A recent article written by David Roach at Baptist Press entitled “Poll: Churches Are Fans of Facebook, Social Media” says that “Churches are turning increasingly to social networking tools as ministry aids and Facebook is by far the most popular tool.” The article quotes a LifeWay study of more than 1,000 Protestant congregations. According to the survey Mr. Roach is citing: “Large churches use Facebook far more than small ones. Eighty-one percent of congregations with 500 or more in average worship attendance use Facebook, compared to 27 percent of churches with one to 49 attendees. Forty-three percent of churches with 50 to 99 attendees use Facebook, as do 46 percent of churches with 100 to 199 attendees and 56 percent of churches with 200 to 499 attendees.”
Why do churches use Facebook? According to the study, “73 percent use them for interacting with the congregation, 70 percent for distributing news and information in an “outbound only” manner, 52 percent for fostering member-to-member interaction and 41 percent for managing the church’s group ministry. A majority (62 percent) of churches that utilize social networking tools use them to interact with individuals outside the congregation.”
This topic is of interest to me. I utilize Facebook a lot, and it proved especially useful as a way to remain connected with my family and friends while deployed to Afghanistan. But one other aspect of Facebook and other social media tools that I did not expect and was unsettled by initially is the insight it provides into the lives of its users. I have a pretty normal population of Facebook “friends”, I think. They number about 100 family and friends (I know many folks have more “friends”, and the selection of “friends” is probably a great topic for some future blog entry. But I have about 100.) So I recently went back through the last 100 posts on Facebook and categorized them by the nature of the entry.
In aggregate, 50% of the posts were what I call “Shallow Social Interaction”. These posts include things like: “Work tomorrow, chores after, and then mooooore homework…. I’ve done so much homework the last 24 hours I could throw up.”, and “ I’m ready for bed. Game night was pretty awesome :)” The next largest category of posts (15%) is status updates such as: “George Smith is now friends with Sally McNally”. The two categories that I call “Meaningful Exchange of Information” and “Meaningful Exchange of Views” were statistically tied at 10% each. The “Meaningful Exchange of Information” category contains posts such as “Just saw an article about a recent survey related to Something-or-Other, and here were the findings.” The content of the category “Meaningful Exchange of Views” contains such entries as “Haven’t read the book but wholeheartedly agree. Our children are raised in an environment that “idolizes” television. Where are they now? The most favorite expression is “I’m bored!” The balance of the posts (about 15%) is comprised of other odds and ends like people who post inspirational quotes and advertisements.
This is of interest to me as a business guy and because I have a fairly analytical bent. It is quite consistent with the old Pareto Principle, which states that 20% of the population of a group represents 80% of the value. So for example if you currently have a wad of cash or a pocketful of change, an examination of either of them would probably show that 20% of the bills represent 80% of the dollar value of the entire wad of cash, and 20% of the coins represent 80% of the monetary value of the pocketful of change. The same kind of distribution seems to be at work with Facebook posts. About 20% of the posts communicate meaningful information and views. The other 80-% is drivel. Now that’s not to say that the 80% drivel should necessarily stop. I find some comfort in being attuned to what’s going on in the lives of family members and friends whom I would almost certainly otherwise lose track of. But even among the 80% drivel there is a Pareto distribution – 20% of the drivel holds 80% of the value. For example, a relative who says: “Returned from Mayo Clinic safely today. Glad to be back home at last.” has communicated something much more valuable to me than the one who said: “I’m ready for bed. Game night was awesome.” One Facebook friend who eventually (thankfully) “de-friended” me typically posts things like: “I wanna go home”, “I love Netflix”, “tired tonight”, “work sucks”, and so on. This corpulent correspondent communicates everything short of his bowel movements, and often even posts photographs of the meal he is consuming at some local eatery. He is at one time both sad and infuriating, and I am richer for his absence on my FB friends list.
A similar Pareto distribution exists among my Facebook “friends” population. 20% (or less than 20%, really) of my friends post entries that make it into the “Providing Meaningful Information” and “Meaningful Views Exchange” categories at least some of the time. Everyone else is posting some combination of “Shallow Social Interaction”, “Status Change”, and “Other Odds and Ends” stuff.
I would encourage all of you to do a similar analysis of the Facebook posts on your home page. I think that if you think about what you find, you may be surprised. However, recognizing that Facebook and similar social networking applications were designed primarily to enhance ongoing communications among the general population, this is exactly what I would expect to find.
So from the perspective of a social observer (kind of a layman sociologist), what could be inferred from this information? Well, we might infer that what is presented, if it truly is what is going through the minds of our friends, and they feel it is worthy to communicate with the FB “world”, is – well, trivial at best. The thoughts and communications of the general population, one might conclude, are mundane. They reflect little depth, little intellectual activity, and little purpose beyond mere existence. They reflect the lives of people who work, eat, sleep, and watch television sports and American Idol. They live, they die, and for the most part it seems to me that their lives will leave no discernible mark on the world for good or ill. They raise families, are good children, parents, and co-workers, and that’s pretty much the extent of their lives. Is this a harsh and jaded and cynical view? Perhaps. But I believe it’s also pretty accurate. That doesn’t mean the bulk of the population aren’t good people – they are; at least the people on my friends list are. I like them all and love some of them, and a few I wouldn’t want to try to live without. But in terms of a purely dispassionate view, Facebook reflects a general population that isn’t very deep.
Let’s examine this same data from a Christian perspective. Out of the 100 posts I reviewed, 9% of them mention either God or prayer. Most of those mention God in passing, only 3% actually communicate information, express views, or attempt to explore some aspect of the human spiritual condition or God’s leading in their lives.
Now this becomes really interesting in light of instructions given to Christians in the Bible related to our conversation and our daily thoughts. For example, (Philippians 1:27) “let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;,” (James 3:13) “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom”, and (2 Peter 3: 11-13) “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness,.”
Matthew Henry, in his commentary on Philippians 1: 27-30, said: “The original word “conversation” denotes the conduct of citizens who seek the credit, safety, peace, and prosperity of their city. There is that in the faith of the gospel, which is worth striving for; there is much opposition, and there is need of striving. A man may sleep and go to hell; but he who would go to heaven, must look about him and be diligent. There may be oneness of heart and affection among Christians, where there is diversity of judgment about many things.”
The vast majority of my Facebook friends are professing Christians. Yet, as is a reflection of our day-to-day conversations, a very small percentage of our Facebook conversations have anything to do with God, and an infinitesimal percentage reflect what Matthew Henry refers to as “striving” for the “faith of the gospel”. While I know there is a great deal of “diversity of judgment about many things”, there isn’t much intelligent and respectful discussion among Christians who are working through issues, wrestling with the application of Christian principles in their daily lives, or even questions like: “What do you suppose the Bible is really telling us when it says thus-and-such in this chapter and that verse? I don’t understand what Jesus was saying there.” There is, on the other hand, a great deal of conversation about baseball, football, the weather, the latest news event (like the recent shooting in Tucson or the State of the Union Address), some movie or play, and Uncle John’s hernia operation.
My overall observation about these things is that our time and our conversation – Facebook or verbal – is largely not consistent with Biblical instruction for Christians, and frankly represents a horrendous waste of the precious time that God has granted us here on earth.
What do you think?