Can True Community Happen Online?

Part of my philosophy that I have been developing for the social web in the church and specifically here at Park is to create community online and then ultimately see that community manifest itself in face-to-face relationships and community. This is easy to say, but something entirely different to actually think through the implications of, and to put into action. But before I get into some of the ideas I have for putting this into practice, I want to focus on the why?

Why have I taken on this philosophy?

As I’ve spent much time thinking through what community is, and what it looks like, (and being an introvert myself) I have become more and more convinced that the truest form of community can only happen in face-to-face community and relationship. I don’t have any scientific evidence, or hard proof to back this up, but more-so just what I’ve experienced myself.

I have experienced both sides of this equation. I am a natural introvert, and to add-on to my shy personality I also grew up loving to learn new things on my family’s first computer. This led later to the purchase of my own computer in middle school, and then eventually my own internet connection. That was when it became “real.” The internet opened up a whole new world for me. The interactions that I wasn’t socially apt enough to have face-to-face with people in school I could now have over instant messenger.

I later learned, and am still learning that people can be whoever they want to be when they’re on the other side of a computer screen in the comfort of their own home. That was the original appeal for me. I didn’t have to be the awkward guy anymore. I could talk to the same girls that went to my high school, but I could actually think about and process what my next words were going to be, and I could edit them as much as I wanted to.┬áDon’t get me wrong. I think we can change who we really are in face-to-face relationship as well, but it is not done nearly as easily as it is over an internet connection.

Why social media at all?

So basically everything I have said so far if taken as-is sounds like it could completely disprove the use of social media in the church. Right? So if the internet caused all of this interpersonal conflict for me, why should we use it at all?

Yes, there are some risks involved in using the internet and social media as a communications, and community cultivating tool, but let me be clear, the benefits far outweigh the risks. To think that I can pose a question on Facebook and get immediate, countless numbers of responses is absolutely amazing. Social media allowed for the humanization of business again, and this could also apply to the church.

Also, if we look at the evolution of the internet and social media, people are being more open online now than ever before. As the web becomes more social, and more open, people are feeling more and more comfortable with being themselves online as well as in real life. This means that we have a huge opportunity with social media, but at the end of the day people are still sitting behind a keyboard and computer monitor. This is why I believe that we as the church must use the web and social media to create community online, but ultimately that online community should manifest itself in face-to-face community, because that is where it gets real.

As Vince Marotte speaks to in his book Context & Voice, we have a great opportunity to produce front-door content for anyone to come and interact with, and hopefully they’ll come into our online community, and ultimately our face-to-face community.

Does this make sense?

I’ve got some ideas as to how to practice this philosophy of creating online community that ultimately manifests itself in face-to-face community…but those will wait for the next post.

What do you think?

Can true community take place online?

Is my philosophy flawed? (If it is, call me out) :)

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