The New Default Community

We’re spending more and more time on our phones, tablets, and computers. More than that though, we’re trying to fulfill our need for community through all these digital channels. That’s why almost everyone in the world is on Facebook, some are on Twitter, and still others are on Instagram.

Let me start by saying digital community isn’t all bad. I really enjoy the small community I’ve built on this blog. I’m not really interested in listing out the good versus the bad when it comes to digital communities.

The new default community

What I’m more interested in is what happens now that the new default for community is digital (online) instead of analog (in person). What happens when we need to organize a group of people in our communities but all we know how to do is organize people with texts, tweets, and blog posts?

My wife told me about an interesting example from a book she’s reading. The author was telling a story about how they use to plow snow at Notre Dame. Originally, they would just post that help was needed and some students would come with shovels and handle it.

Once the population became higher brow and stopped wanting to do that kind of work, workers and eventually machines were brought in to take care of it.

At some point, a storm came along and buried them in snow. So much so that the snow plows and other machines couldn’t make it. Their new default wasn’t working, so they fell back on their old default. They wrangled up some students and had them meet in the middle of the campus.

And they did. About 100 students showed up to help remove the snow. The problem was they only had 5 shovels to go around.

No one had the tools necessary to do the work because the new default (the machines) meant they didn’t need them anymore, so they didn’t have that to fall back on.

What happens when we need to fall back on the old default?

I wonder if we’re not setting ourselves up for something similar with moving community almost solely online. I’m not suggesting an apocalyptic scenario will happen and we’ll have to revert. I’m saying what does it look like to be a human who’s not exactly sure how to do one of the most human things there is – connecting with other people in community?

I find it very easy to try and let digital community replace analog community in my life. I can do it from the couch and there’s no risk of discomfort (something my introvert brain loves).

But that’s the problem.

There’s no risk of discomfort where I can push myself to do something that stretches me and helps me grow as a person. There’s no risk of getting connected to someone in a way that matters.

Sure, there’s emotional risk involved with face-to-face connection, but I think we’re all smart enough to know the upside is far bigger.

The real conundrum

The biggest source of tension in creating a healthy church community based on a biblical foundation is that it’s in many ways at odds with the new defaults in our culture.

Just think about getting in touch with someone. We used to just pick up the phone and call them, and that was that. Now there’s email, texting, and Facebook. Those are all great tools, but the real connection that’s possible by hearing someone’s voice is lost over those mediums, especially if you don’t already know the person.

The kind of community the church is trying to create will go against the societal grains here. The tendency is to disconnection personally and to connect digitally. We as the church need to know how to create spaces for people to connect digitally so that it helps to move them to connect personally and drive relationships into the deeper realms that are ripe for spiritual growth.