How to Build Online Relationships Like Jesus

social media relationshipsI wrote an article titled 7 Ways Pastors Fail at Social Media for this month’s Neue Magazine, which made its way online last week. Joel Reichenbach posted a comment in response, which I think deserves more attention. Here’s part of it:

It was stated that twitter and facebook are all about relationships, but all these sites add to relationships are information. Of course we can be comforted by an inspiring tweet or facebook status or uplifted by an encouraging facebook status, but if these relationships don’t go much further than the internet we must not fool ourselves into thinking that these are healthy, worthwhile, and sustainable relationships unless we remove the wire…

I’m all for information communication, I just fear that the thought of loving someone through twitter and not taking communication to the next step is a dangerous misrepresentation of love and care.

While I don’t know Joel, I glean from his comment that he values of deep, meaningful, lasting relationships. He’s concerned that social media can’t facilitate those kinds of relationships and social media users will end up with hundreds of meaningless, superficial relationships if they’re not intentional about taking some of those relationships offline.

I agree that there is a danger with social media that a person could end up with hundreds or even thousands of superficial relationships and no deep meaningful relationships. However, I believe…

It’s not a Technology Issue, It’s a Relationship Issue

Shallow relationships were not invented by Facebook. We had plenty of them long before social media was developed. Like my neighbor with whom I exchange hi-how-are-yas once every few weeks when we happen to be taking our trash cans to the curb at the same time. And that woman at church – I forget her name now – but we say hi every Sunday when we check our kids into the children’s ministry at the same time.

Many people who have never used Facebook or Twitter suffered from a lack of close, meaningful relationships. In fact, do you know which group of people are often characterized by having lots of “followers” but few close friends?

Pastors

Every week pastors preach to hundreds or even thousands of people. Beyond hearing the message, most people’s interaction with their pastor is limited to a handshake and 5 second, “Hi, how are you? Fine.” conversations. Meanwhile, a Focus on the Family survey found 70% of pastors have no close friends to confide in.

Sounds an awful lot like the relational conditions Joel and many others fear social media will produce. Doesn’t it?

On the other hand, I have some amazing friends who I interact with online but never have never met face-to-face. I know many others who can say the same thing.

Don’t get me wrong, face-to-face relationships are hugely important. Would I want my closest relationships – specifically the relationships I have with my wife and 3 children – to be exclusively online?  Of course, not.  But the anecdotal evidence shows that meaningful, life-changing relationships can be developed absent any offline meeting.

Again, it’s not a technology thing, it’s a relationship thing. But there is that issue of what does trying to maintain hundreds or thousands of relationships do to the quality of our relationships.  The bigger question, in my opinion is…

Can a person connect with hundreds or even thousands of people – online or offline – AND also have deep, meaningful relationships?

I think the best person to look to to answer that question is Jesus. In How to Build Online Relationships Like Jesus (Part 2) we’ll examine Jesus’ life to see how he engaged large groups of people and close friends.

Discussion:

  1. Do you think a people who have never met in person can have close, meaningful relationships through social media? Or do you have to take the relationship offline
  2. Do you have any good friends who you’ve never met in person? If so, can you tell the story of how you met and how they’ve impacted your life.

[image by doodlemonger]

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, elder of CypressMeadows.org, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as +Paul Steinbrueck.

22 Responses to “How to Build Online Relationships Like Jesus”

  1. Malcolm Walsh Jun 21, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    Hi,
    I have a pet peeve and it is the over-used and over abused loosely define word "relationship" regardless of context it is used in. I wonder what happened to the word friendship and when it was left it behind? Why did we replace the word "love(unconditional)" from our vocabulary for the word relationship.

    Jesus poured his life into the few but available to served the masses. I have personally and directly benefited from using the Internet since 1995. I do not need to sit in the same room with you to get to know you deeply. I am wired up for the Internet, believe God is using it in my life and others that I can serve. Whereas on the other hand I know people who are not like this and they need the personal touch of seeing people. I thrive in both environments.

    I have stay in touch with my mentor using the Internet and Telephone for 20 years and he is now 90 years old. I on a virtual team with Steve for over four years, have only been in the same room together maybe 3 weeks and know each other very very well.

    The question each of us needs to ask – what will work individually to maximize opportunities to serve more effectively?

    Appreciate it!!!

    Malcolm W

    • PaulSteinbrueck Jun 21, 2011 at 6:19 pm

      Malcolm, that's great that you're able to thrive and develop relatio… er, friendships ;) in both online and offline environments. You make a good point that the environment that works best may be different for each individual.

  2. This is a great question and worth evaluating.

    Good points Malcom. The discussions can sound like there is a cross over with the words Love and Relationships. They are different. I have meaningful relationships with my husband and kids, in part because we live together. That doesn't mean that I have to live with people to have meaningful relationships. They are different relationships. I have meaningful relationships with people because of the investment I put into them, and because I trust the other party that they are invested. More specifically, that the investment is somewhat equal whether we call it relationship, friendship or love.

    Perhaps the fear is that we think if we are communicating on-line, we can't tell if someone is sincere. There is great risk in betrayal. But doesn't that happen in face-to-face relationships as well-in all types of relationships. I've even heard of people saying they feel that they can be more transparent on-line.

    Don't get me wrong. On-line relationships shouldn't replace the in-person relationships. Can't I have both?

    Great day,
    Diana

    • PaulSteinbrueck Jun 22, 2011 at 10:32 am

      Diana, I've heard many people say that too – that people can be phony online, but I think you're right, people are often disingenuous offline too, probably much more than we realize.

  3. Lyndie Blevins Jun 22, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    Hi, Paul

    I have not met Jesus face to face. Nevertheless, he is real to me. His word has changed me. I value the 'relationship' we have, even though it is not of physical substance. Our world wide web is an imitation of the timeless interconnecting spiritual web we experience. Once again, Jesus is the truth of the myth. He is the real online connection. From that perspective, everything we do to reach people on the internet is validated.

    • PaulSteinbrueck Jun 22, 2011 at 4:59 pm

      Lyndie, that's a great point that none of us have never met Jesus face to face. Yet, God did think physical presence was important enough for Jesus to come and live among us (even if he couldn't be present with all of us). That's something I want to think about some more.

  4. I've found that many people are more apt to be real online because it's a lot "safer." It's tough to take the risk and be real face-to-face for many who've never taken the step. The one thing I'm learning more and more is that our culture is so lonely — married or single — it doesn't matter. So many are addicted to some vice, ie porn, or carry so much shame from their past and all that want is someone to say that they matter and to "belong" where there's no judgment or shame. I always prefer face-to-face relationships but online has become more of the way for me lately because of where I live and what I do. As a pastor I'm always careful about what I say or do but with my friends who are not in my church or online, I'm one of the guys and there's no expecation for me to be holy and without sin. I have a place to work out my faith and my sins.

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