Many ministers have found Facebook pages and groups useful tools in ministry. They use them in a manner that Egere (2015, p. 447).) refers to as ‘church marketing’. He says,

Marketing is not selling, advertising or promotion, though it may include all of them. In a more general sense, church marketing refers to the creation, communication and delivering of consumer related values. In a narrower sense, church marketing means the application of marketing in order to spread a religion, to attract proselytes and to obtain their loyalty on particular religious belief systems.

Atkinson (2008, p. 5), in his forward to the book, Facebook for pastors: How to build relationships and connect with people using the most popular social network on the Internet, says:

I’ve always been a networker and enjoyed meeting people from other church staff. Through Facebook, I’ve been able to share ideas, resources and encouragement with other Church leaders, as well as receive it. Through the various features and applications on Facebook, I am able to hear what God is doing at another church. People are able to see the global Church in action, rejoicing with those who rejoice and crying with those who cry. We’re in this together and the friendships and associations that come from Facebook reinforce this.

Forbes (2008, p. 9) continues this trend of thought by arguing that Facebook is not a waste of time as many people suggest, saying:

Social media (like Facebook) are not going away anytime soon. A new approach to communications has been opened up to the new media. The question is will your ministry take advantage of the opportunity for communicating the gospel? The biggest objections pastors offer for not being involved in social media is that it takes too much time. Pastors can’t afford to simply “spend” time on something; the nature of their work demands that they “invest” it. Just like any other investment, it must be weighed against the potential return. In the past, the areas of highest return on investment of time and effort were found in technologies like the telephone and practices such as door-to-door visitation, but those days are gone, probably forever.”

The above trends of thought reflect that Facebook has proven to be such a comfortable platform, not only for young people in their search for deep spiritual connections online but also for religious instructors and ministers. Gould (2013, p. 63) argues that “Facebook is great for Church Communication and ministry because, in addition to providing an efficient, cost-effective way to broadcast news and publicize events, it provides many other options for generating and sustaining community (e.g., the timeline, groups, customizable tabs on the home page, notes, lists).”

From the foregoing, it is clear that there exists much literature on the seeming contention between virtual and real communities. Though scholars have done extensive research on the effects of Facebook use on young people, there is still much work to be done, particularly in the areas of how Facebook could help evaluate, nurture and even establish face-to-face faith communities for the teeming population of young people who seem to have an indefinite online presence. However, due to the slow rate of Internet penetration and the high cost of being online in many parts of Africa, the days of meeting face to face, at least in Nigeria, are still far from gone. This is why this study seeks to examine the movement from faith communities that are considered virtual to those considered real, and the nuances existing therein.

Culled from my Masters Thesis titled “Virtual to real faith communities: A study among Young FaceBook users in Uromi Diocese.

Image credit @ Pixabay