By Pam Hrncir, a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary.
Beyond the Screen is written to address social media and teenagers in youth ministry. Though aimed at youth ministry, this book has an important message for the entire church as the church comes to terms with a new social norm of networked individualism.
For those of us who did not grow up connecting with people through social media, Beyond the Screen is very helpful to understand what exactly our kids are doing and why they are doing it. As a parent, Beyond the Screen helps me to have empathy and patience for kids and their phones. Instead of pushing against the new norm of networked individualism, Zirschky encourages us to address the why behind it through koinonia.
Networked individualism “is liberating people from the restrictions of tight-knit groups and freeing them to form personal networks that are large, loosely knit, and which give expanded opportunities for learning, problem-solving, and relational interaction” (53). The key to understanding networked individualism is that people are no longer connecting by “belonging” to specific groups like a church, a bowling league, Lions Club. Networked individualism has become the “dominant form of sociability of our age” (52).
Zirschky then outlines the negative demands this new social system puts our youth. I’d argue that these demands are always there regardless of the current operating social system and regardless of our age. The demands are:
- Create a network (66)
- Keep the networked engaged (67)
- Grow the network large (68)
- Be socially selective (69)
Zirschky points out that what teenagers (and all people) long for is meaningful, intimate, relationships and we are using networking to fulfill that need but then find ourselves faced with the above demands.
The Church is called to offer an alternative relational social system called Koinonia. Koinonia creates relationship and community
- Where “belonging does not depend on personal effort” (66)
- That “release(s) individuals to be themselves, as they find acceptance and love
- That “declares one another brothers and sisters, as we engage in relationships of presence and knowing” (69)
- All “receive love and belonging when they have no social value” (70)
Networking has always been around. It is nothing new. It just happens now through social media. The church has always been charged to challenge the status quo to reveal the dignity and value of each person. It began in Paul’s letter to Corinth where he shakes up their social norms and calls them to live in koinonia (78). So too now. It is all too easy to get caught up in our accomplishments and social status and we fail to know one another.
I find Beyond the Screen affirming to what I believe is the purpose of the church – to build community in which we can live in mutually life giving ways, lifting up the image of God placed in each of us. We are created as relational beings. The world has always placed demands that conflict with the image of God in us. When in Koinonia, we recognize the God given worth and dignity with-in ourselves and each other. We experience love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness. Through that kind of relational community, we transform and see the world in a new way.
I think Beyond the Screen gives great insight into today’s social operating system. Beyond the Screen isn’t just for youth ministry. I believe the message applies to the whole church. We are all longing for meaningful, intimate relationship where we are truly known, our voice is heard, and our story is honored.