In a recent e-mail message, consultant Tom Ehrich commented, “As we move forward in the Internet age and learn to use the tools at our disposal, I think we are coming to a richer meaning of ‘incarnate’ and what it means to be a faith ‘community.’" With text messaging, instant messaging, e-mail, and social networking, we can establish contact and share information very quickly with other people. Of course, there is a great deal of discussion about the depth and quality of such relationships.
Ehrich acknowledges that nothing will ever take the place of the profound interaction of human beings face to face, but we are learning to trust and learn from these “instant contacts.” They allow us to share new insights, understanding, and information directly with those about whom we care. We can grieve, rejoice, support, and pray for others more intelligently. I have had a positive experience with Facebook. The social network has helped me to maintain contacts with a number of people and to make some new friends. The same is not true for Twitter which has been intrusive for me, providing “way too much information.”
How does this apply to larger expressions of community? We are accustomed to joining with other believers in a setting for worship—praying, singing, and listening—in real time. Can this be translated into a virtual or online format without losing the power that comes from shared experiences in community?
Ehrich commends this as a worthy experiment. I am currently working with a friend to implement an online platform to promote community in our church. The platform is very robust, providing opportunities to share prayer requests, communicate quickly with individuals or groups, and share various types of content. Although not designed for community worship, it would not be difficult to take that next step with the right platform.
Each of us is at a different point of readiness for such experiences. Some will readily embrace the opportunity while others will never be comfortable with any type of online community. The reality is that community is and has been manifested in many different forms across the years. The concept continues to evolve. What we do with these new manifestations of community is our choice.