Sophomore Kara McCollum meets with her youth group at Carmel Lutheran Church several times a week, but she checks the Facebook page for the group almost every day.
“The (Facebook) group is a useful tool because information can be communicated better and faster. It is extremely convenient for everyone. Before, email was used, but I never really checked that,” she said.
Creating Facebook groups for religious organizations is an emerging trend. According to CNN, 41 percent of religious congregations use Facebook as a tool to communicate. Also, 31 percent of Facebook users in the United States display their religion in their profiles and over 43 million people worldwide have “liked” a religion page, according to The New York Times.
However, this raises concerns on whether or not these online faith communities are becoming a replacement for religious services. Despite these statistics about religion-related online activity, in 2010, religious vitality decreased, and fewer people attended congregations than before, according to CNN. On January 24, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI even reminded Roman Catholics that “virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives.”
According to Andy Stumpf, director of high school and young adult ministries at Carmel Lutheran Church, the church does live streaming of sermons and archives the videos on its website.
“There’s the temptation for some people to say, ‘I’m not going to go to church; I’ll just watch it at my convenience.’ Those people are definitely missing out on a huge portion of it. They can have the one-on-one relationship, the vertical relationship between them and God, but they don’t have the horizontal relationship, like mission trips and service projects.”
However, Stumpf said he does not see these as valid worries. He maintains the Facebook group for Carmel Lutheran Youth and does not think that this affects attendance at all.
“I don’t feel that having a Facebook page within my youth group will make them feel like they are getting the same sustenance on a Facebook community as they would in a real community. God created us to be cultural beings,” he said. “I don’t think that the community could be satisfied by the Internet. How can you do a service project or a mission trip over Facebook? There’s just an interaction that can only happen through face-to-face that Facebook can’t provide.”
McCollum said she agreed with Stumpf. The creation of the Facebook group did not change her attendance and interaction with her youth group at Carmel Lutheran Church. Instead it enhanced her involvement.
“People are not just going to stop going to church just because there are alternative resources on the Internet,” she said. “I don’t think Facebook is ever going to replace religion, but it is a good tool and just helps spread the word.”
In fact, Stumpf said he sees these online faith communities as beneficial in some aspects to CHS students.
“These types of groups allow kids to continue to be immersed in their communities, even when they don’t have a scheduled event or are not meeting together. They allow students to not forget that these communities and support groups exist. It reminds them that their faith isn’t just an opportunity of convenience, but it is part of their culture.”
According to Stumpf, these religious groups also give people another opportunity to extend their faith to others.
“The holy spirit that allows us to profess our faith has no boundaries. So it doesn’t exist only in face-to-face, but it also exists in online communities,” he said. “Every single time people write something religious, such as a Bible verse, as their status, they are allowing all 1,400 friends, for example, to see that. I don’t think that they realize how much of an impact that can make.”
McCollum said she witnesses religious activity on her news feed on a daily basis.
“Facebook has given a new medium for communication. People can share their faith through writing statuses and invite people to events through Facebook,” she said. “I think it’s really cool that people are brave enough to post religious statuses on Facebook.”
Stumpf said he stands firmly by his opinion that real-life religious communities will remain prevalent, no matter what the circumstances are, and that people will continue to attend services.
He said, “Regardless of how the Internet continues to evolve, people are going to continue to go to church and attend religious services because people desire community.”