Social Media: A Force For Christian Unity? (@changingworship)

“Social media is such a force for unity” saith @revdrach whilst we munched our lunch and discussing the rapidly changing face of The Church™.  This almost throw away remark got lost in the typical torrent of words that ensues when two extroverts get together with a coffee shop loyalty card for a bowl of gruel and a caffeine injection.

Unity is a hot topic for many Christians, particularly in the current climate as the ancient ramparts of traditional party lines are slowly dismantled by the generations who find little meaning in the old battlegrounds.  Over the last couple of generations an increase in social mobility the ease of relocation has given many a broad pallet of experiences.  Different worship traditions, theologies and interdenominational crossover has begun the expansion of many people’s perceptions of The Church™ that they belong to.

In the last few years, Twitter has seen a huge uptake from both churchgoers and church leaders of all persuasions.  The nature of Twitter is brevity:  enough space for a two or three sentence description of who the user is, a tiny avatar and tweets of 140 characters or less.  This creates a social melting pot that is not governed by what someone wears, the type of building that they worship in, their musical preferences or their theological persuasion.  Instead, the user experience is governed by their ability to relate to “the other”.  Usually the experience if of strangers who become… less strange…

As I watch my stream I realise that I have people from all denominations and none beaming into my phone and computer.  Within the list of people I follow, I have an eclectic mix of people from most theological and political persuasions who seem to be happily rubbing along together.

So how is this as a matter of Church Unity? 

There are a small percentage of people on Twitter who ride a single issue hobbyhorse using their tweets to define themselves over a period of weeks and month by their dominating issue.  There will always be a hardcore group of people who like to pick up virtual rocks and hurl them at another group or denomination but in my experience they seem to be few and far between.

As I look through some of the interactions people have on Twitter this isn’t the dominant culture I observe.  From my place within this culture I see a predominantly caring, largely permeable community of followers.  If someone tweets in times of hardship, many respond with offers of prayer that transcend boundaries and come from all corners of the Christian realm.  When society wrestles with social and political issues of the day, Christians on twitter engage in meaningful discussion seeking to move issues forward respectfully.  When matters of The Church™ become hot topics, they are explored by people who are genuinely seeking the opinions of those they may not ordinarily associate with in the real world.  Many of the theological ghettos we create in the real world are much less concrete in the virtual realms due to the ease of accessibility and lack of geographically located community.  Social media seems to be a force for Christian unity because it doesn’t have room for people to write a comprehensive agenda before they dive into relationship with “the other”.

Do you see social media as a force for Christian unity or disunity?  What are your experiences?

About Robb

Robb is a priest and a vicar in the Church of England. His academic interest is in liturgy, alt:worship and the emerging church and is particularly keen on exploring the sacramantal within worship. He lives in Yorkshire and has a passion for heavy metal, playing in a pub band and riding a Harley.