Social Capital is the ways in which we are able to form connections with each other. For the last two decades this capital has been moving away from traditional institutions and onto the internet. It’s not just churches that are affected. This shift was first cataloged in the book “Bowling Alone” by Robert Putnam and then expounded in Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody.”
There are more options than ever for people to discover a sense of belonging and search for meaning, largely because of the internet and other technologies. People don’t need to reconnect at Sunday fellowship hour when they can text each either 24-7. For the first time, stay at home moms have their own water-cooler talk on facebook. These new opportunities represent new ways for people to find social capital, and they don’t involve the church.
Churches, bowling leagues, work; these were the places where social capital was found in the past. Now, many people work remotely, yet still have great social capital because they are constantly connected to the internet for their work. Churches should take note of this paradigm shift.
In addition to social capital, it’s easier than ever for people to search for meaning; google and Wikipedia have seen to that. This is one reason the “spiritual but not religious” crowd has been such a topic of interest in church circles. It used to be that atheism was stigmatized in the United States. Now atheists can find a group in any major city on meetup.com. Without question, people would go to church to learn about spirituality in the past; now they have more places than ever to explore their beliefs.
Next week I’ll talk about ways that churches can regain social capital.