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Personal Connection in the Real World

As Student Wellbeing Officer at Tabor, I’ve been struck by how vital it is for people to experience genuine human connection.

Human beings, it seems, are wired for relationship - with God and with others. And for me, nothing beats hearing someone’s story over a cuppa in the Tabor Hub Café.

Face-to-face interactions, however, aren’t always possible: some students study online, and others may struggle with a debilitating illness, difficult personal circumstances or mental health issues. Herein lies the value of living in a digital world: at Tabor, staff and students can communicate via emails, texts, social media, video conferencing and Tabor Online. Students have access to online lectures, publications and online tutoring.

With all of these online supports and interpersonal communication options, one would think that students fare better socially, emotionally, and academically. On the contrary, students frequently tell me about their battles with anxiety, depression, mental exhaustion and loneliness. They often feel overwhelmed by the barrage of electronic information they encounter each day, and disconnected from others despite having many friends on social media. A digital world cannot replace the real interpersonal world...yet!

So, how can Christian organisations and churches find a balance between face-to-face interactions and catering for those who cannot physically attend their services? How can we reach people who depend on digital connectivity to shape and order relationships? A local example from South Australia is Bethel Christian Church at Norwood’s use of the wechat app to livestream its Mandarin service to people in Sydney and Beijing. At an international level, there are many churches who offer online church services – examples include Gateway Church and Second Chance Church. Are these churches charting a way forward into the future - or, perhaps, a path to be avoided?

No form of digital communication can replicate the richness of face-to-face interaction, complete with eye contact, active listening, facial expressions, body language, and verbal communication. And in some ways, face-to-face interaction in this digital age is not only countercultural but also a powerful way that we can communicate the reality of the incarnational love of Jesus – that is, with skin on! However, just as the early Christians saw the need to write letters about Christ to those who lived in distant lands, we too would be wise to consider using digital media as an additional tool to share the message of Hope we have through knowing Jesus.