Pastor’s Friday Comments (03.29.19)

Robert Putnam’s extremely insightful analysis of modern culture, Bowling Alone, was published in 2001. Based on huge amounts of social data accumulated over the past century, its subtitle gives you a good idea of his conclusions: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. The collapse was evident; the revival was optimistic aspiration.

Putnam found that American social capital — the fabric that connects us with each other — had plummeted and that individuals and communities were worse off because of it.

Some of his observations were that we sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often. The title comes from the fact that, although more Americans are bowling than ever before, they are not bowling in leagues. He shows how changes in work, family structure, age, suburban life, television, computers, women’s roles and other factors have contributed to this decline.

I’ve just started working through a new book that shows how these trends may be even more pronounced in the youngest current generation. iGen, by Jean Twenge, also has a disturbing subtitle: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood — and What That Means for the Rest of Us.

According to the summary on Amazon, “iGen is the first generation to spend their entire adolescence in the age of the smartphone. With social media and texting replacing other activities, iGen spends less time with their friends in person — perhaps why they are experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.”

This trend toward fewer relational connections has significant application for the church, not only because congregational life is based on our connections with one another, but mainly because Christianity is a relational lifestyle. Even if Jesus had lived in a more advanced technological age, I seriously doubt that his main form of communication would either be sermon streaming or blog posting. He taught people face to face and ministered to them one-on-one.

In our deacons meeting this month there were a few anecdotal stories about members who were finding it hard to find a place to “plug in”. I suppose we should find some comfort in the fact that they were at least attempting to have a connection.

What I think is more true for our congregation is that most of us have found out that this is one of the best places for us to have connections, to relate to people who genuinely care about each other. It is also one of the few places where we insist that young people put down their cellphones and at least try to be engaged in thoughtful conversation. We’re bucking the growing trend toward disconnectedness.

If you are wanting to find a group with which to relate within the (slightly) larger context of our congregation, there are several Bible study and prayer groups, as well as our Sunday School classes. You can also find ways to minister to others, to engage in recreation, and, if you want, just to hang out with your fellow members. If you don’t find a group that floats your boat, let us know. Perhaps we can help you to form one.

What I don’t want you to do is “bowl alone,” metaphorically speaking. All of us need people with whom we can relate. Parkway is one of those places where you can have that need met. Connect here. You’ll be glad you did.