When the 150,000-member “megachurch” Hillsong opened a branch in Atlanta, its pastor Sam Collier says Facebook suggested using it to explore how churches can “go further farther on Facebook…” reports the New York Times:
He is partnering with Facebook, he said, “to directly impact and help churches navigate and reach the consumer better.”
“Consumer isn’t the right word,” he said, correcting himself. “Reach the parishioner better.”
Facebook’s involvement with churches has been intense:
For months Facebook developers met weekly with Hillsong and explored what the church would look like on Facebook and what apps they might create for financial giving, video capability or livestreaming. When it came time for Hillsong’s grand opening in June, the church issued a news release saying it was “partnering with Facebook” and began streaming its services exclusively on the platform.
Beyond that, Mr. Collier could not share many specifics — he had signed a nondisclosure agreement…
“Together we are discovering what the future of the church could be on Facebook…”[Facebook] has been cultivating partnerships with a wide range of faith communities over the past few years, from individual congregations to large denominations, like the Assemblies of God and the Church of God in Christ. Now, after the coronavirus pandemic pushed religious groups to explore new ways to operate, Facebook sees even greater strategic opportunity to draw highly engaged users onto its platform. The company aims 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…
The partnerships reveal how Big Tech and religion are converging far beyond simply moving services to the internet. Facebook is shaping the future of religious experience itself, as it has done for political and social life… The collaborations raise not only practical questions, but also philosophical and moral ones… There are privacy worries too, as people share some of their most intimate life details with their spiritual communities. The potential for Facebook to gather valuable user information creates “enormous” concerns, said Sarah Lane Ritchie, a lecturer in theology and science at the University of Edinburgh…
“Corporations are not worried about moral codes,” she said. “I don’t think we know yet all the ways in which this marriage between Big Tech and the church will play out.”
Last month Facebook held a summit “which resembled a religious service,” the Times reports, at which Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said churches were a natural fit for Facebook “because fundamentally both are about connection.”
But the article also notes the 6-million member Church of God in Christ “received early access to several of Facebook’s monetization features,” testing paid subscriptions for exclusive church content, as well as real-time donations during services. But “Leaders decided against a third feature: advertisements during video streams.”
Read more of this story at Slashdot.