Facebook to Faithbook?

faithbookIn case you missed it, the creator of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, made a couple of interesting statements last month. He claimed Facebook is “the new church” and the social network can take on the role that religion once did in giving people a sense of community. He also went on to say groups on Facebook could give people a sense they are part of “something bigger than ourselves” akin to a religious congregation. People on both sides of the fence immediately took to the blogosphere and vilified or congratulated the billionaire. I am not here to do either. I am here to examine his words to look at where we are as Christians and where we could be if we used Facebook to its full potential.

First, where are we as a church that Mr. Zuckerberg would feel confident enough to say that Facebook could be “the new church?” Has the old church passed away in the minds of the younger generation? Staying rational and trying not to take it personally, I thought about what my younger Zuckerberg-aged friends and co-workers do on Sunday mornings. Well, for the most part they are not at church. My wife and I got married at twenty-three. Marriage that early is very rare among twentysomethings, who also tend to have babies later. The latter occasion is usually a natural time for couples to return to the Church if they have taken a break after confirmation. Young people go from their high school community, to a college community, to a work community with probably little continuity besides a few close friends. It is certainly true that Facebook could span those time periods and give people comfort and a social connection. In my opinion, the church is not intentionally and convincingly creating a way for individuals to feel this communal presence during these transition periods. Sure, when you are established in a parish you begin to take ownership and feel like you are part of a community, but until then, church isn’t always a welcoming place.

Second, Zuckerberg says that Facebook groups can give people a chance to feel “they are part of something bigger than themselves.” This is readily apparent when you look at how easily people get hooked on the internet fads. Millions took part in the “Ice Bucket Challenge,”, the “Mannequin Challenge” or any of the dozens of others like them. People want to be part of something. They long for that feeling. One thing an old parish priest used to say was, “Thank you all for coming to Mass. The body of Christ is not the same without you.” To be honest, I didn’t need to hear those words to make sure I came back next week, but it sure was nice and probably was needed by some. There are large numbers of non-practicing Christians that have not heard that they are part of the Mystical Body of Christ. Mark Zuckerberg might not agree, but there is nothing bigger to be a part of. This mystery is not preached about enough, written about enough, or shared interpersonally enough. We are all lesser when one of our brothers or sisters is missing. Can I get an “Amen”?

I have tried to make it clear where I think we are. Where can we go? Last year, I went on a spree of unfollowing all of my friends on Facebook. I didn’t unfriend them, I just blocked their posts from showing up on my news feed. I still get their birthday notifications, but I don’t get to see what they drank at Starbucks or what their kids doodled. I then joined multiple Catholic Facebook groups. Some of my favorites are Catholic Writers Guild, of course, Forming Intentional Disciples Forum, and Catholic Geeks. I also follow Bishop Barron, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, and Saint Josemaria Escriva. This keeps me immersed in Catholic thought all day. I really get a sense of being part of the universal Church. I truly feel like Facebook helps me be a better part of the Body of Christ. I know our parishes and diocese could make big gains in discipleship if we convinced people to harness the power of technology to intentionally improve their own discipleship.

About Mark Andrews

Mark Andrews lives with his wife and two children in a Chicago suburb. He teaches high school math for a living and sixth grade religious education at his parish. He is also a lector, singer, and Knights of Columbus member. Mark's novel The Joy of the Lord is a historical fiction about the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. It is available at Amazon in both paperback and Kindle.
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3 Responses to Facebook to Faithbook?

