Facebook killing Synagogue?

Many attend synagogue for social reasons such as to see their friends and catch up on community news. Our Modern Orthodox synagogues were designed with Durkheim in mind. Here is an interesting thesis that the gen y is not leaving because of shallowness and hypocrisy but because they have an online community. The loss of third spaces is also relevant. The rise of religion in the last decades almost killed the Moose lodge, the Freemasons, and the bowling league.

The difference between Generations X and Y isn’t in their views of the church. It’s about those cellphones. It’s about relationships and connectivity. Most Gen X’ers didn’t have cell phones, text messaging or Facebook. These things were creeping in during their college years but the explosive onset of mobile devices and social computing had yet to truly take off.

So why has mobile social computing affected church attendance? Well, if church has always been kind of lame and irritating why did people go in the first place? Easy, social relationships. Church has always been about social affiliation. You met your friends, discussed your week, talked football, shared information about good schools, talked local politics, got the scoop, and made social plans (“Let’s get together for dinner this week!”). Even if you hated church you could feel lonely without it. Particularly with the loss of “third places” in America.

But Millennials are in a different social situation. They don’t need physical locations for social affiliation. They can make dinner plans via text, cell phone call or Facebook. In short, the thing that kept young people going to church, despite their irritations, has been effectively replaced.

Sure, Millennials will report that the “reason” they are leaving the church is due to its perceived hypocrisy or shallowness. My argument is that while this might be the proximate cause the more distal cause is social computing. Already connected Millennials have the luxury to kick the church to the curb. This is the position of strength that other generations did not have. We fussed about the church but, at the end of the day, you went to stay connected. For us, church was Facebook!

The pushback here will be that all this Millennial social computing, all this Facebooking, isn’t real, authentic relationship. I’d disagree with that assessment. It goes to the point I made earlier: Most of our Facebook interactions are with people we know, love, and are in daily contact with. Facebook isn’t replacing “real” relationships with “virtual” relationships. It’s simply connecting us to our real friends. And if you can do this without getting up early on Sunday morning why go to church? Particularly if the church is hypocritical and shallow? Why mess with it?

Why are Millennials leaving the church? It’s simple. Mobile social computing has replaced the main draw of the traditional church: Social connection and affiliation.
Here is the full post at Experimental Theology.

Here is the h/t at Mirror of Justice, which added:

To the extent that this argument has merit, I’m guessing it holds more truth for Protestants than for Catholics. In general, my experience of Protestant churches is that the churchgoing experience is more social, especially for young people, than the experience at most Catholic churches, where the experience is more centered on the individual, and where folks tend to flee as soon as Mass is finished (or sooner, in many cases)

2 responses to “Facebook killing Synagogue?

  1. I think there’s another component to this. I completely agree that people (or at least some ppl — like me) go to synagogue to catch up on community news and socialize. However, facebook and text messaging hasn’t eliminated that need. The reason I often don’t go to synagogue isn’t because I get enough socializing online. It’s because I often get no socializing at synagogue. I have been to so many synagogues where fraternizing is frowned upon and where whispered ‘hellos’ are shushed. I don’t have enough of an institutional history of synagogues to speak with confidence + authority but I suspect that there has been a shift in how certain decorums in synagogue are tolerated (throughout a wide range of denominations). My favorite kind of synagogue is one where ppl chat during the service and are pretty much left alone to wander around and catch up with ppl. But that model of service seems to be less and less tolerated. I’d be interested in seeing how this institutional shift (if it really does exist) maps up historically to synagogue attendance. I remember once at a livingroom minyan I was shushed for whispering ‘hello’ to a friend when he walked in. I wasn’t even carrying on a conversation. Needless to say, I never went back. (Nb, we recently found an egalitarian minyan where chatting is permissible. Not only can I now catch up with people during boring parts of the service, but I can chat with my wife as well. We have started attending shul much more frequently.)

  2. There is the flipside of this that Church/Synagogue is about identity formation and publicly stating who you and who you are not.

    Or rather we attend synagogues with people who we think are like us (e.g. successful & cool; frum; intellectual; etc.) and not with people who we do not wish to be associated.

    Faceboook allows one to fashion an identity without having to leave their home.

    However, Orthodox Jewish males, like Catholics need to show up to pray, to establish their identity as Orthodox Jews. Women I suspect show up to establish their identity as “frum”. However, they pick synagogues which reinforce their identities.

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