Meta and the Future of Church

Calling all churches! Meta, formally known as Facebook, wants you.

The faith-based demographic caught Meta’s eye back in 2017, spurring the formation of an official “faith partnerships team” focused on “courting religious leaders.” And Reuters learned that “this year, [Meta] … started up an Interfaith Advisory Council to hold regular meetings with faith leaders and educators.” 

Meta has discovered that “worshippers [are] a vital community to drive engagement,” a fact it confirmed at “its first virtual faith summit” in June 2021. “One of the biggest communities using Facebook products to connect are people of faith,” Fidji Simo, a now former Meta executive, said at the summit.

Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg offered this glimpse into the platform’s understanding of religious groups: “Faith organizations and social media are a natural fit because fundamentally both are about connection.”

Meta’s ultimate goal is “to become the virtual home for religious community, and wants churches, mosques, synagogues and others to embed their religious life into its platform, from hosting worship services and socializing more casually to soliciting money. It is developing new products, including audio and prayer sharing, aimed at faith groups.”

Interestingly, though Meta’s all-inclusive strategy encompasses the whole gamut of faiths, the one religion being highlighted is Christianity. And why wouldn’t it be? With more than two billion adherents, it is the largest religion in the world.


The Courtship

As it did nearly every other aspect of life, COVID-19 impacted Meta’s courtship of religion. Said Simo, “When I looked at the data of what was taking off during the pandemic, we were seeing massive growth in the spiritual category.”

Yes, it was no question that the pandemic fanned the flames on Meta’s pursuit of its coveted prospect. The number one social media platform in the world was sure to see a spike in activity when local church buildings were shuttered, congregants were in lockdown, and worship services jumped online.

And Meta wasted no time in reaching out, even mailing “‘starter kits’ of equipment like small tripods and phone holders to faith groups for live-streaming and shooting content,” the tech giant’s version of flowers and chocolates.

Some churches went all-in, like the Pentecostal Church of God in Christ, which tested out two of Meta’s new faith-based features: paid “subscriptions [to] … receive exclusive content, like messages from the bishop,” and also the ability “for worshipers watching services online to send donations in real time.” Last December, the entire Presbyterian denomination signed on as “a Facebook faith partner,” complete with a contract relinquishing “ownership of any products it helps Facebook design.”

Meanwhile, individual users aren’t buying it: “Anytime Facebook rolls out something new, you know it’s because they’re hoping to make money off it,” said one.

“Corporations are not worried about moral codes,” opined a University of Edinburgh professor of theology and science. Voicing a worry in regard to “the potential for Facebook to gather …. intimate life details” often revealed in “spiritual communities,” she concluded, “I don’t think we know yet all the ways in which this marriage between Big Tech and the church will play out.”

But it’s not as though Meta is some man behind the curtain—or so it seems. According to Reuters, Nona Jones, who oversees the platform’s faith partnerships team, admitted that “prayer posts are used to personalize ads on Facebook, like other content,” though another representative clarified that “advertisers will not be able to directly target ads based on the content of the prayer or use of the feature.”

So churches are, apparently, entering this relationship with both eyes open—and a nondisclosure agreement, a “standard process for all partners involved in product development” with Meta.


You in the Meta World

 But the real question is not what the church is going to get out of this partnership. The real question is: How is the church changing from this partnership?

The New York Times stated, “Facebook is shaping the future of religious experience itself, as it has done for political and social life.” And Gizmodo Australia made this striking observation: “The social media giant is arguably the closest that humans have come to competing with the divine for access to the innermost thoughts of billions of people.”

What this all ultimately trickles down to is you. Meta views you as “the consumer”—and according to The Times, it looks like some churches might too. But if you return to the basis of Christianity, if you take off those pixelated glasses and look at your life through the lens of the Bible, you will discover a God who views you as His own family. You are to Him a precious soul. He loves you, so much so that He gave His life for you.

And the more you get to know Jesus, “the Word” who was made “flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), the less you’ll view things as a sum of clicks and likes. The dimmer the metaverse is, the sharper the “citizenship” of “heaven” (Philippians 3:20). As the Bible says, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

At the same time, you will also see the people living in the world differently. You will see them how God sees them, as precious souls in need of the living Word (Hebrews 4:12).

For a powerful presentation on our purpose here and now, watch Pastor Doug Batchelor’s message “The World—A Love/Hate Relationship.

Join in the cry of God’s end-time remnant, “Come out of [Babylon], my people” (Revelation 18:4).

Kris W. Sky
Kris W. Sky is a writer and editor for Amazing Facts International and other online and print publications.
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