Facebook Live has become a digital pulpit for a growing number of pastors, priests and other religious leaders.
A notification pops up on Tara Gifford’s iPhone: God is “live” and streaming on Facebook. In biblical times, the Father Almighty spoke to Moses through a burning bush. But now Gifford, a 38-year-old emergency nurse in Fairborn, Ohio, has a glaring LCD screen to save her soul. Her news feed is her gateway to heaven.
Praise be, at last you can go to church in your pajamas. Facebook Live, the social media juggernaut’s video broadcasting tool, has become a digital pulpit for a growing number of pastors, priests and other religious leaders, who are live-streaming services, interspliced with passages from holy scriptures and morsels of wisdom from “the man upstairs.” The Church of the Way at Brookhaven, in Mississippi, broadcasts its hour-long Sunday service to 200 devout Facebook followers, whereas the Crossway Baptist Church in Australia entices approximately 70,000 subscribers with clickbait-y headlines like “Jesus the Game Changer.” Back in Ohio, the Fairborn United Methodist Church live-streams lunchtime recaps of Sunday’s service as well as weekly video teasers for upcoming sermons. Soon, perhaps, we’ll all be kneeling before our computers for Bible study.
Going “live” is just the latest instance of social media’s conquest of the church. The last few years have shown a rapid rise in congregational use of Facebook: More than 70 percent of churches use the social networking site to connect with their worshippers, compared to just 57 percent in 2011, according to a 2013 report called “The Rise of the @Pastor” from the Barna Group, an evangelical Christian polling firm in Ventura, California. Although Facebook declined to tell OZY how many places of worship are using Facebook Live, its spokespeople readily pointed us to a list of spiritual celebrities, from Rick Warren (founder of the eighth-largest American church) to Justin Welby (the principal leader of the Church of England), who are using the service. For the estimated 6 billionreligious worshippers around the world, the advent of Facebook Live could be a new awakening. Recently, Gifford used her iPad to tune into Facebook Live while schlepping away at work, camping in West Virginia, heading to the beach in Maryland and vacationing in France — #blessed.