Is Facebook Going To Replace Church?

By Fin Sheridan

Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg has been talking church. Both in his recent speech at Harvard and to a group at Facebook’s Community Summit, Zuckerberg has been discussing Facebook’s new mission: “To give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”

The reason that church comes up in this conversation is because Facebook is both drawing recognition from how churches have built and grounded communities whilst also hinting that they might be the future of connectedness.

In his speech at the Community Summit, Zuckerberg explains: “People who go to church are more likely to volunteer and give to charity — not just because they’re religious, but also because they’re a part of a community. So that’s why it is so striking that over the past few decades, membership in all kinds of communities around the world has been declining, in a lot of places by as much as one-quarter. That’s a lot of of people who now need to find a sense of purpose and support somewhere else.”

For Mark, that “somewhere else” is Facebook.

“The question is, does a predominantly online community sustain and fulfil the human need for connection – and the biblical command to gather?”

Facebook, along with the other major social networks, has irreversibly changed our social behaviour. Many churches and Christians embrace this – personally, I am a part of over 20 “church related” Facebook groups which keep me updated with my local church, missionaries and church planting friends as well as teams that I am a part of. Those groups are helpful, if not vital, to fostering community in the 21st Century.

The question is, does a predominantly online community sustain and fulfil the human need for connection – and the biblical command to gather? Facebook suggests that it can – and many would agree. ‘Church online’ offerings across the UK and the USA continue to grow as a new way to reach people, many with disabilities or issues that mean travelling to a local congregation is hard, even impossible. Churches using Facebook’s approach and “new technology and AI” can reach those people in fresh and more meaningful ways.

The flip side to that is that, currently, online community is still a shadow of flesh and blood community. Living in close proximity to another human being is different to being friends on Facebook, not matter how much you talk. Who we are online is portrayed differently to who we are in person – the non-verbal communication that leaks out of us can be masked by filters and emojis. We get to be whoever we want, not whoever we are.

The church should harness as many opportunities as possible to build connection and communities whether it’s coffee mornings or Facebook groups. It’s central to our calling and it’s our responsibility – not another thing to be outsourced to Silicon Valley.

You can watch the whole of the address to Facebook’s Community Summit. He begins talking about church at 10:40. 

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