Faith communities all over the world are leveraging technology to stay connected during the coronavirus pandemic. What would have been impossible a decade ago has been made easy today through smartphones and social media platforms.
Facebook recently launched its Faith on Facebook Resource Hub, which is equipped with the tools that pastors, priests, rabbis, and other faith leaders need to connect online with their congregants during the pandemic.
“When this [COVID-19] happened, I realized early on that it was going to be important for us to be really engaged with faith communities, the churches, pastors, and denominations,” Nona Jones, head of faith-based partnerships at Facebook, told The Daily Signal in a recent phone interview.
The Faith on Facebook Resource Hub is designed as a user-friendly toolkit for faith leaders of all ages and backgrounds to learn how to stream church services through Facebook Live; create Groups, where people can share prayer requests or other needs; or create fundraisers for those in need.
“All of this information was available on our platform, but it was in different places,” Jones said. “What we did is, we just consolidated it into this toolkit. I chose the products that we highlighted because, out of my own experience leading a church and working with other pastors, I realized that those specific products were the ones that would be best-suited to digital discipleship.”
In addition to her job at Facebook, Jones pastors a church with her husband, Tim Jones, called Open Door Ministries in Gainesville, Florida. The resources that appear on the hub are ones that Jones knew would be helpful for most pastors.
She said Facebook hired her about three years ago to lead its faith-based partnerships not “in spite of my faith, but because of it.”
Facebook has long recognized the value faith communities bring to society, Jones explained, adding:
Almost 85% of the world ascribes to a faith tradition. To be a platform that serves almost a third of the world, I think there was just a recognition that in order for us to make sure that people are healthy and whole, we would have to be a place that was enabling them to connect to their faith.
At her own church, Jones and her husband used Facebook recently to host a special prayer week.
“We have a Facebook Group called Open Door Ministries Online. Every morning at about 7 a.m., a post will go up, and it will ask people how we can pray for them. And then at 7 p.m., my husband and I and our children will actually go live, and we will pray for all the requests that were made that day.”
Many other churches and faith groups are using Facebook in similar ways during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Potter’s House of North Dallas in Frisco, Texas, had started a fitness club for their church, Jones said. “When COVID-19 happened, they thought they might have to shut down the fitness classes. But instead, they just started doing them live in their group,” she said.
NewSong Church in Vienna, Virginia, is using Facebook Live not only to stream its service on Sunday, but also to host short times of midday prayer during the week.
“We have seen a tremendous increase in the number of spiritual pages that are going live … sometimes two or three times the increase,” Jones said.
For individuals who might be apprehensive about using the social platform during the coronavirus, Jones said, “I know the idea of using tech can be intimidating but … don’t allow your feelings to keep you from exploring, because it’s actually easier than you might think.”
The many different components of the platform, such as Groups, Facebook Live, and Pages, may sound confusing, but Jones used the analogy of a house to describe how the many components work together to create an effective outreach tool that faith communities can easily begin to leverage.
If you think about Facebook like a house, then you can think of your Page like it’s the front porch of your house. So that is the place where people can see what you are about, what you are up to, but you don’t just want to have a front porch.
You also want to have a living room, the place where people can have conversations, and that is what Facebook Groups is for. You can link up to 250 Groups to your Page.
But between your porch and your living room is a front door, and that is what Facebook Live is. Facebook Live is essentially the door that you open to the living room.
Jones said she has received positive feedback from individuals who have discovered that Facebook is a “way to continue to do what you have always done, and even though you can’t get together in person, you can still be together online.”