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another lesson from Facebook

I don’t normally write a post straight. I’ve often got more than one idea for a post and I add notes in moments snatched between other things I am doing. I first had the idea for this post a couple of weeks ago. Then there were 1,248,360 people on Facebook in New Zealand (population about 4,268,900 – ie about 30% of all Kiwis are on Facebook). The proportion is not much different to other first world nations – about a third of the population is on facebook. Checking a couple of weeks later, there are now 1,375,560 Kiwis on facebook (32%): 127,200 have joined within the last fortnight! In New Zealand! 10% increase in a fortnight! Generally on any given day, 50% of these log onto Facebook. The average user spends nearly an hour a day on Facebook.

Facebook has a (relatively new) possibility of public pages. Here’s the one for Barack Obama (a month ago 7,830,331 “fans” on the  stats page – now that’s 8,223,055 – and for those who cannot spell their president’s name, another version). Such a Facebook public page takes about 5 minutes to set up and is totally free. Recently Facebook improved the pages flexibility enabling the removal of individual annoying or inappropriate comments. We look forward to even more moderation options.

Where is your parish or community Facebook page? Where is your diocesan Facebook page? Your national church page? If you or they do not have one – why not?! The internet is just like another country – if the church is not present in that country, why not? In terms of population it now goes: China, India, Facebook, United States of America, Indonesia…

Australasian Rev Mark Brown set up the Facebook Bible page. It took 17 months to get to its first million, but only 5 months to get to its second million. He has four people helping to moderate the page.

This site has a far more moderate facebook page. It is a significant part of the network around this site.

What is your church doing? What is your local community doing? Is there a “find us on Facebook” button on your community website? What do you think?…

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13 thoughts on “another lesson from Facebook”

  1. I think that there’s something to be said for a Facebook profile for a church, however, as with anything in the Christian life, we need to make sure our motivations for having such an account are proper. I think that too often, people are motivated by self-promotion, and not by Christ-promotion. Self-promotion will do nothing positive for us spiritually, but Christ-promotion is another thing entirely.

    If we have a Facebook or Twitter account, we ought to be certain our motivations for doing so are correct. Nothing in the Christian life should be decided on the “why not?” basis. It should be decided on the “why?” basis.

  2. You make an important point, David, to which I would add two things.

    A church Facebook page may be seen as little different to a church’s sign on the street which can be seen by those who pass by. I think we would be surprised to have a church without such a street sign, and surprised at a debate in the parish council making sure we did not put up a church sign until we got our motivation right and that the sign-writer had no self-promotion in its production. I’ve seen research that 80% of those attending a church for the first time have checked the website previously. This is the new world we now live in. I think it is sad if the church was the last to put up a sign when most people have begun to be able to read; for the church to be the last in the district to have obtained a telephone; for the church to be last…

    Secondly IMO all of us in everything we do have mixed motivations. Only one person IMO did not. IMO God can write straight with crooked lines. So I’m not as convinced as you that God can not work through our mixed motivations to produce positive results spiritually.

  3. I agree with you that God can use mixed motivations to produce positive results. Two examples: Joseph (“What you meant for evil, God meant for good”), and Paul, who said that whether people preach the Gospel out of improper motivations or not, he doesn’t care, because the Gospel is being preached.

    So in that sense, yes, I think you’re absolutely correct, every church should have a Facebook page.

    Nevertheless, I’ve seen so many people in ministry cloud the message with an apparent lack of humility, that it’s left people craving honesty and straightforwardness.

    I believe if the church is properly grounded, whether or whether not they decide that they ought to be on Facebook or not, for their situation is a good move.

    Nevertheless, I still think there’s a fine line between promoting the Gospel and promoting the church. Whether or not my individual church manages to stay afloat or not, is less important to me than the guaranteed truth that even the gates of hell will not stand against the church universal. Our message is Christ, and if Facebook helps to spread that message, we should use it to the best of our ability.

    And I do agree with your thoughts on mixed motivation. None of us have clear motivation, and it’s spoken like a true believer who knows that we are all at our core depraved and ultimately in need of Christ.

    Great blog!

    1. Thanks for the clarification, David – we are very much on the same page. The NZ context is very different: there will be churches with a congregation of 40 people, 100 would be regarded normal & good, a total across all services of 500 would be regarded as astonishing, would have a large paid staff, gather at annual conferences to discuss how to lead such a large church. The recent ordination of the Dunedin bishop had a full cathedral with 400 at the service, the recent ordination of the Auckland bishop (our largest city, our largest diocese) had a full cathedral of about a thousand. I don’t know if you read my blog on the value of small church?

      Shane, it is not just the people who are signed up to your church’s facebook page who can read it. It is a public page – everything on it is public to anyone who visits. So do not take the number who “like” it (new term for the old “fan of”) as too significant. Regard a Facebook page as outward looking, as you describe, not merely a place for parishioners or regular worshippers. That is more the attitude of a closed facebook “group” – I’m talking about a public facebook page, not a group. It sounds like you have a positive vision outwards.

  4. I never looked at it in a population way. I set up the Facebook page for my Cathedral Church of St. Fin Barre’s in Cork here in Ireland. It’s a landmark building here in the city, viewable from almost all parts with striking architecture of William Burgess and recently made it into the lonely planet travel guide.

