In The Virtual Church with Professor Ralph Watkins we have done a lot of discussion on "Facebook" vs. true "Face Time." (I realize FaceTime is an Apple app, but here I mean people seeing one another in person, face to face, no cameras or screens between them.) We have wrestled with whether virtual interactive communities can truly replace old fashioned get-togethers in building relationships and dialogue. We have come to the conclusion that online resources cannot ultimately be an alternative to person-to-person meetings, but that the two forms of communication can certainly compliment one another. The new Christian yearning for human contact can step out of her online Life Circle and meet her peers for coffee at the local bistro. The man with a Sunday morning over-the-road delivery can hear his church's worship service on live streaming through his iPhone.
I experienced the complimentary nature of online and face-to-face meetings this weekend as I traveled to my home church in Port Orange, FL to check in with friends and thank members for their support. Going in I knew some of the joys and pains in peoples' lives because of texts, emails, and Facebook posts. Seeing folks in church, we were not starting from scratch catching up on each others' lives. We were able to achieve a deeper level of conversation because we already had one another's back stories as starting points. I knew who the youth leaders were, who was in college, who recently had a baby, who was undergoing chemotherapy, and who had changed jobs or even careers. There is something fun about "catching up" with people that we miss because we have so much of their lives available to us online, but it leads to much deeper and more meaningful conversations. It also invites my wife and me to remain loved and integral members of a faith community from which we live a seven hours' drive away.