The Pew study found that “Facebook users ‘like’ their friends’ content and comment on photos relatively frequently, but most don’t change their own status that often.” This may be because 36% of us are annoyed by people sharing too much information, and we’re equally annoyed at people posting things or pictures about us without our permission. Between our dislike of oversharing and posting without permission, it is no wonder we “like” posts more than we create them.
This makes us wonder about the nature of our relationship with our 338 Facebook friends (the average number for an adult—teens have far more!). Before the rise of social media, it was perfectly obvious who a “friend” was. Friends lived down the street and sat in the same classroom. You worked with them and met them when they moved across the street. You knew their family and they knew yours. You walked similar paths and shared similar challenges.
But social media have scrambled “friendship.” Now “friends” can be electronic discoveries. It’s great to see what media “friends” have grown, cooked or where they have traveled. Sometimes we discover similar causes or concerns. Through our daily Facebook check in, we stay up to date with our network.
Yet something is missing from these posts and pictures: genuine presence. Friends must be present to each other, fully present. Not always in person, of course. But once made, true friendship endures. Hundreds of electronic friends can be “unfriended” with just a click.
Social media certainly helps to be in vivid touch with people already “friended.” And social media can help to expand the circle based on common commitments and convictions. But genuine friendship needs physical presence. That’s when people truly discover, truly share, truly wrestle with challenges and celebrate triumphs.
At their best this is what congregations do. They build strong ties based on shared experience. Even more, congregations can shape experience, building common commitments and sharpening shared values. Even more, congregations alone can build hope.