After ten years of Facebook, let's remember the antidote!
Facebook has just celebrated its tenth birthday – and it's hard to believe the website has only been around for a decade.
At the end of last year, it boasted 1.23 billion active users every month, according to official figures. That's an increase of 170 million on the previous year – and roughly double the number that were logging in regularly in 2010.
In both the UK and the US, a staggering one in three people use Facebook every day, according to The Guardian newspaper this week.
I must admit I fell a little out of love with Facebook today when I visited the site and an advert popped up correctly forecasting the age I will be at my next birthday. It then asked whether I would like to take out funeral cover – a tad premature given that I am probably only a little bit over half way through my working life!
But let's be honest – in many ways it has been a great website based on a simple but great idea. As a result of its existence, I've certainly kept in contact with people with whom I otherwise wouldn't have done. Moreover, in a handful of cases, vague acquaintances really have developed into genuine friendships through the exchange of banter and sharing of mutual interests. I've even got to know a reasonably well-known radio continuity announcer who turns out to have a very committed Christian faith.
If nothing else, Facebook indicates our natural human desire to be connected with others. And anything which enables people to communicate, to stay in touch, to laugh together and to share things with one another has got to be good from a Christian perspective.
However, it is also a poor substitute for the real thing. And by that I don't just mean genuine friendship between people who actually see one another, as opposed to being virtual online friends in name only – good though that is of course. I mean Christian fellowship.
It's a word that is perhaps not in as much use as it used to be. But anyone who has experienced authentic fellowship knows that it far surpasses both friendship and certainly Facebook.
I was in a country in the Middle East not so long ago and during my time there worshipped with a congregation where almost every individual represented a different nation on earth. And yet there they all were – praying and singing together.
This sort of fellowship is more than the bonding that comes through a shared passion such as music, sport or some other mutual interest. For one thing, it involves a genuine love and commitment to others – no matter how different they may be.
Moreover, it can exist and be recognised even before scarcely a word is spoken. When two people genuinely know Jesus Christ then there is something almost instinctive and intuitive in the way they relate which is hard to put into words but which everyone who has experienced it will understand.
Of course, Christian fellowship is not always easy. The fact that Christ brings together people of all sorts of races, ages, temperaments and backgrounds can make life challenging sometimes. It's far easier, perhaps, to sit in a chair sharing sardonic comments and uploading photos via Facebook than to engage face-to-face.
But why settle for second best? Facebook is great, friendship is better – but fellowship beats them all. If we find ourselves spending too much time online it's good to remember the antidote: Connect with Christ and you suddenly find you have more friends of all ages and backgrounds than you could ever have imagined.