Facebook Getting Involved in Religion, Signs Contract with Megachurch as Platform’s Director of ‘Global Faith Partnerships’ Reveals What’s Coming

Big Tech social media giant Facebook is partnering with religious organizations as part of what seems like its goal to make the platform a virtual home for religious communities.

According to a Sunday article in the New York Times by faith and politics reporter Elizabeth Dias, ahead of Hillsong Atlanta’s opening, developers working for Facebook regularly met with Pastor Sam Collier to explore ways through which — in Dias’ words — the platform can help churches “go further farther on Facebook.”

Then in June, according to the Times, the church put out a statement saying it was “partnering with Facebook,” and since then, started posting livestreams of church services exclusively on Facebook.

“They are teaching us, we are teaching them,” Collier told the Times. “Together we are discovering what the future of the church could be on Facebook.” Collier did not elaborate further in his conversation with the Times, saying he had signed a nondisclosure agreement with the Big Tech giant.

In recent years, the platform has been building partnerships with religious organizations of varying sizes, from tiny congregations to huge churches from denominations such as the Assemblies of God and Church of God in Christ.

The coronavirus pandemic provided an excellent opportunity for the social media platform to improve its outreach toward religious groups as restrictions and lockdowns forced even churches that traditionally did not livestream services to do so either through Facebook, Zoom or YouTube.

Now that the pandemic is rolling to an end, the company, according to the Times, hopes “to become the virtual home for religious community, and wants churches, mosques, synagogues and others to embed their religious life into its platform, from hosting worship services and socializing more casually to soliciting money. It is developing new products, including audio and prayer sharing, aimed at faith groups.”

Some of the products Facebook has in the pipeline with religious organizations in mind include “audio and prayer sharing,” according to the Times.

“I just want people to know that Facebook is a place where, when they do feel discouraged or depressed or isolated, that they could go to Facebook and they could immediately connect with a group of people that care about them,” Facebook’s global faith partnerships director, Nona Jones, said during an interview with the Times.

“Faith organizations and social media are a natural fit because fundamentally both are about connection,” Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg told the outlet.

“Our hope is that one day people will host religious services in virtual reality spaces as well, or use augmented reality as an educational tool to teach their children the story of their faith,” Sandberg said.

According to the Times, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Life.Church and the Church of God in Christ have seen their leaders sign contracts with Facebook and/or access some of the tools in development that the platform has tailored for religious organizations.