While I am certain that there are those who will say that they are still seeing as many public responses in their assemblies as ever, most will observe what I have observed. As I think back to my childhood, public responses to the invitation were commonplace—nearly every service. When I first began preaching, public responses requesting baptism or public repentance by members very regularly occurred. Steadily, particularly in the last five to 10 years, such responses have declined. The burning question is, “Why?”
One might point to the growing influence of the world and its impact on the heart of hearers. One may point to weaker, less distinct preaching. One could talk about how potential responders will feel judged or condemned by the others present. One could speak of the philosophies and world views of the age, whether secularism, naturalism, postmodernism, or emergent theology.
Though these are no doubt factors, I am not fully satisfied with them. Weren’t these stumbling blocks in place in previous generations. The names of the philosophies may have changed, but they were there. Consider another theory. Are we losing the traditional, real social connection and fellowship of days gone by as we lose ourselves in the virtual world of social media (some of the same desensitizing factors could apply to TV and movies, too)? Before you dismiss this theory, consider some reasons why I promulgate it.
- Some use social media as their “confessional” or front pew, where they confess their failings in marriage, attitude, speech, or actions.
- On the other hand, social media outlets—particularly those having photos as part of their makeup—create an artificiality. We don’t post unflattering pictures (and may plead with those that tag us in them to delete them), don’t generally admit to weaknesses of character or anything that may make us seem inferior to others (financially, socially, intellectually, etc.). Image replaces integrity.
- Increased time on social media, cultivating that virtual world and its relationships, may be robbing us of real-time, real-life relationships. We often neglect those in front of us for those we’re “visiting” by phone or tablet.
How might this impact public responses? Are we meeting the needs of James 5:16 and 1 John 1:9 via the virtual world? Are we afraid to show vulnerability, need, or weakness, lest we be deemed “inferior”? Have we desensitized ourselves, losing the ability to be “real”? There may be huge holes in my theory, but I suspect there is at least some truth to it.
What can we do to reverse the trend? Hopefully, giving it some serious thought is a start. We cannot reduce ourselves to mindless minions who are consumed with the superficial while disconnecting from the authentic. We must renew a dedication to fellowship and relationship, now more than ever! The people on Pentecost were disturbed enough by clear, divine teaching to make that known in the clearest terms (Acts 2:37). Let’s help the church be a place of real connections and relationships so we can help each other when spiritual needs exist.