Not that long ago, church was a place. It was a building where people gathered together to worship, pray, and fellowship. The church building was the hub for all our spiritual interactions.
Today, because of the Internet, church is no longer confined to a building. Social media platforms have allowed people to connect with each other more regularly and on any topic, shifting the center of faith interaction from church buildings to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other apps and social platforms.
Just read between the lines of Lifeway’s new study, released at the 2015 National Religious Broadcasters convention. The results showed that about one-third of the people who are reading Christian books and watching Christian movies and listening to Christian radio qualify as “unchurched”—in other words, they haven’t attended any type of religious service in the past six months. And yet, there they are, still consuming Christian media despite their nonattendance.
Studies like this one show that the appetite for faith content hasn’t changed. Rather, it’s the relational aspect of faith that’s really undergoing a transformation.
Church is a thousand times broader and more pervasive than it was 20 years ago, when the only place to find fellowship was in the local church. Today, social media lets people link to spiritual nourishment—a blog post, a podcast sermon, a prayer request—from anywhere. Social media opened up two-way communication between people worlds apart. The YouVersion Bible app has been downloaded 145 million times, and more than 13 million people have signed on with Christian Mingle.
True, these relationships aren’t of the same kind you get from in-person interaction—but is that a bad thing? In some ways, these relationships are deeper. Social media allows people to connect with each other so much more frequently, and not just Sunday morning and Wednesday night. Plus, these are people connecting over common interests and goals—common faith—and sometimes willing to share more from the heart thanks to these shared foundations. Sometimes, a perfect stranger becomes the God-sent friend.
The church as a building may not be the communal gathering place anymore, but it’s not because people don’t need community. People are created for relationships with God and each other, and it’s human nature to suffer when that connection isn’t there. The hub is just shifting.
Tom Freiling is a senior-level marketing communications entrepreneur with broad-based experience in web development, e-commerce, social platforms, and digital publishing. He is widely recognized as a thought-leader in the area of faith, religion, and spirituality and how they are influenced by technology.