Months before the opening of the Hillsong megachurch in Atlanta, its pastor asked for advice on how to build a church in a pandemic and, right away, they replied that the answer was on Facebook.
The social media giant had a proposal, recalled the Pastor Sam Collier. The initiative consisted of using the church as a case study to explore how temples can “go further through Facebook”.
According to a report published by the newspaper The New York Times , signed by Elizabeth Dias, for months, Facebook developers met once a week with Hillsong and explored what the church would look like on Facebook and what apps they could create for financial giving, video capacity, or streaming on direct.
When it was time for Hillsong’s grand opening in June, the church issued a press release saying it was “Associated with Facebook” and it was going to transmit its services exclusively on the platform.
Beyond that, Collier couldn’t give many details, as he had signed a confidentiality agreement.
“They are teaching us and we are teaching them,” said the priest. “Together we are discovering what the future of the church could be on Facebook,” he added.
Facebook, whose market capitalization recently topped $ 1 billion, may seem like an unusual partner for a church whose primary goal is to share the message of Jesus.
However, in the competition to add followers, the company advanced in partnerships with a wide range of religious communities in recent years, from individual congregations to large denominations, such as the Assemblies of God and the Church of God in Christ.
After the coronavirus pandemic forced religious groups to explore new ways to operate, Facebook saw an even greater strategic opportunity to attract highly engaged users to its platform.
The company aims to become the virtual headquarters of the religious community and he wants churches, mosques, synagogues and other entities to integrate their religious life into their platform, from holding worship services and more informal socializing to soliciting money.
That is why the tech giant is working on the development of new products (such as audio and prayer exchange) aimed at religious groups.
Virtual religious life is not going to replace the face-to-face community in the near future, and even its supporters recognize the limits of an experience that is only possible online.
However, according to the report, many religious groups see a new opportunity to influence the spiritual life of a greater number of people through Facebook, which is perhaps the largest and most influential social media company in the world.
The associations reveal how big technology and religion are converging far beyond simply moving services to the internet. Facebook is shaping the future of religious experience in itself, as it has done with political and social life.
The company’s efforts to attract religious groups come as it tries to repair its image among Americans who have lost trust in the platform, especially in privacy issues.
The point is, Facebook has been trapped by its role in the country’s growing disinformation crisis and the breakdown of social trust, particularly around politics, and regulators are concerned about its enormous power. President Joe Biden recently criticized the company for its role in spreading false information about COVID-19 vaccines.
Facebook executives presented their proposals to religious groups at a recent virtual religious summit. Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer, shared an online resource center with tools for creating congregations on the platform.
“Our hope is that one day people will celebrate religious services also in virtual reality spaces or use augmented reality as an educational tool to teach their children the story of their faith,” Sandberg transmitted.
The Facebook summit, which resembled a religious service, included testimonials from religious leaders about how Facebook helped them grow during the pandemic.