social networking

How to Build Online Relationships Like Jesus

social media relationships
Written by Paul Steinbrueck

social media relationshipsI wrote an article titled 7 Ways Pastors Fail at Social Media for this month’s Neue Magazine, which made its way online last week. Joel Reichenbach posted a comment in response, which I think deserves more attention. Here’s part of it:

It was stated that twitter and facebook are all about relationships, but all these sites add to relationships are information. Of course we can be comforted by an inspiring tweet or facebook status or uplifted by an encouraging facebook status, but if these relationships don’t go much further than the internet we must not fool ourselves into thinking that these are healthy, worthwhile, and sustainable relationships unless we remove the wire…

I’m all for information communication, I just fear that the thought of loving someone through twitter and not taking communication to the next step is a dangerous misrepresentation of love and care.

While I don’t know Joel, I glean from his comment that he values of deep, meaningful, lasting relationships. He’s concerned that social media can’t facilitate those kinds of relationships and social media users will end up with hundreds of meaningless, superficial relationships if they’re not intentional about taking some of those relationships offline.

I agree that there is a danger with social media that a person could end up with hundreds or even thousands of superficial relationships and no deep meaningful relationships. However, I believe…

It’s not a Technology Issue, It’s a Relationship Issue

Shallow relationships were not invented by Facebook. We had plenty of them long before social media was developed. Like my neighbor with whom I exchange hi-how-are-yas once every few weeks when we happen to be taking our trash cans to the curb at the same time. And that woman at church – I forget her name now – but we say hi every Sunday when we check our kids into the children’s ministry at the same time.

Many people who have never used Facebook or Twitter suffered from a lack of close, meaningful relationships. In fact, do you know which group of people are often characterized by having lots of “followers” but few close friends?


Every week pastors preach to hundreds or even thousands of people. Beyond hearing the message, most people’s interaction with their pastor is limited to a handshake and 5 second, “Hi, how are you? Fine.” conversations. Meanwhile, a Focus on the Family survey found 70% of pastors have no close friends to confide in.

Sounds an awful lot like the relational conditions Joel and many others fear social media will produce. Doesn’t it?

On the other hand, I have some amazing friends who I interact with online but never have never met face-to-face. I know many others who can say the same thing.

Don’t get me wrong, face-to-face relationships are hugely important. Would I want my closest relationships – specifically the relationships I have with my wife and 3 children – to be exclusively online?  Of course, not.  But the anecdotal evidence shows that meaningful, life-changing relationships can be developed absent any offline meeting.

Again, it’s not a technology thing, it’s a relationship thing. But there is that issue of what does trying to maintain hundreds or thousands of relationships do to the quality of our relationships.  The bigger question, in my opinion is…

Can a person connect with hundreds or even thousands of people – online or offline – AND also have deep, meaningful relationships?

I think the best person to look to to answer that question is Jesus. In How to Build Online Relationships Like Jesus (Part 2) we’ll examine Jesus’ life to see how he engaged large groups of people and close friends.


  1. Do you think a people who have never met in person can have close, meaningful relationships through social media? Or do you have to take the relationship offline
  2. Do you have any good friends who you’ve never met in person? If so, can you tell the story of how you met and how they’ve impacted your life.
[image by doodlemonger]

About the author

Paul Steinbrueck

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as +Paul Steinbrueck.


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