    Recently the Dean has engaged in a campaign of putting the Cathedral back into the heart of what is a mainly R.Catholic community, to get past the old suspicions of us “Protestants” that are so often whispered in hushed silence as if we’re here to steal your children. He feels this building should be a place of welcome, to people of all ages, denominations and origins.

    Facebook offers an opportunity to get our message of welcome out to people who may not necessarily hear it otherwise. I know many who walk past the building every day and never knew it was open to the public, held concerts or worshipped regularly! Even to our regular Parishioners it is a source of go-to information for events such as Holy Week or the festivals over Christmas to see full scheduling of services, despite there already being a comprehensive website. Our Bishop and the Deans Vicar in the Cathedral are also on facebook and it provides an openness that this push for a welcoming Cathedral Church at the heart of the local community is benefitting from. But now because of Facebook, even though the following is small the message has gone far! It is a good resource to use, one our national Church has also taken to keeping us all uptodate.

  5. I believe some cultural context might be in order so that I might more clearly explain my (somewhat reactionary) post.

    I live in the United States. Here there is a tightly embedded Christian culture, especially in the more southern states (Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Carolinas). These states are known here as the “Bible Belt”.

    Churches in the Bible belt tend to be extremely loud. Loud to the point of aggravation sometimes. They don’t tend to offend with the Gospel, but they do tend to offend by being trite. You would be hard pressed to find an American that doesn’t know the location of his/her active, local church. One of these churches in my city (Houston) boasts over 43,000 attendees. They’re on Facebook. They’re huge. There’s no lack of social connectivity within these churches.

    Nevertheless, they tend to be, as we say “a mile wide, and an inch deep”. While they have so many followers, very often the measure of a pastor is the numerical count of his followers. This is a shame, especially considering many of these pastors teach a prosperity Gospel that claims that a Christian’s life will be trouble-free after coming to Christ, which is the polar opposite of what Christ himself teaches (“In this world you have trouble…”) Spiritual growth is eclipsed by a teaching that says that being spiritually aligned with Christ will bring you every earthly desire you should want… a bigger house, more money, a better job, etc. That’s simply not true. Nevertheless, these pastors teach what people want to hear, and tickle their ears with sweet words to entice them to come and sit in the pews. They jump on any social network as quickly as they possibly can in an effort to continue congregational growth, yet they rarely seem concerned about the spiritual well-being of their congregants.

    My guess is the situation in NZ is different from this. If that is the case, then the remedy for a boxed-in, inward-thinking church, is to get out and make itself known to the culture. Which leads to websites, Facebook, Twitter, etc. These are all great things, but don’t lose the concern for the spiritual condition and spiritual position of church members in the midst of the pursuit of more lost souls.

    Hopefully that should clear up my original post a bit.

    Great blog, by the way. Very thought provoking.

  6. David |dah•veed|

    An important factor I would think is that someone has the time to maintain a Facebook page, a twitter account or a website. There is nothing that is a bigger red flag to me than a website that has not been updated since NOV 2008!

  7. I may be powering down my main blog after the GB general election, and starting up one for my church. I suppose I’ll be asked to start up a Facebook page, and am prepared to do so. But I will state my reservations about FB, ie the extremist organisations it is prepared to host pages for – for example antisemitic – in violation of its own terms of service.

  8. Bosco,
    I have had much more connectivity with people looking for spirituality and ways to deepen their lives with Christ from my Facebook page then our web page. Granted we had some glitches in our pdf files. Yet, while they are “fanning up” and hearing what is on our profile page, at our happenings, seeing images, they are encouraged to discover, to look at something that is a communal experience. We come to Christ within a community and for many of us, Facebook is the beginning portal of a community. It is not the end of the experience, its where we feel welcomed as we enter through the doors.
    At a recent conference we had mixed views of the use of Facebook with several naysayers in the bunch. Later after we retired to our rooms, there were yay-sayers communicating via Facebook deepening the earlier experiences. Laughingly, we realized there is more than one way to share.

  9. Wendy Lynne Efird

    I am a United Methodist from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA. What David Morton says about the situation down here is very true. However, of course, there are many good congregations and pastors who seek to authentically be the church.

    I worship with two United Methodist congregations and an Ecumenical Catholic one. I have three pastors who are Facebook friends who have posted the topics of sermons and I decided to go here for that service. I learned of two different studies that have blessed me, from FB. I have found many new friends in the faith, through FB, all because churches have a FB site.

    I had left the faith for 11 years and returned a year ago, partly as a result of connections I was making on FB. Seeing the church website and being able to learn about the church in the privacy of my home helped me to face my fears of crowds and new situations and return to the church I love.

    I believe that if our denomination’s founder, John Wesley, were alive today he would say, “The world is my parish and these things will help me to keep my charge.”

    Thanks again for all of the excellent work you do with this website. It is nice to have you back up and running. Peace!

  10. I think that any opportunity to use the Internet for the cause of good is a good reason to constructively use the resources found on the WWW. This is especially so in working for the Kingdom of God.

    While Facebook has always been somewhat of a trial and error process for me, I have to admit that it is none-the-less a significant way through which to contribute to the expression of Christian faith. As stated above, this is the world we live in now. So, how do we use the tools available in this world to advance the Good News? It’s important no matter who we are, as a large group or just one individual. There is no good deed or encouraging word to small to share as a follower of Christ.

    Thanks for this thread and thy great web site!

    Peace –
    Numbers 6:24

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