This great question came up in the comments section of my post on changing communication systems.
To understand tactical questions such as this, it’s good to first step back and look at the values and strategies that are driving the trend. I’ll start by naming some values of Facebook. If we were doing this realtime I’d ask for participation here, so if you can identify other values of social networks, write them below.
- Redefinition of community, from physical and geographical to networks and affinities. We once defined community locally, then with broadcast globally. Now we do both, but the nature of community has shifted from shared space to shared interest.
- Participation; facilitator -led and group-driven. Rather than a single teacher who hands down the final word, now we are returning in an almost Socratic way to a facilitator who asks questions and lets the group drive the conversation.
- Immediate, rather than delayed, response. The print era was one-way communication; now we are two-way and immediate.
- Open-ended inquiry rather than closed-system finality of thought. Differing experiences have created comfort with exploration and ambiguity, as opposed to the analysis of the print era, which pushed toward a final interpretation.
- An emphasis on sharing and helping others. Social networks encourage social interaction. Duh.
That’s a pretty short list of cultural values, but it’s a start. These stand in stark contrast to characteristics of a print era:
- Community defined by space.
- Expert driven.
- One-way communication.
- Scientific inquiry, which pushes for a final interpretation.
- Detached analysis and a primary focus on the truth.
So perhaps a Facebook church looks like a church that:
Is defined not by location, but by common passion. Churches that physically redefine themselves is already happening in what is called “multi-site” ministry, where a church creates satellite campuses, and in churches exploring ministry to much broader regions, but targeting affinities and networks rather than entire “people groups.”
Led by a group rather than by a single charismatic CEO pastor. These same multi-site churches are quickly discovering the limitations of piping in the senior pastor via “video venue” and are moving toward what are called campus pastors, one at each location. This eventually will move what are now satellite churches to distinct communities, loosely connected by a set of values and vision.
Encourages dialogue and response to group gatherings, like in worship. This model is like the disciples in Mark 4:10, who, though they didn’t understand the parable, gathered with Jesus to inquire about the parable. (This is a separate post but I would love to see a worship model that presents a core metaphor in an intriguing way and then allows people to engage and dialogue immediately after, as they have interest.) This is not to say that there isn’t a place for interpretation and theological authority as given to a pastor, but that there’s a conversation.
A re-discovery of social justice, or acts of mercy. The old social gospel, defined 100 years ago by Baptist Walter Rauschenbusch, gave a theological foundation for acts of social justice, which affirmed for churches that it was good to help others materially, rather than just be focused on their eternal soul. Much of the mainline/ liberal and evangelical/conservative split of the past century is visible in the response to social justice; even today, broadcaster and untrained layman Glenn Beck tells “true” Christians to run screaming from the term “social justice.” Beck is living in 1920. Meanwhile, evangelicals all over are running toward social justice. This is also another blog post, based on a theology of the Kingdom of God.
So, a Facebook church is obviously one that uses Facebook. But, more than that, it is one that defines itself according to a network or belief, rather than a space or an institution. It is one that rediscovers the value of community dialogue and interaction in the exploration of truth and meaning. It is one that is oriented toward feeding the hungry and clothing the naked.
Gee, kinds of sounds like a Jesus church, doesn’t it.