The following is one of a series of editorials in the New York Times about the relationship between religion/faith and Facebook.
Believers but Not Churchgoers
September 8, 2011
The Rev. Cheryl J. Sanders is the senior pastor of Third Street Church of God in Washington.
As a pastor, it is my responsibility to encourage participation in face-to-face meetings at the church each week for worship, prayer and Bible study.
While I cannot foresee a time when virtual contact will take the place of direct human contact, in my experience social networking enables additional conversations, interactions and sharing of information that reinforce the sense of community at every level of our lives. Our church has a Facebook group, and I include church members as friends on my personal Facebook page. Some of my most frequent Facebook posts come from members who are very quiet (or absent) when the church gathers for worship, but who readily speak up online to share their opinions, photos and links to news about religion, politics and popular culture.
Online communities are a tool for reaching a generation whose personal priorities do not include church attendance but who spend hours each day online.
Social networking works wonders for the instantaneous sharing of information of importance to church members, such as invitations to special events, solicitations of prayers for members and friends in crisis, and the sharing of suggestions for worship at home when church services are canceled because of inclement weather.
While social networking does not replace human contact, it provides opportunities for virtual participation in religious community by members who cannot attend church because of work, illness or relocation and by students who are away at college. Moreover, it is a tool for reaching a generation whose personal priorities do not include church attendance but who spend hours each day online. Jesus called fishermen who were experienced at working nets full of fish to follow Him and become "fishers of men." It is my hope that the work of calling people to faith in this century will be vigorously embraced by a virtual community of disciples whose skills in social networking are employed not just for self-absorbed amusement, but also for the care of human souls.http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/09/08/will-online-faith-communities-replace-churches/believers-who-are-not-churchgoers