God and Facebook: Is social networking changing religion?

Social networks like Facebook are all the rage, with some claiming that online communities are deepening our interpersonal relationships while others worry that they are undermining them — and our spiritual lives. Pope Benedict XVI has weighed in on virtual friendships, and polls show more churches are using Facebook.

Many ministries, religious nonprofits, houses of worship, clergy and small-group ministries now routinely maintain pages on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn or other secular social networking sites, and many more religious groups and individuals have established presences on religion-oriented sites, such as ChristianNetwork and Muslimsocial.com. Twitter, too, is having an impact, as some clergy and laypeople tweet prayers, meditations and even entire religious services or the whole of the Bible in the 140-characters format.

But some religious leaders express growing concerns about putting their faith in Facebook. They worry that religion and spirituality are being reduced to bytes and instant messages – mere blips on a screen – and that something crucial to faith, like a concrete sense of community and the experiential aspect of religious practice, is being lost. Others say not so. They hail social media as an effective way to attract new followers and keep them connected at all times.

This edition of ReligionLink explores the ongoing debate over faith and social networking.

Why it matters

As social networks expand and develop, they will continue to influence the way people communicate and practice religion.

Background

  • “Religion on your iPhone? Faith apps grow in availability, popularity”

    Read a Feb. 27, 2011 story from the San Jose Mercury News, which covers Silicon Valley, about the increasing number of religious apps available to iPhone users.

  • “LifeWay Research finds churches increasing efforts in social, Facebook”

    Read a Jan. 21, 2011, news release from LifeWay Research about Protestant congregations using Facebook and other social networking tools. Nearly half of Protestant churches use Facebook, while 40 percent do not use any social networking tools. However, the trend seems to be toward greater adoption of social networking tools.

  • “Pope sees opportunities, dangers in social networks”

    Read the text of Pope Benedict’s message for the 45th annual World Communications Day, titled “Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age.” The Pope said new media and social networks offered “a great opportunity,” but he warned of the risks of having more virtual friends than real ones, saying that “it is always important to remember that virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives.” The Catholic Church marked World Communications Day on June 5, 2011.

  • “Social Media Guidelines”

    The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued guidelines for the use of social networks among Catholics.

  • “Pulling Off the Mask”

    In September 2009, two Gordon College professors published research on how students at evangelical colleges use social networking and its impact on them. The study is called “Pulling Off the Mask: The Impact of Social Networking Activities on Evangelical Christian College Students,” and the two researchers, Bryan Auday, professor of psychology, and Sybil Coleman, professor of social work, discussed the study here.

  • OurJewishCommunity.org

    OurJewishCommunity.org is building an online congregation, hoping to create a modern Jewish experience.

Articles

Religious social networking sites

Christian

  • HisHolySpace.com

    Hisholyspace.com is a general Christian social networking site. It was created by founder Jeff Broderick to provide Christians with a clean, accepting, and safe online community. Users can upload and browse videos, shop, find and connect with other users, and be connected to other online Christians and Christian communities.

  • Holypal.com

    Holypal.com is a general Christian social networking site. It provides an online forum for Christians to post and view videos and photos, connect with other Christians, and participate in religious debate.

  • Imagine Yourself

    Imagine Yourself is a social networking site established by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as a place for young church members to explore their vocations.

  • MyPraize

    MyPraize is a general Christian social networking site that provides its users with Christian music, bands, and videos, and provides forums for religious discussion.

  • UltimateTube

    UltimateTube is a video-driven social networking site for Christians that offers itself as an alternative to YouTube.

  • In Touch Ministries

    In Touch Ministries is a radio and television First Baptist Church ministry located in Atlanta, Ga. Contact through the website.

  • MyFaith.com

    MyFaith.com is the primary ministry of Gospel Harvest, Inc., a non-profit ministry based in Carrollton, Texas. The organization works to promote Jesus Christ through popular forms of social media. Contact the website through their Contact Us page.

     

  • Christian Answers

    Christian Answers is a mega-site the provides biblical answers to contemporary questions. Contact through the website.

  • Jimmy Swaggart Ministries

    Jimmy Swaggart Ministries, headed by the Pentecostal pastor and televangelist, is an organization dedicated to carrying the word of God through minister Jimmy Swaggart’s sermons and lessons internationally via the internet.

    Contact: 225-768-8300.
  • Internet Ministries

    Internet Ministries is an online, undenominational Christian organization that works to unite churches of Christ around the U.S. 

Interfaith

  • Beliefnet.com: Community

    Beliefnet’s Community is the social networking area of the largest interfaith website.

  • PeaceNext

    PeaceNext is the social networking site of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.

  • Britannica.com: Religion

    Britannica.com has a religions page that provides educational resources and information on religion.

  • Reference Desk: Religion

    The Reference Desk’s Religion page provides resources on all types of religion.

    Contact: 443-393-4917.
  • Adherents.com

    Adherents.com is a collection of over 43,870 adherent statistics and religious geography citations. Contact through the website.

  • Religion Online

    Religion Online provides more than 3,000 articles and chapters full texts by scholars on religions around the globe.

  • Church USA Ministries

    Church USA Ministries is an online national church directory. Contact through the website.

