Liturgy – The First Social Media

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So a few days ago, a blog post, by a fellow Lutheran Pastor, Keith Anderson, started making the social media rounds. The post suggested the simple idea of getting people to check-in with their smart phones prior to the service using Facebook or foursquare and to tweet using a hashtag particular to the church.

Not a bad idea. Or is it?

In the past couple years, it has been becoming clearer that social media is here to stay. People are getting more and more connected through virtual community, and more importantly social media use is becoming a seamless part of our lives. We interact with online communities almost automatically.

It has also become clear that churches will need to have a social media presence if they want to be a part of people’s lives away from Sunday mornings. It used to be that Churches would have a small ad in the local paper or phone book. Churches knew that was a given in order to be known in the community. Social media is now our local paper and phone book, Facebook pages and twitter accounts are the new given for community presence.

However, the idea of “checking-in at church” generated some interesting discussion. Checking-in at church means smart phone use at church. Smart phone use at church means checking social media during worship. And that idea is not as exciting, I am sure, for most pastors. I even wrote a post about putting down the iPhone in church recently. I don’t know if I am ready to look out into the pews and see the white smartphone glow on faces staring down at knees while I am preaching. Part of me loves the possibility for live-tweeting a sermon, and I also know that I watched a video about cats stealing dog beds this morning. 3 times. Maybe twitter can wait until worship is over.

But churches and social media are, at their core, all about community. Social media and church are only going to become more entangled over time. Understanding how and why people use social media might help churches understand themselves.

The wikipedia definition of social media is about online virtual communities. Social media is where people share content (posts, updates, comments, shares etc…) through virtual community media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest, Reddit etc…

I think that definition is too narrow.

“Social” is simply a word that describes human interaction in community. “Media” is the vehicle for that communication. Social Media doesn’t have to be online. Social Media really is just naming a medium through which people interact socially, or in other words, through which people share themselves and their lives with others who are sharing.

The liturgy is exactly that. It is a social or community experience. It is a medium through which we are shared with and to each other. Worship should be a similar experience to opening Facebook and seeing the updates from your community. It is medium for ritualized and filtered community. We greet each other as the whole assembly. We share in common experiences in song and prayer. We hear anew the news, opinion, and thoughts of the timeless community of faith in scripture. We share our concerns in prayer and reconcile in the peace. We open and bind ourselves to each other in the Holy Bath and Holy Meal. We promise to return to the community as we are sent out into the real world.

Liturgy is the first form of social media.

But more importantly, there is a clue to what people are looking for in community and at church. So often we think it is the medium that “attracts”. We think that if we become the newest phone or computer or website or viral video sensation that we will have people camped outside our doors three days before worship, like early adopters before an apple product launch.

Yet, take a look around you the next time you go to the mall or coffee shop or take the bus. Look at people’s phones. Some are the latest version. Most are scuffed, beat up, covered in ugly yet functional cases, sometimes severely cracked, barely functional devices. People don’t seem to care that much what their phone looks like as long as it still gets them online. One of the most popular activities on Facebook is complaining about Facebook. People hate the features of the site, but they need the community that they find there. If they didn’t need it they would be somewhere else… (Google+ maybe?)

Church people make the mistake of thinking it is the flashy screens or cool guitars or cushy pews or hip sermon references that will bring people to church. Yet, every time I ask church members why they keep coming back to their church, the first answer is always community. Everyone who is at church is there for the community yet we try to attract new members, our youth, inactive and drifted away members with buildings, music, programs, projectors and screens, staff, and whatever cool features we hope will work.

Is it that we hope the medium will be the message?

Or that most congregations find it hard to believe that they are the reason that they come, that each other and the community we form are what people are actually looking for?

When Jesus said wherever two or three are gathered, he didn’t add, “on Facebook or in architecturally post-modern buildings or wherever drop down projection screens have been installed” I am there.

And it is no mistake that the church, that our community, is called the Body of Christ.

Churches are the medium.

Liturgy is the social media of the Body of Christ. It the place where our community is hosted, updated, friend added, followed, and shared.

Community is the reason we all keep coming back… maybe it is time to give in and accept that community is what God is actually using to bring us to the Body of Christ.

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