I don’t hear many church leaders talking about the conflict  between social networks and church values. Having recently led a product team in Silicon Valley, I think it’s time for us to re-examine our relationship to social networks for the good of our own lives as well as the broader church family.

(This article was inspired by a recent post on Medium: You’re Hardwired to Love Social Media.)

Reality Check

Let’s face it: Some of the social media products we use to communicate with our members are in direct conflict with the vision and values of the church.

This conflict poses ethical dilemmas for us as individuals and as communities. The way we handle conflicts is based on our belief and it shapes our identity as well as our future.

Churches protect their members privacy. Social networks sell private data to advertisers. And worse.

We all know that Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are designed to capture users attention so that they can sell their data to advertisers.  This is something that we as a society seem to accept for the value that these services bring. However, only now are we beginning to see the repercussions of this exchange.

Recent data breaches have exposed millions of Facebook user’s data to hackers. These breaches often result in identify theft and malicious targeting of vulnerable people.

Cambridge Analytica infamously used Facebook to influence political events. These parties, armed by personal data, shouted derisive narratives that have created a massive rift amongst people of differing views.

Though the social network’s blunders are well covered, it would be wrong to articulate any of these problems as uniquely Facebookian. We’ve arrived at a point where many of the apps shaping our digital lives have similar issues. They cultivate ambivalence in their users, which only makes everything worse.
— Damon Beres on Medium

Can we continue to justify communicating with our members on platforms that sell our members data in exchange for their attention?

How does this influence our member’s spiritual lives?

Churches encourage contemplation and prayer. Social networks promote device addiction

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are specifically designed using manipulative behavior hacks to increase the number of ‘Active Daily Users’. These companies boast this metric as their single most important measure of success. While this is good for their stock prices, it has different implications for end-users.

These behavior hacks can result in a psychological state of perpetual distraction where our brain’s endorphins fire constantly and it makes us feel like we’re at the precipice of gratification.

But the gratification never comes. So we keep using the device in pursuit of fleeting fulfillment. Device addiction is a very real and growing problem, especially for the younger generation.

This is especially devastating for young people who grew up with these devices and don’t know how to set healthy boundaries.

How can we promote spiritual discipline while communicating to our members on platforms that promote perpetual distraction?

If we are trying to meet the needs of the future generation, how can we pastor them in a way that cultivates a healthy relationship to God, to others and the world?

Churches encourage vulnerability. Social networks encourage people to pretend everything is fine.

The algorithms behind social network feeds are the same: Content that is liked, shared and commented on surfaces to the top. As humans, we have a tendency to engage with information that gives us pleasure and happiness. We also seek social validation from our peers.

As a result, social network feeds are filled with the best version of people’s lives. Vulnerability is an awkward no man’s land in public social networks.

How do we facilitate vulnerability in our physical communities when our digital communities encourage the opposite?

Churches safeguard vulnerable people. Social networks expose them

For me this is really where the tension between church values and social networks reaches critical mass. Churches invest an incredible amount of time and energy pastoring vulnerable people and making sure they are safeguarded from harm.

Social networks are notorious for exposing vulnerable people to predators. As more and more stories of pedophiles stalking vulnerable people surface, this begs the question:

When will this end? When will we as individuals take a stance against these networks and delete our accounts? When will we as churches do the same?

There has got to be a better way to build community in the digital age.

This isn’t good enough

Currently, the only platforms that churches currently have available to share the life of the church with their members are newsletters and social networks. This creates a genuine tension for church leaders:

> Would I actually stop using social networks because it's morally questionable? How else would I reach my community?

The future of discipleship in the digital age

At Cultivate we're working to build a private social network designed for church communities by church communities. This means you have an invitation-only network where you can invite trusted members of your congregation into the life of the church.

Everything is in one place. All your events, groups and teams. Your members now have an expedited path into the life of the church. No more standing around and wondering how to get involved. Help your members get connected to others based upon their interests and abilities. Help form groups around mission and unmet community needs.

Why we're different

Unless existing platforms, Cultivate is designed to facilitate genuine human relationships. It's all about meeting face-to-face. It's not about face-to-screen.

We are using behavior design to facilitate people getting out into the community and meeting one another. It's the same powerful research out of Stanford University that Instagram used to create an addicting product, except we're using it for another reason: Creating disciples.