It seems to be a persistent problem that when you leave a particular church community, friendships are rarely retained. It is as though the friendships built in a church community are rarely strong enough to not need the church services to maintain them.
I say “church community” deliberately. Maybe I should be even saying “church congregation” because even the meaning of the word “church” has been diluted and corrupted over the centuries. In a Christian context, it is supposed to refer to all believers. But for most people in this day and age, it usually means either a purpose-built building for Christians to meet in or the people that meet there. And such groups of people don’t normally socialize well either with other “church groups” or outside organised church activities.
Of course, I may be in a minority who don’t socialize with fellow church-goers all that much, but I kind of suspect I’m far from alone. Very far.
Churches in our modern western, secular society are not much more than glorified social clubs. Many church-goers would not even consider belonging to more than one at a time, for instance. It becomes something to devote time to and to acquire an additional circle of “friends”.
One thing that social media is actually rather good at is mixing up your circles of friends. The first few friends I got on Facebook were people I had known in High School. It wasn’t much, but it was a start. Then I found some other friends, people who used to go out together and stuff. The next major group of people were my church friends. And most recently it has been a new group of writerly friends. But whilst Facebook is good at connecting you with people whom you might not see in person so often what it doesn’t do so well is let you categorise your socializing with them. When you post a status, all your friends see it. That means it is very possible for two or more of your friends who would otherwise never meet to have a conversation in the comments of one of your posts! One of my friends on Facebook discovered this when a staunchly Christian friend of hers started conversing with a solidly Pagan friend of hers.
The design of Twitter actively takes advantage of this. Because you see the conversations of people you follow, stepping in to participate brings you to the attention of those who don’t already follow you. I’ve made numerous friends on Twitter through exactly that mechanism, some of them minor celebrities in their field because another thing Twitter is also good at (though not perfect) is levelling social strata.
But church communities don’t seem to work well with that. There are just two people in my church I follow on Twitter, and neither post very much. But one of them is likely to respond to things that don’t agree with his religious POV. (Annoyingly, it makes me reluctant to swear on Twitter, which is ironic given its uncensored nature.) If or when I leave the church community I’m currently a part of, I don’t know what is going to happen to that friendship. At least we already have a way of keeping in touch.
Of course, friendships require effort. I value my writer friends because they accept me just as I come. I take the time to go to see them and to participate in events they are likely to be at. It could be argued that church is exactly analogous, except for the small but important fact that I socialize with my friends because they’re my friends: we’re told that the reason for most church services isn’t for socializing with my friends but for worshipping in fellowship. If I don’t or can’t worship in that way anymore, it makes the event uncomfortable for me and I don’t want to go anymore. (I know of people who have left churches, but still turn up in time for the morning coffee afterwards. Some members hadn’t realized they hadn’t been at a service for months.)
But not wanting to go to the services doesn’t mean I don’t want some of those friendships to survive.