Digital Communication like a Dating App
When online dating first emerged with the Internet in the 1990s, it was a strange world relegated to the most desperate or quirky of single people; or at least that was how it was viewed in public opinion. Online dating evolved out of the world of newspaper ads, matchmakers, and video dating services of the 1980s. As technology changes, the ways people interact with and meet each other change too.
As is credited to be said by famed Communications expert Marshall McLuhan in 1967 (but was actually written by his colleague Father John Culkin), “We shape our tools, and then our tools shape us”.
We see that the tools of the Digital Age we are immersed in now shape our view of ourselves, our relationships, and the ways we explore the world around us. This is seen in the world of online dating- and gives us a number of practical things to consider for the Church in 2018.
According to Pew Research, in 2005 44% of people would have said that online dating was a good way to meet people, but just 10 years later in 2015 that number had risen to 59%. Public opinion had also changed about the types of people who used online dating sites. In 2005 29% of those surveyed felt that people who use online dating sites are desperate, but in 2015 that number had fallen to just 23%. Online dating sites and apps are no longer relegated to the fringes of society. They are a mainstream and accepted part of romantic interactions today.
So what can be applied to the Church in this cultural shift?
Like online dating apps, online platforms are a great opportunity for a church to meet people they would not normally meet in the physical world. It expands the potential reach of the local church in their local community and beyond, to reach people that have previously been difficult to meet and form a connection with.
Digital media is an amazing welcome mat for the local church.
Then, when a relationship is formed between a local church and a congregation member, digital media is an amazing tool to keep connected and communicating in relationship. Just like in a romantic partnership, messaging apps and video calls (for example) help a relationship grow and thrive when not always physically together throughout the week. Like the digital dating world, the digital church world gives opportunities for a congregation to stay connected in some useful and meaningful ways between face to face meetings.
Digital media is an amazing communication system for the local church.
Now, just like in the intention of all healthy people who use online dating apps and digital tools for connection, the ultimate intention is to meet in person, not to stay digital forever. The goal is face to face relationship. Staying online forever is sad, a bit creepy, and ultimately leads to a lack of fulfillment in the relationship. Further, it’s a great tool to help communicate and grow together in relationship along the way once the relationship is established, but it’s always an intermediary solution between times of actually being together in person.
Digital media is a terrible replacement for relationship with the local church.
Those who follow the church online but never actually get in a room with other Christians are not truly going to experience the fullness of Church, eucharist, baptism, fellowship, worship, and more. It is in togetherness that we are deeply formed as Christians. Healthy Christians want to be physically engaged in the local church, just like healthy romantic relationships require significant amounts of physical time together to be vibrant.
What are some practical applications for the church in 2018?
1. Meeting people online is not creepy, it’s accepted as normal social interaction in 2018.
Engage your neighbours. Follow local businesses like the local burger joint or ice cream shop and like their images or comment on their pictures. Reach out to start a friendship with the owners via social media chatting and tell them you love that they’re building the community too. Check out hashtags for topics like #familylife or #socialjustice in your area and see who else is talking about these issues. Join the conversation and make new contacts with those seeking to discuss and build relationships with others around these shared interests. Use the incredibly cheap ads on Facebook, Instagram, or Google Adwords to promote your church to new audiences you haven’t reached yet. The bonus is compared to traditional advertising is that you can actually measure the results and see how many people clicked on your ad to go to your website or video, versus a newspaper you’re not sure who is reading anymore. Encourage your congregants to re-tweet or share posts from the church, ensuring their networks that you’re not yet connected to begin to see the story of the church and might become interested in more relationship in the future.
2. The online world is a continuation of the relationships we form and cultivate in our churches Sunday to Sunday.
Gather an email list of those who attend your church, even if just occasionally, and use it regularly to communicate upcoming events, prayer requests, or church news items. Mailchimp is a great service to set up beautiful emails and track who reads them. Talk back and forth to congregation members on their social media, or if they post a comment on your church’s account- reply back to them even if just to say “Thanks!”. Do you have trouble gathering people into a room to do volunteer training for certain events or role? There are so many digital training resources for churches these days like this FREE one or this platform. Consider digital discipleship tools to help people in your church grow, or enhance what you are learning together in Sunday’s time together. ReadScripture is a fantastic app for studying the Bible or a portion of the Bible together as a community day by day, including engaging videos, ability to take notes, share conversation with friends, and set up reminders to prioritize bible learning each week between Sundays. Be creative and use the 167 hours between Sunday worship gatherings in a way that keeps you connected and growing together.
As you adventure into the digital world for relationship seeking and development in the local church, may you live “happily ever after”!