In 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.