In The Church of Facebook, author and musician Jesse Rice delivers a valuable treatment on both the origins of Facebook, and the subtle but overwhelming effects that Facebook has on its users.
In Gladwell-esque style Rice writes with precision and below-the-surface insight. This is not a Christian book with heavy-handed preaching or pithy stories meant to convey “nuggets of truth.” Instead, Rice uses case studies and insights from many well-known experts to drive us deeper into the overarching questions about community and belonging.
At the center of Rice’s book is the question, “What is community and why do I need it so desperately?” In a world were the lines between our “virtual” and “real” relationships are increasingly blurred, or slowly becoming one, it’s a valuable question to ask. But the answer is more complex than it is black and white.
When asked how Facebook is changing the way we connect in relationships, Rice says: “It’s challenging our boundaries, the way we think about ourselves and express ourselves, it’s really shaping communication overall because we are beginning to communicate more and more in short bursts of information. In some ways we are becoming more content with quantity over quality.”
Rice helps us unfold the themes of human connection that we see in Facebook and social networking and how these elements have shaped us as communities and individuals. In a refreshingly diligent but objective narrative—Rice stays at a distance and lets the information rest on the reader without becoming too present—Rice lets the reader’s mind process the results independently without bullying the reader to a calculated conclusion.
Rice doesn’t necessarily make an argument for or against the use of Facebook or other social media, but instead pulls us into the complexity of community by probing us with question after question until we end up at the conclusion: the issue isn’t Facebook, but is our consumer-mindset when thinking about relationships. In other words, even if we want to blame social networking for shallow relationships, the finger will always be pointed back at us, the users.
In a conversation with Rice about the impact Facebook is having on the Church, Rice says, “I think that part of the challenge to the church is—the gospel of Jesus is this embodied gospel, God came to show us his love by taking on flesh and being with us and here we are interacting so much in this disembodied environment. I think the challenge for the church is to learn how to embody this gospel in the flesh in this digital world. I think part of the way we do that is to be intentional, humble and authentic in that space.”
Perhaps the best, and most applicable, part of the book is at the end where Rice suggests some practical disciplines for using Facebook to build meaningful relationships. Rice encourages Facebook users to be intentional about developing deeper relationships online and to approach social networking as givers rather than takers. He also challenges us to be authentic about our virtual lives, starting with our profiles, by resisting the urge to exaggerate or manipulate certain aspects of ourselves just to get a reaction from others.
For most of us, social networking can become a place to get an ego boost from the sheer number of friends we have or for the comments we receive from our status updates rather than an outlet to love, encourage and deepen our relationships with others. Because God never calls us to shallow one-sided relationships in real life, we can only assume that it’s not acceptable in the virtual world either. Facebook is a powerful tool that can either enhance deeper connections or foster our lust for belonging in deeply dysfunctional ways.
In the end, The Church of Facebook is a powerful read and boldly necessary for anyone who seeks to build a stronger—and redemptive—connection in the world of social networking. It’s careful, thoughtful and well-researched, but still a lot of fun because each chapter has truth about Facebook and ourselves. And in a culture where our virtual and real lives overlap constantly, it’s only responsible to make sure that we’re doing all we can to redeem both.