The Destructive role the internet has played on the church

In Part 1, we talked about how our entire approach to church is about ourselves and our desires.

In Part 2, we talked about how dopamine is driving much of our approach to church.

In Part 3, we took a very brief look at the Bible’s teaching against pursuing certain desires.

Today, we talk about the desire factory we live in known as the internet.

One of the worst things that has happened as a result of the internet and social media is dissatisfaction. Prior to the internet, we would only be dissatisfied with something when someone in our life gave us reason to be. If the neighbors got a new car, we’d want one. If a family member went to a new church, we’d want to. But, with internet 2.0 we’re bombarded with people we know getting new everything all the time.

The internet, which we may as well call, dopenet, is all about more. More stuff, more ideas, more followers, more, more, more. More division, more independence, more speed, more, more, more. I saw an Amazon truck on the free way that ways, “Truckloads of more.” And it’s more we can have on our doorstep the next day, sometimes the same day.

Before the pandemic, Americans were spending an average of 11 hours per day in front of a screen. Yes, much of that for work, but another 4-6 hours per day outside of work. We’re awake for about 16 hours per day. So, 11/16th or 68% of our day is spent infront of a screen. The average american sees thousands of advertisements per day. (During the pandemic, those numbers went through the roof, but there isn’t any data yet to show how high.)

Simultaneously, advertisers are becoming informed more and more by science, making them more effective at using dopamine to get us to get their stuff. We’re not giving ourselves a fighting chance. It’s hard to overcome the siren call of dopamine when we submit ourselves to it’s pull for 68% of our day.

Add to that the fact that here in the pacific northwest, our people are already more independent and adventurous in the DNA. (Yes, that’s actually true.) When someone we know gets that new, shiny thing and brags about it, dopamine tells us to pursue it and more. You need more, because dopamine is also driving us to win and to dominate the people in our lives. Dopamine drives us to elevate ourselves and prove that we are better.

And the same is true with church. When someone we know experiences the dopamine high that comes with a new church, dopamine tells us we should get that same feeling. And then the justifications begin. The church God led you to is about to die the death of a thousand justifications. It’s called confirmation bias.

Once we have an idea in mind, our brains start looking for evidence to support the thing we want. According to Wikipedia: “Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values.” Under the influence of dopamine because of what you’ve seen from a friend on social media, your brain starts to actively look for evidence to interpret and favor your newfound desire to find a new church. On top of that your brain will start to recall a list of flaws and problems you’ve collected over your time at that church and bring them to mind to support your new thesis. Not only have we moved beyond sacrificing ourselves for the good of the body, now we’re doing exactly the opposite of part of the scriptural definition of love. “Love keeps no record of wrong” until you need to justify and vilify the church you want to leave.

This is where some of the greatest damage is done to churches. People under the influence of dopamine, needing something new & shiny to sustain their dopamine high, often start looking for good reasons to leave their church and fine a new one. These justifications become ammunition against the church, leadership, ministries, programs, etc. and become the validation for leaving.

I am coming to realize how addicted I am to the siren call of dopamine in my life. I want more all the time. It’s easy for me to listen to successful pastors and want their preaching skills or to hear their audiences and want that.

This is one of the reasons I fast regularly. If you don’t know how to endure physical hunger and tell yourself no when your stomach wants more than it needs, how are you going to be able to tell your mind no when it wants more.

Dopamine has been the driving force behind the worship wars. “We deserve to have the kind of worship we want!” Dopamine drives us to want our church to be like “______” church (fill in the blanks with Northpoint, Willow Creek, Saddleback, Elevation, Bethel, etc.) Dopamine is in the driver’s seat in our approach to church.

Before the internet, we wouldn’t have known about most of these churches. We wouldn’t have known we needed our pastor to teach more like Andy Stanley. We wouldn’t have known that we needed our church have a strategy like Saddleback. We wouldn’t have known how to be a cool, buff pastor who uses a handheld mic if it wasn’t for the internet and Elevation Church. And we wouldn’t have known that we needed our worship to be like Bethel. Dopenet is destroying the church. (If God wanted all churches to be the same in all expressions, He would have been explicit about that in the New Testament.)

Also, we’re losing our testimony because of our dopamine addiction. We believe we have the right to xyz. And our clinging to our rights, fighting for our rights and vilifying those who disagree with our rights and pose a threat to them has put a big, thick bushell over our light of selflessness that’s supposed to be shining brightly for the world to see.

What’s the answer? That’s for tomorrow.