  1. Rebecca says:

    My guess as to Zuckerburg’s motives would be Cause Marketing. From what I understand it’s framing the purpose of your company in such a way as to get people behind it: make them believe they are part of something bigger than themselves and that joining will have an impact on the world. Zuckerburg actually said that membership in all groups, not just church communities, have declined over the years. So he could have substituted “church” for any of those groups, but he didn’t; so one would have to ask why he did choose “church.” My guess, and it is a guess, is that “church” would appeal to the greatest number of people, so he chose to use that one because he thought it would be more effective than Kiwanis or Boy Scouts.
    As to the Catholic Church not being friendly enough I’d like to point out a few things first. As an assistant manager at an apartment complex when confronting a tenant about their behavior their first reaction is to point fingers at anthers behavior to justify their own. I even had one tenant, who was getting water all over the tenant’s patio below her whenever she watered her plants, justify it by telling me, “Well, God gets water all over their patio, too, when He makes it rain.” This behavior goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. It’s a part of human nature, so we can’t just take it as fact that there is something wrong with the Church when someone complains.
    It would be just as wrong to simply dismiss it out of hand, too. Here are my thoughts on the friendliness, or lack thereof, of the Church. I attended a First Assembly of God church with my dad before I became Catholic. As far as I can tell they didn’t do anything different. We showed up, worshipped and left. They didn’t even have coffee and donuts. Since it was a large church the Bible studies were similar to what I’ve found in large Catholic Church: they were more formal with people sitting classroom style. My own experience on entering the Catholic Church was at a small parish. Attending Mass was much the same as attending the worship service at the Protestant church: people showed up, worshipped, and left (unless there were coffee and donuts). On the other hand, Bible studies and the ministries I joined were much smaller and more informal. This is where I got the sense of community. This is what I find in Protestants who are looking more for community than teaching: small, informal groups where they can connect with other people.
    Let’s not delude ourselves many of these people are looking more for community than teaching. From what I’ve read of Millennials they are very progressive in their ideas about sexuality. Catholic teaching is not going to agree with them. Does the Church really need more Cafeteria Catholics? I think caution is needed in this area when coming up with solutions, so the teachings aren’t given less priority than community.
    I also know Catholics who feel disconnected from other Catholics and there will be those who want to join the Church because of the teaching and are put off by the lack of community. Here some thoughts on that. I think the problem lies more with large parishes than the small ones where everyone already knows everyone else, so let’s focus on those. The Church is full of groups who are supporting one cause or another. There is enough variety to appeal to any number of people and they are usually small enough to give that human connection. What I don’t find in large parishes is knowledge about these groups. One idea might be for each RCIA session to include a representative from each group to come in and explain what that ministry is about, when they meet, and how they can join. There could also be a booklet of some type prominently displayed for first time visitors. It could give a short run-down on the Church (including your suggestion about how they are becoming part of something much larger); what they can expect at their first mass; the what, who, and when of the different causes offered; and RCIA. Instead of having large formal Bible studies classroom style, try to arrange them so small groups can be formed. This will give people an opportunity to meet each other. The Parish could also request that each group maintain a Facebook page. Posting on these pages could be shared by members and by those who simply want to promote the Church. Even if our FB friends aren’t geographically close it would still be a way to promote the Church and help members stay in touch with each other when they aren’t meeting. And what about those groups that are currently online only. Could they start forming local chapters to give a tighter sense of community?
    Sorry about the post being so long, but I think it’s a good conversation to have.

  2. Mark Andrews says:

    Rebecca, don’t be sorry. I am glad you had that much to say. It is a great conversation to have. I share a preference for many of your ideas but didn’t want to make the post too long so I didn’t want to put my specifics out there. You basically helped me out, so thanks!

    A mistake that we make in general is thinking a program, presentation, or retreat is going to change hearts and minds, when the only things that has worked throughout the ages are relationships. Ultimately we want people to have a relationship with Jesus, but, at least in my own parish, there isn’t an intentional attempt to forge and cultivate these especially with young families and teens.

    • Rebecca says:

      Hi Mark, Thanks for responding. I was speaking from my own experience in becoming Catholic on when and how I was able to form relationships with others in the congregation. It was not during Mass. It simply can’t and I don’t think should be done there. But belief in Jesus and being Catholic does form those first bonds among us. Belonging to certain Parish creates another bond albeit with a smaller group of people. The closest bonds came through the programs, Bible Studies, and retreats.

      One reason was we were like-minded in our goals, so that created another bond. When I joined the St. Vincent De Paul Society at my Parish I joined a group of people who wanted to care for the poor of our Parish the same as me. It was through spending time with them, planning and working with them that relationships were formed. In addition, we also formed relationships with those we helped. The same thing when I joined the Lay Dominicans. We would meet once a month and go on retreat once a year. You spend a couple of days with a group of people on a retreat and you become much closer to each other and God. That’s how I came to know and build relationships with people in my Parish.

      Where I wasn’t able to form relationships was in formal classroom-style Bible Studies. This is why I say they should be broken down into small groups, if possible.

      But before any of that can happen people need to know about them and I don’t see that information is readily available. I also don’t think people even realize it is in the programs, retreats, and such that these relationships are formed. If you think about it, it’s really the only time people break from the normal routine of their lives to come together with other like-minded people of their Parish and spend some time together. That’s what it takes to form relationships.