Are teens rejecting faith for Facebook? The folks over at the Barna Group suggest that something like that may be happening.
Barna has been studying the intersection of Christianity and culture for years now. And while the researchers say that faith is actually doing pretty well amongst teens—more than six in 10 participate in at least one religious activity a week—there are some troubling signs. Teens don’t seem to be praying or attending small groups in the numbers they once did, and they’re not donating money to churches as much, either. They’re also far less inclined to evangelize—to talk about their faith with non-Christians.
The latter makes sense, culturally speaking. We live in a pretty diverse, more relativist culture, and no one—particularly a teen—wants to come across as being too pushy when it comes to faith.
But Barna suggests that teens, while they’re still going to church and reading the Bible, are less engaged with faith on a holistic level. They’re less engaged with other Christian activities, it seems—implying that they’re compartmentalizing their faith more than previous generations. And the blame for that, Barna pins at least partly on social networks like Facebook. Says David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group:
While there is still much vibrancy to teen spirituality, it seems to be 'thinning out.' Teenagers view religious involvement partly as a way to maintain their all-important relationships. Yet perhaps technology such as social networking is reconfiguring teens' needs for relationships and continual connectivity, diminishing the role of certain spiritual forms of engagement in their lives. Talking to God may be losing out to Facebook.
Of course, every teen is different, but I think Barna’s onto something here. My teenage daughter gets bored with Facebook easily but has tons of friends at her youth group; it’s not hard to figure out where she’d rather spend her time. You go where your friends are.
All that said, I can’t help but wonder if there are better ways Christians can use Facebook—to channel it in ways that might make it a more “faithful” medium, if you will. And I’m talking about more than just hanging a Christian shingle on Facebook (though that’s nifty, too), but real opportunities to connect with and help people. I mean, after all, we Christians have historically been adept at taking media and using them to further the Church—everything from stained glass windows to As I Lay Dying offers proof of that. Granted, we’re already seeing lots of Christians use social networking effectively, but with both Facebook and faith both being largely about community, it seems like this trend that will only increase—necessitating perhaps a new question or two from Barna.