Sitting alone on the steps, contemplatively leaning on the plate glass window, my daughter watched me as I walked into church a few weeks ago. It was that weird in-between time after Sunday school is over but before the church service has officially begun. I sat down next to her waiting for my other child to emerge from class.
“What’s wrong? Why do you look so sad?” I asked.
“I’m not sad,” she responded, “I just get what you mean now. I’m kinda glad I haven’t had my phone.”
My quizzical expression prompted her to go on.
“Sunday school let out about five minutes early and as soon as she said we could just hang- everyone took out their phones. No one talked to me; it was just quiet and awkward with everyone ignoring each other. Then I came up here, and even the adults are all on their phones.” I peeked around the foyer, and every last person had their head bent toward their devices scrolling, typing, reading, oblivious.
“I’m just glad I haven’t had my phone- nobody looks at anyone anymore- nobody talks to each other. It’s not good.”
I nodded, understanding. “I’m sorry, baby. That’s why I don’t like you guys to have the phones all the time – it’s important to connect with people.”
The whole exchange left me saddened. It wasn’t that I hadn’t experienced this phenomenon before, it was just… I hadn’t experienced it at church. I’m naturally on the shy/quiet side, so I don’t interact that much with people unless I know them reasonably well, they’ve asked me for help, or they speak to me about something I know about. The art of conversation – the pleasure of small talk – they take me a little while, and I grew up without all the electronic distractions of today. As a girl my daughter’s age, it was adults who engaged me during those quiet times, adults who drew me into the fold, adults who talked to me about how I was doing. I cannot imagine how much lonelier it would have been for me had the Edys, Oscars, Nancys, Jims, Merrys, Donnys, Elaines, Tippys, Jeans, Johns, Joys, Roys & Sues were so busy with their phones that they didn’t have time to talk to a shy girl sitting by herself on the steps.
I heard today that church attendance and membership is dropping dramatically. Young people are not joining and have little interest in leading. There are a multitude of reasons why this may be the case, but I can’t help but wonder if it has to do with the loss of conversation – the lack of connection. You miss a lot when you don’t connect with people face to face. There are nuances to the way we speak, our cadence & diction, our body language, and facial expressions are unreadable online. As a girl, one of the things that made us feel at home in our new church was the elderly couple who stood at the door shaking hands with everyone who came or went, making small talk, remembering our names and things we liked – making some connection to our culture, our background, ourselves. The relationships were real – were face to face, and even more critical, they bridged the gap between generations and cultures.
I wonder if people know how to build those bridges these days – if they even want to. There seems so much animosity toward those “Millenials” – even amongst my own Gen Xers. There is a massive divide, and much of it is technological. My husband turned to me one evening last week while watching some political commentary and said dismissively, “The polls are all skewed anyway; you know they just call people on the phone, and only old people take those calls. No young people even answer the phone.” It’s true, I’m not even in that 18-35 demographic, and I don’t answer the phone unless I know who it is. There’s clearly some disconnect.
It couldn’t be more evident that the disconnect is real when a self-proclaimed non-religious candidate is the one championing the message Humanity First, and the ones who are officially religious are doing little to follow God’s command of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. Maybe the church is losing participants because we have lost our connections – to the people who are in need, to the people who attend our church, to the people in our communities, to our families, but most importantly, to our God. What are our conversations with the Lord? What kind of back and forth do we have with Him? Are we having conversations with Him or with some device? Are we interacting through an intermediary – a study guide, a spiritual leader, or some commentary… instead of with His word?
Hosea 4:6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.
There is a lot to be said for learning how to have a conversation – how to speak and listen and read between the lines. Maybe it’s time I brush up on my conversational skills.
2 Timothy 3:16 & 17 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.