What Facebook can’t do

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How online friendships help build offline relationships

by Myra Holmes

I'm a fan of Facebook. You might say I "like" Facebook.

Because I serve part-time as social media coordinator for USMB, I’m on Facebook a lot—more even than my Millennial daughters, believe it or not.

I like connecting with people I don’t see regularly. I enjoy meeting folks at a conference, then maintaining that acquaintance long after we’ve scattered. I have fun seeing photos from far away friends and reading updates from the daily lives of those in my church community.

I have somewhere around 160 Facebook friends, far fewer than the 338 that the average adult Facebook user has, according to Pew Research. Even then, I wouldn’t claim all of those as true friends.

Maybe it should go without saying, but Facebook, like other social media, can supplement but never replace face-to-face relationships.

As Mennonite Brethren, we believe that God created us for relationships, and we value community. Our Confession of Faith says, “Humans, the crowning act of creation, were designed to live in fellowship with God and in mutually helpful relationships with each other” (Article 3).

This is never truer than with others in the family of God. Again, from our Confession of Faith: “The church is a covenant community in which members are mutually accountable in matters of faith and life. They love, care and pray for each other, share each other’s joys and burdens, admonish and correct one another.”

This kind of community takes real, offline work. We must spend time with each other, laugh together and share joys. We must learn to be vulnerable beyond our online personas. Sometimes, we need to ask for and extend forgiveness.  

How might we better use Facebook and our online friendships to build our offline relationships? Here are some ideas; comment on this article to add your thoughts.

  1. Browse your Facebook friends list: How many of these people will you see face-to-face this week? This month? How could you connect with them in a more meaningful way?
  2. Pick one Facebook friend to connect with offline this week.  Extend an invitation for coffee or make a phone call to catch up. 
  3. Pray for your Facebook friends. Use posts as prayer prompts. Celebrate with your friends when you see God working in or through them. Intercede for them when they hurt. If they are not followers of Christ, pray for their salvation.
  4. When one of your Facebook friends posts a need, ask God how you could be a part of meeting that need. Could you babysit for the frazzled young mom? Offer a ride to the friend whose car broke down?
  5. Pause before you post. What would you say if you were face-to-face with this person? If our relationships are to be marked by love and care, does this fit?
  6. Share your spiritual journey through your posts. Talk about how God is working in your life through Facebook. It can be an encouragement to fellow believers and a conversation starter with those who are not.
  7. Evaluate how you spend your time. Does your online and offline time reflect a healthy balance? Investing in friendships might require turning the newsfeed off more often.
  8. Consider purging your friends list. If you truly never connect with this person outside of Facebook, is it time to unfriend? Would it free up more time for real relationships?

Myra Holmes serves as social media coordinator for USMB as well as assistant editor for CL. She works out of her home office in Littleton, Colo. She and her husband attend Trailhead Church, a USMB congregation in Littleton. 

 

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