a Christian podcast about tabletop RPGs and collaborative storytelling

Blog: Community at a Distance

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25

I’ve made no secret to anyone who knows me (or anyone who listens to the podcast) that I sit on the “introvert” side of the introvert-extrovert spectrum. It may come off as odd or even inaccurate to some, because my job is fairly asocial. I work in shipping and receiving, and for most of the year, I am a one-man department. Because of this, unlike a lot of introverts, I still have some social energy left in the evenings because my work doesn’t drain it away, so friends often see a fairly lively, energetic side of me.

Or at least, they hear it. The blessing and the curse of the internet is that many of the people I consider my closest friends live in other states. I’ve never met some of them in person, though I’ve talked with them via VOIP services and game with some of them almost every week. I hope to meet them face-to-face at a convention one of these days.

And yet, that geographic separation doesn’t make them any less my actual friends – in fact, I’d argue the opposite is true. Much like the more somber, slower pace of traditional services help put me in a better frame of mind for worship on Sunday morning, I often make friends better via the internet. I even met my wife that way. The slower pace of communications provided by forums and social media allows me to connect better with people, at least on a first-impression sort of basis. And it’s typically less jarring and therefore easier to back out of a social media or forum conversation (or even end a VOIP call) than it is to leave a social gathering.

Some of the extroverts reading this are probably bristling now, ready with all kinds of admonitions that “internet socializing doesn’t count.” To which I can only say: which is more important to you – physical proximity, or mental and emotional engagement?

To shift gears slightly, this is one of the things that is also nice about gaming. It gives you another context so socialize in, with reasonably clear rules of engagement and something that all the participants are already invested in to talk about. Planning a job in Shadowrun or meticulously working your way through a dungeon crawl provides a greater level of conversational depth than simply talking about the weather, or at least it can. I’d argue it should.

By contrast, church can be an intimidating place, especially to the uninitiated. There are tons of rules, almost all of them unspoken, and the penalties for breaking them can be severe.  I think that sometimes we as Christians can get a little arbitrary of what we expect of people. Talking with other folks in the “geeky faith” community like my cohosts, Derek White, and Mike Perna DOES count as fellowship with other believers. If a new Christian is more comfortable fellowshipping with other believers at a slower pace online – that counts. If a long-time Christian is having problems with social anxiety or social fatigue and does the same thing – it still counts. To come back around to my earlier point, meeting together is being mentally present with each other, giving of your time and attention instead of merely displacing the air an arbitrary number of feet away from them.

Now, I’m not about to suggest that introverts and/or gamers of faith should never darken a church’s door. There are a lot of things churches offer, particularly if you get involved. Opportunities to start “checking off some of the boxes” in the parable of the sheep and the goats are a big one. For example, I’d never have gotten involved with the local food pantry if not for some of the folks at my church, who opened that door for me. Another benefit is the ability to make connections with people who may not be as comfortable with technology. At 36, I’m about half the age of most of the folks who attend the traditional worship service I go to at my church. You’re not likely to find most people in their seventies on Facebook unless you’re one of their grandchildren (and even then you may not), but they often make fantastic mentors and role models. They have, after all, seen a lot of life in all those years. And there is something profoundly moving about being at a traditional candlelight Christmas service that no amount of high-definition video will ever replicate.

Still, I think there is a tremendous amount to be gained by taking advantage of the modern ability to engage folks we’d have never known existed in ages past. I’ve made real, lasting friendships, been challenged in my entrenched views, had some fantastic games, and grown in my faith – all without ever leaving my home.

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