Building Church Community in a Digital Age
This paper examines how individuals’ social interactions are influenced by the media environments they inhabit (Media Ecology) and the consequent impact on the practice of developing community in the local church (Ecclesiology). Too often, leaders in the church are uninformed about the ways media use, not simply content, is affecting the social structures of community. Consequently, technology in the church is uncritically embraced and little attention is given to what adaptations need to be made for the church to remain authentic to its Christ-given identity and mission. More specifically, this paper focuses on the obstacle and opportunity of building community in the local church, designed to be densely-knit, in a time of “Networked Individualism,” characterized by sparsely-knit, technologically-meditated interaction.
This paper argues that leaders in the church should strive to establish and preserve close-knit church community, however countercultural, because such community is the best reflection of the community within God’s self. Also vital to maintaining densely-knit community in the church is that human beings are biologically wired to be in close communion with others and thrive in such environments. After providing a biological and theological defense for dense community in the church, practical suggestions are provided for maintaining close communion in the church in light of technologically-mediated engagement. Specifically, an argument is made for prioritizing and encouraging face-to-face conversation amongst parishioners in the local church. Additionally, the paper takes a look at the ways media is currently used in local congregations and determines the merits of such use based upon their virtue or vice relative to maintaining close, embodied community. Finally, utilizing the Biblical narratives of the Tower of Babel and Pentecost, the paper concludes by viewing technology use and close-knit community from the perspective of soteriology and argues that the remedy for humanity’s insecurity and path to true greatness is found in Spirit-filled, densely-knit community.
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