A Call to Community: Lexi Mae Sunberg

November really snuck up on us here at the blog! Here’s hoping everyone had a festive Halloween and an appropriately-celebrated Reformation Day #500. Our post this month is from NazToo’s own Lexi Sunberg, who is currently finishing up her Social Justice major at Trevecca Nazarene University. She drinks too much coffee, asks too many questions, and happily maintains a presence on nearly every social media site.

It is no secret that I love social media. Facebook is open constantly on my computer, and Twitter is consistently my top-used app. I love social media for a variety of reasons, but mainly because of the connection and community I’ve found online.

Despite Twitter and Facebook surpassing their tenth anniversary, social media is still a bit of an unknown realm, especially for the church. We don’t know how to use social media to the best of our abilities; we don’t even know if we should be interacting with people in an online space.

Part of that is a genuine confusion about the uses, but I think a lot of it comes from fear and and a clinging to the old ways of doing things.

Hear me: I’m not advocating for throwing tradition out the window, quite the opposite. But there’s a difference between upholding tradition and refusing to engage in the ways a new world operates. As a church, we’re so used to community being an in-person, public or semi-public space, and the church residing firmly in clearly defined places in that space. The internet blurs these spaces, these lines; no longer can we clearly separate our communities. They bleed into each other.

For me, people of my generation, and others who have found connection online, online communities no longer are a supplement to my real-life communities. In the past, all our friends were physical presences, defined by their proximity to us.

Now, the friends I have made online, ones I’ve never met, have become just as dear, just as influential in my life. My online communities no longer supplement my physical communities, they are of equal value.

And I’m not alone in this — there are millions, literally millions, of people who get together in online spaces in search of genuine community, and they find it. The Church, if she would, could so easily become one of these communities and have a reach that spreads across continents.

Yet the Church has not stepped into those spaces fully, has not bled over from the physical to the online and engaged with the people there. It’s even stifled some of these attempts at online communities in fear of forsaking the old. But just as Kindles do not make books useless and elevators did not make stairs obsolete, the Church on the internet will not make physical sanctuaries irrelevant.

There are some who would argue that online community cannot take the place of physical, in-person community. They’re right, but there is a place and a use for the internet as well, one that is becoming increasingly more important, as I’ve already talked about.

I am so, so passionate about the intersection of Church and social media, because I see so much hope and growth in the ways they already intersect. If you’ve ever been on Twitter at a conference or university chapel service — any type of plenary session with its own hashtag — you’ll immediately notice the conversations that spring up.

It is the best kind of journaling, one that happens in real time with people adding their own input. Never before have we been able to so uniquely interact with the message preached, as it is preached, bouncing ideas off each other and creating change. Looking back on my Twitter feed, or looking through a hashtag from a conference is like stepping into a snapshot of life and thought at that very moment, shared on the internet for all to evaluate and see. It’s a richer journal than simply paper, one that includes context and worldviews from anyone wanting to add commentary.

We cannot continue to be half-hearted about our internet presence, holding too tightly to our ways until we have no choice. Theology is being shaped on social media, whether we like it or not, and the Church must be one of the voices in that conversation. We must have good, sound people who understand the Way of Christ interjecting and interceding if we are to raise a next generation to be good, sound people.

In an era of Fake News, of turmoil, and of near-instant connection, the Church has an opportunity to be a voice for peace, redemption, and the Good News. We can reach into the confusion and say “there is a Way, and this is the Way.”

We, the Church, have a call to community and that can no longer be confined to our physical buildings. We have a chance to carry Church farther than just our pews, but into every aspect of life, as it is intended to be carried.