In a recent interview with WIRED*, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and cofounder of Facebook, shared that small group ministry is a model he considers when he looks to the future of his social media website. It’s an intriguing comment from the marketplace and it’s loaded with transferable insights for disciple makers. I think it’s important for me to note that Jesus’ way doesn’t require validation from the secular space, but in certain instances it should reinforce what we already know to be true.
In this particular interview, Mark Zuckerberg is quoted as saying, “When I started Facebook, the mission of connecting people wasn’t a controversial thing.” In recent times, Facebook has unintentionally become a contentious experience for some as they are confronted with their friends’ subjective opinions about politics, social issues and news stories. What started out as a digital space for people to connect has morphed into an intense debate forum with differing levels of credible information. The article says it like this…
“As [Mark] has repeatedly said…he believes his platform brings people together—despite the sea of evidence that in its stated mission to “connect the world” Facebook may be helping to tear it apart.”
His problem is a similar one that most churches face: How do we get people connected to each other in such a way that is meaningful and adds value to their lives?
The article goes on to share the following…
“After spending a decade portraying Facebook as a service for connecting friends and family, Zuckerberg’s grand vision is now to build technology that creates far bigger and more complex communities. ‘Humanity has always pushed to come together in greater numbers to accomplish better things and improve our lives individually in ways we couldn’t in smaller groups,’ he tells me. If your News Feed now feels like a tiny town, Zuckerberg seems to want to build cities. Or at least churches.
In our conversation, he says his model for an online community might look something like Saddleback, the evangelical Southern California megachurch led by pastor Rick Warren. It’s a surprising example from a man who seems steeped in the liberal pluralism of Silicon Valley. But the key for Zuckerberg is that Warren built a community in which tens of thousands of people gather under a capable leader’s guidance, but also divide themselves into smaller groups by interest, affinity and aspirations.
In Zuckerberg’s new vision for Facebook, leaders in the mold of Warren will have tools to guide and shape the more complex communities they’re trying to create. At the same time, the smaller groups within those communities will provide places to connect in more intimate ways, while also feeding the larger whole. ‘Just like becoming friends with people on Facebook can strengthen real-world relationships, there is no reason to believe that building communities on Facebook and the Internet can’t also strengthen real-world communities,’ he says.”
Interesting, to say the least. For me, I take away Seven Small Group Lessons from Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook.
1. Biblical community provides a treasure of ideas for creating deeper connection. In this article, we see Facebook (a social media Goliath) looking to a model of biblical community (small groups at Saddleback Church) for lessons on connection.
This should encourage us to dive deeper into the way of Jesus with his 12 apostles. We should continue to dissect the secrets of the first-century church and go all in with our discoveries.
2. Smaller groups create opportunity for more intimacy and relationship compared to the crowd. The article states that smaller groups within those communities will provide places to connect in more intimate ways. A large gathering produces relational lids. People need less-complicated settings to lower their guard and bond socially.
3. The larger crowd needs the smaller groups as a sustaining force. “The smaller groups within those communities will provide places to connect in more intimate ways, while also feeding the larger whole.” The stronger the infrastructure, the stronger the movement can become. The masses can be mobilized with more health and strength if they are supported by united communities. The macro needs the micro.
I believe this also speaks to the scalability of small groups. Small groups are a sustaining force to the larger movement because they can continue to develop in proportion to the whole.
4. The smaller groups allow people to gather in ways that are not possible in the crowd. “The key for Zuckerberg is that Warren built a community in which tens of thousands of people gather under a capable leader’s guidance, but also divide themselves into smaller groups by interest, affinity and aspirations.” It’s difficult to dialogue around a certain focus with a large number of people because eventually, there are specifics that aren’t relevant to the whole. The smaller context, however, allows for an exchange of ideas and a development of understanding through sharing.
After teaching the multitudes, Jesus always took his small group to a deeper level (Mark 4:1).
5. Community is a healing balm to the wounds of division. As Facebook attempts to counter the polarization of their experience, they are looking to smaller groups as a setting for people to find greater encouragement and solidarity.
As the church, we are reminded that relational settings can be safe spaces for broken hearts to mend. Community is a place of nourishment and nurturing.
6. The focus of building spiritual communities can strengthen real-world communities. Zuckerberg says, “Just like becoming friends with people on Facebook can strengthen real-world relationships, there is no reason to believe that building communities on Facebook and the Internet can’t also strengthen real-world communities.” The real fruit of church life is when things go off script. A crisis can’t be programmed, but when it happens it’s a window to evaluate spiritual maturity. If Mark Zuckerberg believes digital communities can spill over into real-world communities, the question for us becomes, “Do we believe Jesus’ model can do the same?”
Do we believe intentional community can produce organic community when spontaneous needs arise? Do we believe Christian community can overflow into the unbelieving community?
7. The church should be as fascinated and curious about biblical community as Facebook is. If a billion dollar, for-profit entity is working on a network of small communities based off of Jesus’ model, shouldn’t the church be doing the same, if not more? Shouldn’t we be mining strategies and data because we are hungrier for souls than a tech company is for money? If Jesus’ model is a good fit for a business, it’s a no-brainer to think it would be the perfect approach to build the Kingdom.
It’s great to see biblical community influencing the direction of social media. I’m excited to see it continue to influence trends in the church for the next decade and beyond. You could say that small groups are going viral.
This article originally appeared here.