Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Has Social Media Replaced the "Church" Experience?

If you've read this blog before, you know I'm a sports fan, although most of my sports-related posts have been about baseball. But this morning, I was watching Mike & Mike on ESPN2 and they were discussing an issue with this year's NFL season as posted in an article in USA Today. Due to a number of factors, there is an anticipated increase in the number of NFL blackouts this season. A blackout occurs when a team does not sell all its tickets to a home game within 72 hours prior to kickoff, according to NFL regulations, television coverage of that game is blacked out from the local market. This gives fans (and corporations) an incentive to purchase tickets to the game.

Among the factors mentioned for the decrease in stadium attendance were poor performance by the teams, bad weather, and the economy-all which can be expected. But the one thing that struck me was technology. Thanks to HDTV technology and things like NFL Redzone (showing the highlights from all the games in real time), the argument can be made that the at-home TV NFL experience is superior to the being at the stadium with all the sights, sounds, smells, and tailgate BBQ. NFL owners have even gone to adding ridiculously large TVs (anyone been to Jerry's World just outside of Dallas?) and now will have NFL Redzone playing live at game time in each of the 31 stadiums. With the number of NFL fans playing Fantasy Football, access to scores and highlights from other games is a critical part of fan attraction.

So has the paradigm shifted? Is watching the game on TV better than being at the stadium? If this truly has taken place, what does that say about other markets that have a goal of putting people in seats...such as a church? Due to media technology, websites, and the rise in popularity of certain TV preachers, has "getting my church on at home" become easier (seemingly superior) than getting the family up, dressed, and after a 15-minute knockdown drag-out fight getting everyone loaded up in the minivan only to arrive 10 minutes late for Sunday School after the coffee and donuts have just run out and your 4-year olds shoes are still on the wrong feet? When you think about it that way, it's no wonder Joel Osteen has such a following. Has following our favorite Christian thinkers on Twitter or Facebook taken the place of showing up each week to hear a sermon from "our" pastors and church leaders?

Hebrews 10:25 says that we should not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing-but we should encourage each other, all the more as we see the day approaching. The connectibility of our world through technology has replaced the need for physical contact in some places. We all have the internet in our pockets. We all read each others tweets. We all comment to each other on Facebook. But what about "meeting together" as the writer of Hebrews instructed? Are their implications for the church in this culture shift? Do churches need to find ways to reconnect people? One culture shift is the way social media has become geographic with things like Four Square which has made the "miles away" feeling of social media become about being close in physical proximity. So is the church doing all it can to make the church experience superior to the connectivity of the Bedside Church? What can we do to improve?

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