Liberty University worships on Facebook: It's not innovative, it's intuitive

Posted Nov 23, 2011 | New Media Project

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By Lerone A. Martin


When a scheduling conflict left the self-proclaimed largest Christian university in the world without a physical space for their weekly campus worship service, they did the obvious: they held church on the school’s Facebook page!

The move was inevitable.  Liberty University, Jerry Falwell’s school, is known for its evangelistic fervor. Falwell and his Christian liberal arts institution have made it a point to use media to publicize their gospel and school. From their Old Time Gospel Hour broadcast in the 1960’s, to their online community of approximately 50,000 students, to their 2010 Hip Hop theme song and music video, Liberty University is no stranger to media.

Vice President and Campus Pastor Johnnie Moore said it best. When two of the commonly used spaces of worship were unavailable for campus church, Moore stated that Facebook, as opposed to cancelation, was the logical move. After all, Moore’s religion tells him that Christians should make it “their goal to go where the people are. In the 21st century, they’re on Facebook,” he wrote on a CNN blog.

Indeed, in many ways Facebook is ideal for church. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 67 percent of social media users say that maintaining community and contact with others is their primary reason for using social media like MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, and/or Twitter. Likewise, for many churchgoers, church is a way of maintaining community. This connection is readily seen by the popularity of religion on Facebook. In October, the popular Facebook page, “Jesus Daily,” became the first ever religious-oriented Facebook page to gain over 10 million fans. It’s clear that many users look to Facebook to maintain and cultivate relationships rather that be with friends, relatives, or a Deity.

Subsequently, Moore seems correct when he concludes on the CNN blog, “Doing church on Facebook isn’t innovative.  It’s intuitive.”

Lerone A. Martin, a research fellow for the New Media Project, is Assistant Professor of American Religious History and Culture at Eden Theological Seminary in Saint Louis, MO.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.

3 Comments

  1. 1 JSullivan 31 Jan
    This may be possible in a Protestant, proclamation-based understanding of worship, but it doesn't translate to a liturgical/sacramental system. The importance of physicality and incarnational spirituality in, say, the Catholic Mass makes "online Church" not just impossible but nonsensical.
  2. 2 Anonymous 31 Jan
    You raise an interesting point. How has the Catholic Church dealt with online tools such as confession apps etc.?
  3. 3 JSullivan 31 Jan
    Well, let's be clear on what these apps are and are not. The "confession app" is not an app that simulates the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation; rather, it is an app that guides the user through an examination of conscience in preparation for the sacrament. The Church would roundly and rightly condemn any app that claimed to offer the same grace as sacramental confession, since it would not involve a sacramental minister.

    Similarly, while there are televised Masses, watching Mass on TV does not fulfill a person's moral obligation to attend a Mass on Sunday. In the case of a person who cannot attend Mass on Sunday (for reason of illness, no Mass within a reasonable distance, etc.), watching Mass on TV may be a pious practice, but the obligation itself is abrogated since the Church does not require the impossible.

    Here would be my questions: does "gathering" for an "online service" fulfill Christ's promise that when two are three are gathered, he is there? Is "gathering" to be understood in a physical sense, or is it merely a gathering of purpose, attention, or intention?

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