcements, he says that there are some dangers to this particular social medium that shouldn't be ignored.
The main problem Gay sees with social media is that "more and more people are rejecting the rewards of interacting with people face-to-face and venting every issue and belief via the World Wide Web. Behind a computer, passive people suddenly become aggressive experts on humanity," Gay observes.
The biggest problem he sees with this form of passive-aggressivism is that it means there is an end to confrontation.
Gay writes that "Facebook and Twitter have created an outlet for people who don't want to confront people nor confront themselves. Behind a computer, passive people suddenly become aggressive experts on humanity to offer advice that they rarely apply themselves."
He also notes that this takes away the process for confrontation spelled out in Matthew 18. He says that social media often allows people to "avoid God's process for a point-click-and-type response."
Brett McCracken, social media manager at Biola University, told The Christian Post that another pitfall of social media, in the same vein Gay writes about, is the way that it "can become a very controlled identity space, which isn't how the real world works. In the real world, our true friendships are forged when people can see all of us, warts and all, and know us in that."
He also says that social media platforms give rise to opportunities to "flaunt our relationships publicly." This can range from tagging a certain person because we want people to see the friendship, or posting a photo to send a message to others. It's all about the image we project through our social media venues.
He explains that Facebook and Twitter allow for people to communicate publicly so others can see the conversations. But he wonders, "Why would we post something on their Facebook wall – publicly, so everyone can see our conversation – when we could just email, call, or direct message them privately?"
McCracken warns that churches should be careful of "the propensity of social media to inflate one's pride, and its sometimes explosive potential for social misunderstandings."
Neither Gay nor McCracken are against the use of social media in the church – both see the benefits in how it can help in organizations and awareness.
McCracken uses social media in his daily life and told CP that "As someone who works full-time as a social media manager for Biola University, I know first-hand the value of social media for organizations in communication, marketing and PR."
But in terms of forming friendship and community, McCracken writes that, "Churches especially should strive to create real-world communities of vulnerability where people are truly known, rather than online social media communities where little depth or complete honesty is ever possible."
For McCracken, social networks can't cultivate friendships or meaningful relationships. Their real purpose is to "enhance our bricks and mortar social communities (such as churches); but they cannot replace them."