I am a Facebook junkie. I have to check my Facebook account every day, and preferably at least twice a day. I want to know what all my friends, most of whom I haven’t seen in years, are doing. For those of you who do not use computers or are otherwise unfamiliar with it, Facebook is what is called a “social networking site.” Of such sites, Facebook is the most often visited, surpassing MySpace earlier this year. Originally designed so that college students could keep up with others at their school, it has now expanded to include anyone (and just about everyone). I have my friends (and one has to approve who is a friend or not) divided into groups like church, theatre, my high school, my college. I have even established a Minutes With Messiah fan page on Facebook. (Come join us. On Facebook just search for Minutes With Messiah and become a fan.) People knew immediately that I did not make it to our church’s family camp to present this lesson because I updated my status on Facebook to say that I had gotten lost. Others update with all sorts of information or quizzes. Facebook is a family of friends keeping each other aware of what is going on in their lives, no matter how trivial.
It occurs to me that the modern church has gotten away from that family feeling. When the church began it was almost essential to treat each other like family, because nobody else believed the same things the early Christians did. Because of a shared faith, the church stuck together like Facebook friends.
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
I have a friend on Facebook who used to attend the assembly where I worship. She no longer does so, but it was months after she started going somewhere else before I was aware she was gone. That is my fault, but I am not alone. Perhaps because we have lost a sense of family in the world, many people don’t realize when others come and go in our churches. Imagine if someone one day woke up, as in a Franz Kafka story, and was missing his nose. One day it was there, and now it is gone, and there was no sense of loss as it was going. This is not just in the megachurches, either. Mine is a relatively small congregation of less than 300. We are losing brothers and sisters, and don’t even notice.
This loss of a sense of family has other effects. People no longer feel the need to assemble with others. If there is no need for togetherness, why gather? We hear people say they can worship as well at home or in front of a television assembly. That is because they have never felt part of a family when they did assemble with others. But that feeling of family is one of the purposes of the assembly (Heb 10:24-25).
This affects church discipline as well. If we only see a person once (or maybe three times) a week and never eat with them, how will we change their actions by refusing to eat with them? (1 Cor 5:11) When they have no loyalty to one congregation, and a menu of other congregational choices, why should they stay with a group that wants to make them change? They can find a group that doesn’t care what they do, or shares in their sin.
Today’s church needs to get back to the old feeling of being a unique family. Until we do we will continue to lose people to the world. It has to start again, and it has to start with me.