Can Facebook Replace Church?

As I Was Saying

As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.

During a rally for Facebook users last month, Mark Zuckerberg laid out his dreams for the future of his social media behemoth.

As the website reaches 2 billion users, Zuckerberg is turning his attention to the next frontier—building online communities.

In Zuckerberg’s mind, the days of institutions like “churches and Little Leagues” are over. Using Facebook’s new artificial intelligence software, the social media giant can organize its users into groups that will serve the same purpose.

While Zuckerberg missed some important purposes a church community serves, he was right about one thing: Christians are leaving their traditional, brick-and-mortar churches—in droves.

Studies show there are 30 million “dones” in America today. They read their Bibles, listen to Elevation Church’s Steven Furtick podcasts and know every word to every Jesus culture song. They talk about Jesus—a lot, in coffeehouses or at happy hours. But you’ll rarely find them in church.

As someone who has made the agonizing decision to leave a church I loved before, I understand how these people feel overlooked or ignored by Christian leaders. Instead of learning why members are leaving their churches, most congregational leaders continue with business as usual, hoping the missing members eventually come to their senses and return.

The problem is the “dones” aren’t coming back, and their numbers are only increasing. (There are about 7 million “almost dones” right behind them.) And, if the church doesn’t figure out how to create community they are seeking, someone or something else, like Facebook, will do it for them.

Certainly, some of us do not look for community from Facebook. We value face time with our friends. One-on-one real conversations that take time and don’t involve devices or photos but actual being with one another.

In her novel Open House, Elizabeth Berg asks, “Why isn’t there a Community Center for People Who Need a Little Something?

“If people would only tell the truth about the way they felt, it would be busy all the time. There could be folding chairs arranged in groups, people sitting there saying, ‘I don’t know, I just wanted to come here for a while.’”

That’s what the “dones” are looking for. They want church-that’s-not-really-church. They are seeking a place where they don’t have to dress up, where they can ask questions, where people know who they truly are.

They want a place to grapple with the hard stuff, out loud, with others. Face time, not necessarily Facebook. Depth of relationships, depth of study, depth of service. They don’t want to “bowl alone” or stay in “the shallows.” Zuckerberg is right—we are turning to bars, bookstores, or Facebook to find it.
Could this be the New Reformation?

Anglican Bishop Mark Dyer explained that every 400 years, the Christian church undergoes a major transition, led by lay people. Our 400 years are up, and the lay people have spoken by exiting our congregations.

Some time ago, the primary focus of many leaders was to take their churches to the “next level.” In their minds, to be truly successful, they needed bigger facilities, more activities and programs, and more cars in the parking lot. Everything needed to be slick and produced.

Unfortunately, to reach more people, we took Christian community and turned it into a Christian country club. In this modern age, where authenticity is one of the most valued character traits, our churches just aren’t working anymore. We have lost track of being pro-Jesus.

It’s time for a church-wide “yard sale.”

Leaders must take the possessions, procedures, and attitudes that no longer work, box them up, and throw them out. Throw away the clutter that is holding us back: the unnecessary, the unjoyful, the underfunctioning, the no-longer-functioning at all. . . . Toss! Toss! Toss! Get rid of the extras and put our focus back on what matters most—Jesus and relationships.

Mark Zuckerberg recognizes something that so few Christian leaders have. There is an enormous void among believers and a desperate yearning for community. Will we step up and build communities that meet their needs, or will we let Facebook fill that void for us?

© 2017 Religion News Service, used by permission.

About the Author

Andrea Syverson is the author of Alter Girl: Walking Away From Religion Into the Heart of Faith, which will be released Sept. 5

See comments (2)


Well then.  All the church needs to do is follow the advise of Mark Zuckerberg.

There have been "dones" and even "not starteds" for a very long time now -- centuries.  The last thing the church needs is to abandon all other wisdom sources and replace them with Mark Zuckerberg or the Facebook community.  Zuckerberg's achievement in life may be viewed by history as reducing human interaction to that which is face to face, less personal, less whole.

At a point, the "dones" might consider how they might serve in the institutional church and stop demanding that others in the institutional church serve them, by conforming to their expectations and catering to what they want to see in it.  Christ's church is not a place or state that we might choose to be in or out of because it suits our particular set of "best practices."  

If being "done" purportedly results from the "done's" perception that the church doesn't measure up to his or her standards for how to cater to people in the modern age, I think they are looking in the wrong place and measuring with the wrong stick.  The church is a place to serve, not to be a customer.

And this idea that folks in brick and mortar churches don't "grapple with the hard stuff," even "out loud"?  -- I don't buy it for a second, because it doesn't match what I have seen in real, non-virtual churches.

According to this article, Zuckerberg concludes that the days of organizations like Little League are over too.  In the last month I spent five days with a lot of other guys getting a multi-field Little League complex ready for two district tournaments and one state tournament.  Last night, I watched the semifinal game of the state tournament.  Tonight the final.  By the enthusiasm I witnessed, a lot of people didn't get the Zuckerberg memo.  Some parents still love their kids doing real, physical, brick and mortar, dirt and grass things.  And the kids apparently love it too.  The place was packed and the game a nail biter to the last out.  From the reactions to the last out, one would have thought this was MLB's World Series, game 7. Apparently, sitting on their rear ends all day isn't the only and ultimate appeal for all kids, even today.

It would seem that Zuckerberg doesn't get out much.  In my area, youth baseball is not just alive and well but greatly expanded from even 10-20 years ago, Zuckerberg's pseudo-prophetic proclamations notwithstanding.

I get it that Zuckerberg wants the world to heel to his idea of how human life should be done.  That would enhance his power, not to mention wealth.  What I don't get perhaps is how the church is sometimes eager to accept Zuckerberg, and others like him, as such prophets.

By the way, "artificial intelligence" doesn't exist, contrary to the suggestion in this article, even if Zuckerberg might claim he has created it.  He hasn't.  One needs to realize Zuckerberg is pitching his product.  The claim is referred to as "puffing." Zuckerberg has AI and Pepsi and Coca-Cola are healthy drinks.