The Art of Conversation: Is It a Thing of the Past?
C. Christopher Smith, in his article, The Rise of Conversational Churches, writes, "In this age of social media, it is widely accepted that we don't know how to talk together - and especially with those whose perspective differs greatly from our own. From Washington, DC, where the federal government teeters on the brink of shutdown every time a new budget must be passed, down to the smallest social gatherings, society in the 21st century is marked by an inability to talk about complex and divisive questions.
Conversations are limited to posts online or text messages. The only phone calls I get regularly are Spam calls and my mom. Seldom do church members seem to get together just to talk, we generate a reason to gather; Bible study, committee meetings, and outreach activities. Even though Covid gathering rules in other areas have become a thing of the past, we are still streaming worship services to people who could join us in person. And I believe a lot of the reason for this is because we have forgotten how vital face-to-face conversations are to our relationships.
According to Psychologist World, human communication is 20% verbal and 80% body language. And according to Fierceinc.com, "Whether you’re giving (or receiving) feedback, confronting a colleague, having a collaborative meeting, or just engaging in casual conversation, your body language matters." You can't get this information when conversing online or through texting, which may be why so many technical conversations become hostile so quickly.
Professor Mehrabian’s famous studies concluded that only 7% of communication is verbal and 93% is non-verbal made up of 55% body language and 38% tone of voice. No amount of emoticons can make up for that missing 93%. (Frank Leong, Are Face-to-Face Conversations a Thing of the Past?)
Conversations are important in our Christian lives, it defines our relationship with God. The world came to be because God spoke, "Then God said, 'Let there be light.'" Gen. 1:3 Our prayers with God draw us closer to him and help us to know him. And our connection as Christians grows through thoughtful and heartfelt conversations.
C. Christopher Smith and his congregation at Englewood Christian Church have been using weekly conversation for over 25 years. They have found that "As conversations unfolded over the years, we found that we were being transformed, although not in the way one might expect. We were not magically transformed into like-mindedness... What was happening, instead, was that we began to actually hear one another and grow in our knowledge and trust of one another." (The Rise of Conversational Churches)
"The society we live in consists of little screens and too much “connection.” I would never have imagined a world with so many resources to connect, but so many people feeling lonely. I just want a world in which I could name one person who hasn’t used a smart phone in front of me. Everyone is living in this fake world, the world of the internet. We need to live in the real world, with real faces, not animated and pixilated. That is the world that I want my kids to grow up in." (Emily Pietrantone, Face to face conversations shouldn't be a thing of the past)
I am so guilty of using my iPhone when I am with others. Some of it is because I get anxious if I am not doing something during a meeting or conversation. I believe that is because I have gotten so used to clipped conversation through the internet and "quick texts" that I can't focus for very long. But I, like Emily Pietrantone, want to have face-to-face conversations without technology interrupting me.
Jesus was great at conversations. He did not shy away from difficult conversations, nor did he ignore those who needed to speak to him. He knew that it was conversations that connected us to each other. In John 17, Jesus explains how we should be as his followers, "I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one - as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me." (vs. 20-21 NLT)
We cannot share the gospel in a way that will attract people simply by putting an appropriate verse on Facebook or calling each other names when there is disagreement. It's important that we build relationships within our Christian body. Even if we don't agree on everything, we need to get to know each other well enough that we are compassionate toward each other. And that only happens when we are engaged in regular face-to-face conversations.
This once again brings me back to the Class Meeting. What better place to better understand each other than in an accountability group? I believe with all of my heart that God is calling us to communicate differently from the world. While in general society it may be okay to use only digital means of communication, Christians need face-to-face conversation to complete our purpose in this world.