Now some will bemoan that Facebook isn't about "real" relationships, but is just a superficial and narcissistic outlet. And while that's not a completely inaccurate assessment, Facebook has some things that the Church yearns for.
1) Facebook has community- People that I haven't seen since high school are "friends" on Facebook. I haven't talked to most of them in years, but I know how many kids they have, where they live, and what their house looks like (photos are often posted of new purchases). Now if I fooled myself into believing these Facebook friendships were the same thing as "real world" friendships, I'd be kidding myself. But the fact remains, I know more about people I haven't seen in 10 years than I know about many folks at Church, even though it's my job to know them.
2) Conversations happen on Facebook- Whether it's theology, politics, movie reviews, or cookie recipes, ideas are exchanged on Facebook. Churches often struggle with how to have real and authentic conversations about topics that matter, but they happen all the time on Facebook. Facebook isn't perfect
for civil and polite discourse, but at least it's happening. For a lot of folks, the extent of conversation at Church, especially with clergy, is 30 seconds in the receiving line after services on Sunday.
3) People ask for help on Facebook- Prayer requests, moving help, or ideas for parties are all found on Facebook. I've often learned of illnesses or prayer needs of parishioners on Facebook before they funnel through the church's layers of communication. People are much more open on Facebook than they are in person- they're quicker to ask for prayer to share the events of their life that can be mourned or celebrated in the community.
4) Facebook is up to date- And sadly, most churches have websites that are older than Facebook itself. People complain about Facebook's constantly changing news feed, but at least they make changes. Often, I learn of breaking news on Facebook even before it hits NPR or CNN. You can find links to current blogs on current topics by people you trust, which is something that you can't say for other forms of mass media, or church newsletters.
5) Facebook is inter-generational- As much as teens rue the day that their parents joined Facebook, all ages gather together in this cyberspace, and even interact with one another. The Church attempts to do this, and has some success, but Facebook brings people together and fosters a sense of community (even if different from Church community) among people of all ages, creeds, colors, races, classes, sexual orientations, religious traditions, political persuasions, etc.
6) People spend time on Facebook- As I stated earlier, Facebook has appeal and gives people a reason to show up. Not saying that the Church doesn't have some good reasons, but our PR and advertising is light years behind. It used to be that the Church didn't need to advertise or defend its relevance- but Church attendance or religious affiliation can no longer be assumed, and the Church needs to learn this lesson.
Now all of this isn't to say that we should start the Church of Facebook, or that we should start over and copy Facebook's business model in church growth plans. But we can't ignore the fact that Facebook has 901 million users since it's founding in February 2004, and the Church, which has had 2,000 years has about 2.1 billion "users." For all it's benefits, Facebook has it's flaws as well; but it's success cannot, nor should it be, ignored or written off.
Is it that Facebook is filling a social need that people had that wasn't being met? Is Facebook just a fad? Is Facebook the antithesis of what the Church should be (fake vs. real)? What other lessons are there to be gleaned from Facebook? What could Facebook learn from the Church? Thoughts?