Facebook had 845 million independent users by the end of December 2011––12% of the world’s entire population. Comparatively, only 9% of the world owns a car. 155 million Americans — over 50% of the United States’ population — have a Facebook account. The same percentage holds true in Canada with 17 million Facebook users, ticking slightly over half their population. It is my educated estimate that we are nearing 20,000 Christadelphians on Facebook worldwide, and easily 2,500-3,000 in the US and Canada. I would not be surprised if the actual numbers far outstripped those estimates.
These are facts that have to be dealt with. As a community, our biggest mistake when it comes to Facebook is treating it as a passing fad. Facebook is here to stay. There have been other “social networking” sites that have come and gone, but not since the advent of e-mail itself has there been a larger shift in how the Internet is used and how it affects our lives, than the one Facebook has created. We need to treat this phenomenon as real and important, whether or not Facebook itself survives. The observable influence of this form of networking leads to the conclusion that Facebook is here to stay, at least for now, and therefore, we as individuals and ecclesias need to know how best to respond.
Avoiding a Double life
A “double minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8) is a stern warning for us on this topic. Christadelphians need to be the same people in their lives as they are on Facebook. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we should be proactively using Facebook as a personal and ecclesial in-reach and outreach tool.
Facebook has done a fascinating thing by being both a representation of yourself that you can control, and also a representation of yourself that your Facebook friends define. Tagging is what Facebook users do to their pictures or posts and, by tagging other people, it shows up on their Facebook profiles for their friends to see — effectively allowing you to see what someone is doing with their friends, when you don’t actually know their friends. This means that Facebook has become a look into how the user defines themselves, as well as how others define them. (That being said, this has already started changing as more and more people figure out how to use their privacy controls to protect some things from being public knowledge. This means that you could very well not be seeing everything on someone’s Facebook that they allow others to see).
This voyeurism that comes out of being “Facebook friends” with so many people leads us to knowing more about that person than they would want us to know.
It’s a story you may have heard before: “Did you see the Facebook pictures of what so-and- so did last weekend?” “Can you believe the words so-and-so had on their status?”
It presents a massive challenge for a follower of God’s ways who is concerned for the individual in question, an individual who may even be a Brother or Sister. What right did we have to this information? How should we react to a seemingly sinful admission or picture on Facebook? Scriptural principle is clear, if not definitive.
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:1-5 ESV).
The hardest part is to not overstep our bounds of whatever level of relationship is already established. Seeing a person you care about on Facebook making decisions that may seem at first glance to be wrong, and even under further investigation prove indeed to be so, is incredibly disheartening. Having close relationships with some friends allows us to reach out and help and encourage them. Although this should not be via a Facebook post for the entire world to see. Facebook allows us an unusual glimpse into what our friends are thinking about and going through. It also allows us to react quickly with help and support.
But what about the Facebook friend who is not so close? What about our Christadelphian ‘friends’ who post things that are spiritually wrong? Because of the ‘faux- proximity’ of Facebook, these friends may appear closer to us than they really are. Should we ignore the postings? The Apostle Paul never shied away from offering help no matter what the distance was between him and his friends. It seems that even with distant Facebook friends we can gently offer a listening ear and spiritual advice. We should keep the level of our already established relationship in mind, and contact them privately as opposed to posting publicly. As we see in the verse below from the epistle of James, Facebook helps us ‘take note’ of a problem and gives us an opportunity to help.
“My brethren! If one among you be led to err from the truth, and one turn him back, By ye taking note — that, he that turneth back a sinner out of the error of his way–will save his soul out of death, and hide a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20 Rotherham’s).
It’s different with our less spiritually committed friends and acquaintances. Unless you already have a close relationship with that person, what benefit will there be in attempting to correct them, and in this context? (1Cor 9:19-23). Being someone’s Facebook friend does not mean we have the relationship necessary for corrective action. However, it should serve as encouragement to find some way to grow closer to that individual.
Because of the unusual access and closeness Facebook provides, it is key to have humility and love in our perspective when trying to help an individual. After we see something on Facebook, remember the principles in Jesus’ words:
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt 18:15-17 ESV).
It is also important to gather the context from Matt 18, as the next few verses deal with the “limitations” of forgiveness.
