Facebook is reportedly engaged in an effort to form partnerships with faith groups as it rolled out a new prayer tool for users in the U.S.
The story: The company has been trying to partner with religious organizations for years, the New York Times reports, and the coronavirus pandemic gave it a unique opportunity to conduct concerted outreach to the religious community, who had little choice but to take most of their operations online.
According to Reuters, Facebook provided churches and other places of worship with ‘starter kits” that included phone holders and similar equipment that could help faith groups live-stream their services. The company even created a faith resource website as well as an Interfaith Advisory Council to hold meetings with faith leaders.
Facebook now reportedly wants to become the virtual home for religious groups and worshippers where they can live stream services, offer prayers, and even solicit funds. As part of that effort, the company recently introduced a feature that allows users to ask others to pray.
One example: Facebook regularly met with pastor Sam Collier before the opening of the megachurch Hillsong in Atlanta, which took place in June. At the time, the church announced that it is “partnering with Facebook” and streamed its services on the platform exclusively.
Collier told the Times that he cannot reveal details about his talks with Facebook because he signed a nondisclosure agreement. He said that they discussed ramping up faith groups’ presence on the platform.
“They are teaching us, we are teaching them,” he told the publication. “Together we are discovering what the future of the church could be on Facebook.”
What Facebook is saying: “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,” said Facebook’s global faith partnerships director, Nona Jones.
“Faith organizations and social media are a natural fit because fundamentally both are about connection,” Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg added. “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.”