Islamic

  • Muslimsocial.com

    Muslimsocial.com is a general Islamic social networking site. It provides a forum for online dating, and helps Muslims connect, and reconnect, with other Muslims.

  • Muxlim

    Muxlim is a general Islamic social networking site that includes religion, politics, popular culture and relationships.

  • Naseeb

    Naseeb is an Islamic social networking site that emphasizes relationships.

Neo-Pagan

  • PaganSpace.net

    PaganSpace.net is a social networking site for followers of Earth-based religions, such as Wicca, Asatru, druidism and goddess-based faiths.

National sources

  • Jon Wilson Anderson

    Jon Wilson Anderson, chairman of the anthropology department at Catholic University of America, is a sociocultural anthropologist who specializes in the anthropology of religion (ritual and symbol systems) and politics, new media and the social life of information technologies, and the Middle East. He co-edited New Media in the Muslim World: The Emerging Public Sphere and Reformatting Politics: Networked Communications and Global Civil Society. He researches the communications and information revolution in the Arab world, transnational cultures and the social organization of international cyberspaces.

  • Bryan Auday

    Bryan Auday is a professor of psychology at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., and co-author of a 2009 study, “Pulling Off the Mask: The Impact of Social Networking Activities on Evangelical Christian College Students.”

  • Helen Berger

    Helen Berger is a retired professor emerita of sociology at West Chester University in West Chester, Pa. She is an expert on the neo-pagan community and has written about how teen witches in the U.S. and Australia use the Internet.

  • Sybil W. Coleman

    Sybil W. Coleman is a professor of social work at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., and co-author of a 2009 study, “Pulling Off the Mask: The Impact of Social Networking Activities on Evangelical Christian College Students.”

  • Douglas Cowan

    Douglas Cowan is an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. He is an expert on the neo-pagan community and has written about the community’s use of the Internet to communicate and share ideas about faith and rituals. He has also published about Mormonism and evangelical practice in North America and on religion and film.

  • Chris Forbes

    Chris Forbes is author of the e-book Facebook for Pastors and hosts a Facebook page of the same name. He is the founder of Ministry Marketing Coach and lives in Oklahoma City, Okla.

  • Wendy Griffin

    Wendy Griffin is a professor emerita at California State University, Long Beach. She wrote a chapter, “The Goddess Net,” for the book Religion Online: Finding Faith on the Internet.

  • Glen Moriarty

    Glen Moriarty is an assistant professor of psychology and counseling at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va. He wrote an article about Christian social networking for the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture.

  • Stephen O’Leary

    Stephen O’Leary is an associate professor of communication at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He wrote a chapter, “Cyberspace as Sacred Space: Communicating Religion on Computer Networks,” for the book Religion Online: Finding Faith on the Internet.

  • Helen Osman

    Helen Osman is secretary of communications for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and can discuss the conference’s guidelines on use of social networks among Catholics. Contact CommDept@usccb.org.

  • Jeremiah Owyang

    Jeremiah Owyang is an industry analyst at the Altimeter Group in Silicon Valley and a columnist for Forbes CMO Network. He has blogged about social network statistics and can discuss how to interpret them.

  • Charles S. Prebish

    Charles S. Prebish is a professor of religious studies at Pennsylvania State University. He is a co-founder of the Journal of Buddhist Ethics and can speak about the development of Buddhism in North America and the way the Internet has been used to connect Buddhists worldwide. He wrote a chapter, “The Cybersangha: Buddhism on the Internet,” for the book Religion Online: Finding Faith on the Internet.

  • Quentin J. Schultze

    Quentin J. Schultze is a professor of communication arts and sciences at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. He is an expert on religion and its role in popular American culture and has written about the relationship of Christianity and evangelicals to mass media, including television and computers. He is author of the Habits of the High-Tech Heart: Living Virtuously in the Information Age (Baker Book House, 2004).

  • Stephen Shields

    Stephen Shields is the founder of FaithMaps. He freelances for Leadership Network, where he wrote a guide (enter “social networking” in the Keywords field) to online social networks for churches.

Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • Berlin Masjid

    Berlin Masjid in Berlin, Conn., has a Facebook page that is administered by two college students and Sohaib Sultan, an Islamic college chaplain.

  • Kathleen Carley

    Kathleen Carley is a professor of organizational sociology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Among her areas of study is the use of social networks

  • Congregation Beth Elohim

    Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, N.Y., has an active Facebook page. Rabbi Andy Bachman is its creator.

  • Masjid Abdul Muhsi Khalifah

    Masjid Abdul Muhsi Khalifah is a Brooklyn, N.Y., mosque with a Facebook page where members discuss everything from World Cup Soccer to current events and religious issues.

    Contact: 718-783-1279.
  • Nathan D. March

    The Rev. Nathan D. March created a social network site for Prince of Peace Catholic High School Youth Ministry of Lewiston, Maine, using Ning.com.

  • Glenn Shuck

    Glenn Shuck is an assistant professor in the religion department at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. He has said that the trend of tweeting and using other social networks during religious services is likely to grow, especially among emerging churches.

In the South

In the Midwest

In the West

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