“Then Peter came up and said to him,’Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times’ ” (Matt 18:21-22 ESV).
Once we do have a real relationship with someone, forgiveness and love are so important to bear in mind when reacting to something we see on Facebook, just as in face-to-face interactions.
Turning the table on the conversation, maybe we are the ones going out of our way to keep something off Facebook. We’d prefer to avoid any questions of our improperly justified actions. This is also not a good place to be in. We need to have the “same mind” as Christ, referred to in Philippians. With half of the people that live in our country on Facebook, we had better be sure that our virtual lives are shining lights in the darkness.
Is Your Ecclesia a “Place” and Do You Hold “Events”?
It bears repeating at this point: one of every two people you meet has a Facebook page. There are as many Facebook users in the United States as there are males. When Paul preached to the towns he went to, he entered into the synagogues (Acts 14:1, 17:1, 19:8). When he preached, he went to where the people were. Facebook is where we need to go, individually and ecclesially, to share the gospel.
There are a number of ways we can do this as ecclesias:
It is easy to make a Page for your ecclesia; you can even attach a location. Then, when all your members “Like” the Page, they can “check-in” when they arrive at the meeting. What a witness this could become! Our ecclesias should be places that people want to come, and having a Facebook Page adds a sort of legitimacy and relevance that is valuable.
Events are another excellent tool that is available to our ecclesias. Young people are already widely creating Events to spread the word about Bible Schools, Weekends, and CYC Events, but Facebook is not limited to young people. 43% of Facebook users are above 35, and it’s the fastest growing age group on Facebook (www.socialbaker.com). Public Lectures and Study Days lend themselves perfectly to Events, and current members can be invited and easily, unobtrusively invite their friends.
Facebook has a very easy to use advertising program where you can advertise to users in specific zip codes and/or with specific interests. The best feature of “Ads” is they are “Pay- per-click”, which means you usually are not charged for the advertisement until someone sees it AND clicks it. A click is generally between 0.4 cents and 0.7 cents.
To give an example of how these strategies might work in a practical sense, the Simi Hills ecclesia has a Facebook Page, and we recently purchased an ad for an upcoming Event to be held at our hall. We were able to advertise to the 85,000 Facebook users in Simi Valley, California (which has a population of 110,000). We had 15 people register for the event, 200 people see our Page because of the advertisement, and 70,000 of the Facebook users in Simi Valley saw the advertisement an average of 14 times. Simi Hills’ Facebook ad was shown over 980,000 times and cost a little over $300. This effort did not yield any attendance, even after the 15 sign-ups. But, we had a rare rainy day in California and are happy with the results of the ad campaign regardless.
Facebook, along with a standard website, should be a key component of your ecclesia’s outreach program. Having an easily accessible public presence adds credence and legitimacy that should make your ecclesia more approachable. With so many people on Facebook, it is where your ecclesias needs to have a presence that is able to be found by any who are searching.
What’s the Writing on Your Wall?
The intrinsic problem with Facebook, social media, and the Internet is that it’s far too easy to put up a representation of ourselves that is not true. How we fill out our “Info” and the words we choose to use in our comments might be misleading. Where a major loss could occur is when we lose appeal and/or accessibility for others. If a person who is viewing our Facebook needs help, advice, guidance, or just friendship, and we have been off-putting by harsh-words, or maybe a “false” over-spiritualization of our Facebook information, we have not done the good we intend. The goal for our individual Facebook pages should be to keep them true to who we are, and to maintain them as lampstands to show the Light of Christ.
It is too easy to slip into negativity when we are in the comfort of our own computers. There are many conversations, on individuals’ Facebook pages or in groups of believers, which can so quickly degrade to useless slander, and are not uplifting for anyone. When the consequences of face-to-face reaction are removed, it is remarkable how badly a loving brother or sister with good intentions can miss the mark in their quickly written words. James chapter three’s condemnation of the power of the tongue surely also applies to the power of the fingers on the keyboard.
Be honest and true to what you believe, and do not be deterred from showing that on your Facebook. It is a new tool, a new community, and a new place that the Gospel needs to be spread to by those who love our dear Lord.
Levi Gelineau (Simi Hills, CA)