In the Bible, young David taught us that Goliaths are vulnerable. It only took this brave little boy, a stone and a slingshot to bring down the mighty Goliath.
Recently, David Leonhardt wrote an insightful article in Morning email newsletter from New York Times on some interesting issues facing the tech giant Facebook. Leonhardt quoted his colleague David Roose’s article “Facebook is weaker than we knewwhich revealed the damage that the failure to stop certain content has had on the social media giant.
In too big to fail, book by Andrew Ross Sorkin from 2009, he addressed the economic theory that some companies (banks) were so large and so interconnected that their failure would produce catastrophic results that could cripple the economy. The phrase became iconic during the economic downturn of that era.
Facebook’s four main problems
Leonhardt outlined Facebook’s four biggest problems, in his view.
1. The problem of age
It is now widely accepted that Facebook is for older people, for example, baby boomers. Most young social media users (think Millennials and Gen Z) prefer other social platforms. As Leonhardt writes, “Yes, many teenagers and young adults use Instagram, which Facebook bought a decade ago. But even Instagram is struggling to keep up” with the likes of TikTok.
2. The problem of innovation
Leonhardt reports that since Facebook went public in 2012, it’s been far less innovative than in its early years, when it transformed social media. He quotes Farhad Manjou of Times Opinion: “The company just doesn’t seem to know how to invent successful new things.”
3. The metaverse problem
Leonhardt notes that “Zuckerberg is so convinced that the metaverse, based on [the] The world of virtual reality, or VR, represents the future of the internet that he renamed the company in his honor. Facebook is no longer a business name; Facebook is now a product of Meta Platforms, Inc. Leonhardt said a year after its name change, Meta doesn’t have many victories to show for it.
4. The antitrust problem
Recent federal administrations have clamped down on mergers that could lead to monopolies. Pink Noted, “Facebook has become so dominant, in part by acting anti-competitively for so many years, that Meta is losing its dominance as a result.” Although Facebook remains a powerful force, it has vulnerabilities that could prove critical or even fatal if left unpatched.
The danger for Facebook is real.
Is the church too big to fail?
Who would have thought just a few years ago that giant corporations like Sears, Enron, JC Penny’s, RadioShack, Blockbuster, K-Mart, Chrysler and Texaco were vulnerable and would go bankrupt and/or fail?
Perhaps the church is embracing some version of the “too big to fail” theory.
I strongly affirm that God has established his church on the rock of his word and has sustained it (and will continue to do so) through inquisitions, plagues and governmental banishments through millennia. But the modern church has become an entity, especially in the West, that would be almost unrecognizable to early converts.
Each week I recite the Nicene Creed in worship and acknowledge that I believe in “a holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” This is not a reference to the Roman Catholic Church but a reference to the Universal Church.
Is the church (as we know it) too big to fail?
Finally, I have to say yes. But its “greatness” is not rooted in its resources, its membership or its impressive buildings.
The Word of God promises us in Matthew 16:18, “Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” This passage deals with the advancement of the church against the forces, strongholds and “gates” of hell. The Bible teaches that the church ultimately wins.
But hell is not just about adopting a defensive and reactionary stance. She too walks in and watches over every vulnerability in the church. We can finally win the war, okay, but some battles, not so much.
Perhaps the same (or at least similar) problems that Leonhardt notes as problems for Facebook could be applied to the church.
The Four Main Problems of the Church
In 2020 Barna published “The State of the Churchwhich reveals similar issues between us.
1. The problem of age
While the report says only one in four Americans are currently a practicing Christian, perhaps most importantly, practicing Christians now make up a much smaller segment of the overall population, especially among younger people. adults, Generation Z.
In 2000, 45 percent of all samples qualified as practicing Christians. The report reveals, “Essentially, the share of practicing Christians has almost halved since 2000.”
It has been said that no church is more than a generation away from becoming a museum.
2. The problem of innovation
Take technology, for example. Barna’s research indicates that “the rise of digital life, including social media, the economic crisis, changing attitudes towards social issues and the emergence of younger generations on the scene are some- one of the factors likely to form undercurrents recalibrating Americans’ connection to faith and to Christianity.
Change, for many, is often first experienced as a loss. For many churches, it took a pandemic to integrate technology into their church concept. Technology cannot fully replicate the on-site worship experience. Few advocate abandoning traditional aspects of church/worship.
But just as microwave ovens have found their way into the kitchen without abandoning stoves and ovens, technology must find its way into the church without abandoning valuable aspects of traditional approaches.
3. The problem of mega-churches
The metaverse is unlikely to become a major factor in church life. So let’s replace “the mega-church problem” here.
Mega-churches have undoubtedly been an influential and powerful force in Western Christianity. But, of the approximately three hundred thousand churches in the United States, approximately 1,750 (0.5%) have more than two thousand members/participants according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research publication, “Megachurch 2020: the changing reality in America’s largest Churches.”
And that number could be down.
Unfortunately, the rate of moral failures, material excesses, and unbiblical practices is not. Their rate may not be higher in megachurches than in small churches, but the visibility of megachurches and their leaders makes their missteps more visible and newsworthy.
And too often the public generalizes these problems to all of Christendom. The condition of large churches is not necessarily an indicator for the universal church. If you visit cathedrals in Europe, many are now primarily museums and tourist stops.
No church, no matter how mega, is more than a generation away from being a museum.
4. The problem of mistrust
For churches and pastors, this issue is not an antitrust issue; it is better to call him mistrust problem. In a January 2020 article in Newsweek by Heather Thompson Day, she wrote: ” TO Gallup, Frank Newport says that in 1975, 68% of Americans believed that organized religion could be trusted. “As recently as 1985, organized religion was the most revered institution among the list of institutions tracked by Gallup” (Newport, 2019, p. 1). In 2019, the church hit a new low, with only 36% trusting its leaders. 36 percent. Pastors should be worried.
The tide is unlikely to have reversed in the shadow of recent cultural shifts, moral failings among church leaders, and the general uncertainty of our times.
Where do we go from here?
Leonhardt concludes on Facebook, “His struggles are real and they show no signs of going away.” The ultimate trajectory of Facebook and Christianity is markedly different, of course.
But, to survive (perhaps even thrive) under the shifting cultural tides of our times, the church might be wise to learn from the experience and problems of other “giants.”
David Kinnaman, President of Barna, summed up the implications of their research thus: “More than two and a half decades of tracking research shows that Americans are softening their practice of Christianity. These startling changes raise questions and suggest urgent implications.
Like Facebook, maybe we too need to fix the problems.