FAKE NEWS ALERT: Mark Zuckerberg never claimed that Facebook would take the place of church. But he did give a speech a couple of weeks ago that ought to spur lots of thought and conversation among those who recognize the transcendent value of Christian community.
Mark was speaking at a gathering for leaders of online Facebook communities. The purpose of his talk was to publicly announce a major Facebook initiative to engage a billion Facebook users into what he referred to as "meaningful community." I'd encourage you to read the transcript of his speech or better yet, watch for yourself by going to Mark's Facebook page and clicking on the video from the June 22nd, 2017 Facebook Communities Summit.
Let's look specifically at what Mark said in reference to the church...
We all get meaning from our communities. Whether they're churches, sports teams, or neighborhood groups, they give us the strength to expand our horizons and care about broader issues. Studies have proven the more connected we are, the happier we feel and the healthier we are. People who go to church are more likely to volunteer and give to charity -- not just because they're religious, but because they're part of a community.
Zuckerberg is right about people deriving meaning and purpose from our communities. I happen to believe that there's something uniquely meaningful about community with other Christians for the purpose of honoring and serving God. That's why I'm the only guy on this sunny, 80-degree day at our swim club typing on a laptop while my friends and neighbors are enjoying a good book or cold, adult refreshments. I sense I'm fulfilling my purpose when I'm pointing people to the One who might provide them with meaning, purpose and fulfillment that will last forever.
That's why it's so striking that for decades, membership in all kinds of groups has declined as much as one-quarter. That's a lot of of people who now need to find a sense of purpose and support somewhere else.
Zuckerberg is simply pointing out the obvious. A significantly smaller percentage of the population experiences community through the church now compared to one or two generations before. And there are lots of reasons for the decline.. You can read about some theories here and here. The research strongly suggests that growth or decline in individual churches is related to what the leaders think about Jesus and his resurrection, divine judgment, and the importance they place upon evangelism and outreach.
As I've traveled around and learned about different places, one theme is clear: every great community has great leaders.
Think about it. A church doesn't just come together. It has a pastor who cares for the well-being of their congregation, makes sure they have food and shelter. A little league team has a coach who motivates the kids and helps them hit better. Leaders set the culture, inspire us, give us a safety net, and look out for us.
Zuckerberg is onto something here. Our ministry has been blessed by the presence of a number of phenomenal writers and group leaders. Most volunteer their time. Communities work when talented servant leaders are passionate about their cause.
Let's look at some other ideas from Zuckerberg's speech:
Every day, I say to myself, I don't have much time here on Earth, how can I make the greatest positive impact?
Mark poses a great question. If our purpose, as described in the Westminster Shorter Catechism is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever, how might each of us accomplish that purpose each and every day? Zuckerberg is dedicating his life and the company he leads to helping more people experience community. How much more motivated should we be to help direct people to everlasting community in the presence of their Creator, Lord and Savior?
Right now, I think the most important thing we can do is bring people closer together. It's so important that we're going to change Facebook's whole mission to take this on.
I think the most important thing we can do is to point people to Jesus, and be about the work of making disciples through coming together with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Not all communities are equal in significance.
So I started asking the question: if 2 billion people use Facebook, then how come we've only helped 100 million of them join meaningful communities?
Well, it turns out most people don't seek out communities in the physical world or online. Either your friends invite you or on Facebook we suggest them for you.
How are we doing at "inviting?" Earlier in this post, I referenced a study showing an unmistakable link between the importance leaders place upon encouraging non-Christians to become Christians as a determining factor in church growth or decline. If the church is in decline and the numbers of people experiencing Christian community through the church is in decline, whose fault is that?
I'd prefer to think of Facebook and other social media tools as an opportunity for those of us who have come to experience real community with other believers for the purpose of giving glory and honor to God. Our Key Ministry team provides online communities to help connect families of kids with disabilities with churches because we think the church is God's primary plan for making disciples. We plan to take full advantage of every tool Mark provides to point people to the most meaningful community they'll ever experience. What about you?
My friendly challenge to each of you...We have between 11,000 and 12,000 followers of our Facebook page for churches and church leaders, and nearly 15,000 followers of our Facebook page for leaders. Let's help Zuck with his effort to help people find meaningful community through Facebook. I'd ask each of our readers to use their Facebook account (or e-mail, text, telephone, or best yet...a face-to-face encounter) this week to extend an invitation to someone you know to experience Christian community. Invite them to coffee, church, a small group, a Bible study or an online community. We offer Facebook groups and would love for you to join us! Our groups include:
- Adoption and Foster Care Community
- Autism and Asperger's Community
- Homeschooling Parents of Kids with Disabilities
- Mental Health Community
- Ministry Families Impacted by Disability
- Parents of Adult Children with Disabilities
- PTSD and Trauma Community
Key Ministry helps connect churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. In order to provide the free training, consultation, resources and support we offer every day to church leaders and family members, we depend upon the prayers and generous financial support of readers like you. Please pray for the work of our ministry and consider, if able, to support us financially!