For some unexplained reason, I decided to dip my toes into the waters of social networking several months ago. Even though I have nothing in my profile, not even a picture, I joined Facebook. For the first 2 months, I was confused, bemused and amused as 41 people invited me to be their “friend” without any effort on my part (grace in action). I said, “Sure, why not?” After all, I can use all the friends I can get in my current appointment.
When things slowed down in July, and after my children insisted that I become familiar with Facebook, I decided to spend no more than 5 minutes a day reading all the postings on my Facebook page. Was I in for an awakening, although probably not on the order of another “Great Awakening”!
The CEO and founder of Facebook is 25 year old Mark Zuckerburg, who has been named by Forbes Magazine as “the world’s youngest self-made billionaire.” He and 3 roommates created Facebook while students atHarvardUniversity and launched the site in February, 2004.
There are 175 million members of Facebook now, with more than 70% of Facebook users living outside theUnited States. The fastest growing demographic is women 55 and older, which is up 175% since last September. About 14 million photos are uploaded onto Facebook every day, and the average user spends 169 minutes per month on Facebook. Gee, at 5 minutes a day, I’m just a little below average.
What is driving our fascination with Facebook? How do individuals, including clergy, benefit from Facebook? And why is the church getting on board with Facebook groups for general boards and agencies, the West Michigan Conference, School for Pastoral Ministry, lectionary study groups, youth groups, camps and local churches? I was even asked to join a Facebook group for my high school class!
- Facebook fills a need that all humans have for community and support. Because it’s important to know that others care about us, Facebook encourages millions of people to share the most mundane to the most intimate details of their personal and professional lives with others.
- Facebook can be a great way to pastorally connect with others. For pastors and youth workers, Facebook often provides the best opportunity to stay in touch with teens and young adults in the congregation. While email is passé for many youth, they often have Facebook in the background as they multi-task on their computer. Facebook can also be effective in following up with prospective members because it isn’t as invasive as a home visit or even a phone call.
- Facebook is a wonderful venue for sharing resources and engaging in online conversations about theology, worship, outreach and leadership. Looking for creative worship ideas for Labor Day Sunday? Searching for a new servant evangelism project? Want to share sermon ideas? Use Facebook to advertise, and you’ll get great responses.
- Facebook is one more method of communicating with the congregation. One district pastor recently provided daily updates on a church mission trip via Facebook. Other pastors provide online Bible studies or send announcements and prayer requests over Facebook. The possibilities are intriguing.
- Facebook can be used to witness to our faith, as we share Bible verses and offer prayers for others.
Naturally, every good thing in our lives also has a shadow side, including Facebook. What are the dangers of Facebook?
- Be careful what you share! Anything that you post on your Facebook page can actually been be seen by anyone, not just your “friends.” It becomes public information, so unless you intentionally choose to place limits around your communication, virtually anyone can access your material.
- Pastors especially need to show discretion. Facebook is not a forum to discuss a showdown with the Trustees chair, difficulties with a staff person, or discouragement with decisions of your church council. I have heard more than one experience of pastors posting something on their Facebook page that parishioners read and found offensive, unprofessional and/or inappropriate.
- Facebook has a way of deceiving users into thinking that written communication can substitute for face to face conversations. Moreover, as one of our clergy said, “There seems to be a disconnect between the words that come out of our mouths, what’s on our Facebook pages, and us! At least there is a disconnect between what we intend and the effect we have on others.” At times I suspect Facebook users carelessly use language that has not been well thought through and which they later regret but can never take back.
- Facebook can be superficial, trivial and offer pseudo-community. Contrary to what many people seem to think, I don’t need or want to know that you had your first cup of coffee at 9 a.m., took the dog to the vet at 10:00 a.m, headed to the gym at noon, and are now just hanging out. Isn’t this just telling the world you’re violating Wesley’s admonition not to be “triflingly employed”? Another pastor said, “It’s like majoring in minors!”
- Facebook can be addicting. Unfortunately, many people, including pastors, waste an incredible amount of time on Facebook, time that would be better spent visiting the sick, calling on shut-ins, writing sermons or preparing Bible studies.
Because of its importance in today’s culture, pastors should have a working knowledge of Facebook. What suggestions might be helpful as we learn how to use Facebook in ways that are helpful and not destructive?
- Create both a personal page and a professional page. Since church members do check out their pastor’s Facebook page, why not use one for church purposes and the other for family and friends?
- Celebrate the amazing ability of Facebook to keep in touch with church members and facilitate reconnections with long lost friends or family.
- Be conscious of using Facebook to avoid necessary phone calls or critical personal contacts.
- Think of ways in which you might be able to enhance your local church ministry on Facebook, like forming Facebook groups, providing online Bible studies or communicating regularly with youth and young adults.
- Check yourself or consult with a trusted colleague before posting something that might violate confidentiality.
- Be disciplined about limiting your Facebook time.
Gotta go. Time to hit Facebook for my daily 5 minutes.
P.S. I think I need more Facebook friends. Won’t you be my friend?