Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Growth of Facebook and the Need for Community

Somehow I got talked into presenting a talk on Facebook and the church. I'm not a Facebook expert or a computer expert of any kind. I just like explaining things in powerpoint format. Anyway, the agreed upon date arrived and I scurried to figure out what I was going to say. I wanted to go further than just showing people at how to use Facebook with the idea that they could then access church announcements via Facebook instead of the newsletter or e-mails. It just seemed like replacing an existing tool with a shiny new tool that does the same thing. I kept finding all these statistics about how exponentially Facebook was growing, how exponentially all things about this new digital age seem to be happening. If you don't believe me, check out the "Did you Know" video that has gone viral on You Tube. I'd provide a link, but I'm lazy and its viral, you can probably find it. Anyway, what I kept running into is this idea that everything is speeding up and getting smaller and digitized and faster. Kids in school today will be applying for jobs in a few years that haven't even been invented yet. That sort of thing. Anyway. At the same time that life keeps getting faster and we are getting more and more plugged into computers and networks, social networks are exploding. There was a time when life was calmer and you would say "hi" to your neighbor and ask how it is going. I think we miss that. I think we all need to be part of a community. For many of us, we had instant community in school and maybe we are lucky enough to have a good work community. But the explosion of social networking sites makes me think most of us still desire a connection to a community in which we really "fit". I am fortunate to have found several really unique communities to fit into. My family is currently connected in a way I have never experienced before, via Facebook. I know what cousins who live thousands of miles away had for dinner and all the other minutia of life that adds up to a connection that is almost as good as you get when you live or work near someone. I have a great group of girlfriends that participate in a book group. Mostly a social occasion, but once a month we read the same thing and even if we don't discuss it in full, it gives us an excuse to get together. I have a church that I am now attending regularly. Again as much social as spiritual. I finally know enough people who also attend to make it interesting. As an added bonus several other friends have also started attending and we all go to lunch each week after services giving more incentive to attend regularly. As I explained during the Facebook talk, fro many of us the idea is come for the community, stay for the sermon. Which brings me back to my presentation. I found 3 ways that Facebook can enhance a community. Considering that most people are on Facebook looking for community, this seems like a natural fit for any community type group looking to connect with new members. First, groups can have fan pages to announce their events. This is the first way most groups think of, but seems like the least effective to me. The fan page speaks only to members of the group who are also members of the Facebook community AND who are members of the fan page. Preaching to the choir if you asked me! The two other connections are WAY more interesting in my view. First, individuals post status updates about what they are doing. If I am involved in a group and doing things with it, there is a good chance I am posting status updates about what I am doing. I go to a very social church, so its kind of fun what 4 or 5 people I know are all posting how much fun they are having at our beauty pageant in which the men are the beauties or playing Texas hold'em at a church event. I added it up and if myself and the 15 people I am friends with on Facebook all post about an event at church, we have 5,000 friends between us who hear about what is going on at my church. Talk about outreach for any group! The last idea is that by reading your friends status updates you get a good sense of the climate of some one's life. I am very hesitant to ask for help and things would have to get PRETTY bad for me to put in a prayer request at church. But I ready friend's posts and know that they are looking for work or contemplating divorce. The leaders of a group can get a better sense of what their members need, but also the members of a group begin to see ways that they can offer help and the responsibility doesn't just stay with the leader. So people who are looking for a community through Facebook, can often come in contact with some existing real life communities that are looking to grow their membership. Sounds like a win/win to me, but I'm no expert.

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