This article originally appeared on Ryan Panzers website and is republished with permission.
Last Sunday, the New York Times published an article on Facebook’s outreach to faith-based organizations. Recently, Facebook’s top leadership has spurred the development of new technologies developed for faith communities. The company has also established partnerships with numerous denominations and interfaith organizations. Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operations Officer of Facebook, who has spoken publicly of the importance of her Jewish faith and heritage, is leading the effort, along with Nona Jones, the author of “From Social Media to Social Ministry.”
Their work culminated in the launch of faith.facebook.com, a resource portal where faith leaders can learn about and deploy tools for their communities, from Facebook Live to online giving. Atop the resource portal is information on Facebook Groups, which Facebook sees as the future location of web-based religious community. Facebook continues to invest in the development of Groups, a feature and an offering that they see as the antidote to misinformation concerns on their platform.
Facebook’s investment in technologies for faith communities is a significant milestone in the ongoing redefinition of church community. Early in the pandemic, faith leaders largely repurposed existing technologies for religious purposes. Now, tech giants have recognized the upside to engaging religious communities on their platforms and have begun developing their technology accordingly.
This development should prompt some ethical reflection, and perhaps even some scrutiny, amongst church leadership. What does it mean that tech giants, who didn’t have much interest in faith-based organizations before the pandemic, are suddenly funding partnerships and software development targeted to the religious space?
For starters, it shows that big tech smells a business opportunity. For all of Facebook’s rhetoric about communities and togetherness, faith.facebook.com would not have launched were it not a potential revenue stream for the social media giant. The simple, and perhaps ugly reality, is that the more faith communities venture on to Facebook, the more Facebook makes via advertising revenue as adherents and members view and click more advertisements.
Still, the fact that Facebook is a business should not deter churches from cultivating community on its platforms. From insurance providers to stain glassed window makers, congregations partner with businesses for many purposes, and church leaders should not dismiss Facebook simply because it is a publicly-traded corporation. And after all, there are more global Facebook users than there are Christians. Clearly, Facebook represents an important missional opportunity. It’s where our communities can be found. Simply dismissing Facebook because of its vast wealth would be nearsighted.