Social media is about more than building audiences and can be used to build God’s Kingdom, according to Nona Jones, Facebook’s director of global faith-based partnerships. Jones, whose role at Facebook allows her to interact with different religious organizations, believes the Church’s responsibility to its people is discipleship, yet Christians often think about church only in terms of the building in which people congregate in each Sunday.
“The paradigm for the Church today is often ‘Come, follow Jesus at church on Sunday at 11,” she said. Yet in Jesus’ ministry on earth, church was not something that occurred at a particular time on a particular day. Instead, she explained, “Church was a community of people who cared about the Gospel and cared about the good news and took the good news with them wherever they went.”
Jones, who co-pastors Open Door Ministries in Gainesville, Florida, with her husband, encouraged attendees to see beyond their Sunday morning gatherings and return to “a biblical model of church that never involved an address, but only involved willing hearts,” she said, reminding listeners that “Jesus taught people, equipped people, healed people, prayed for people, and set people free as He found them along His journey.”
In a recent Gallup survey Jones cited, research states that two-thirds of churches in America are declining or plateauing in attendance, and more than 80 percent of people are not attending church in person or at all. If people are not attending church in person, Jones asked churches to think about how they can reach that 80 percent. She used her session to explore how churches can use social media to develop disciples both within and outside their church walls.
“There’s a vast sea of people who are searching but who won’t drive to a building to find what they’re looking for because they don’t even know what they’re looking for,” she said.
Jones’ job at Facebook has helped her envision what using social media to drive conversations and relationships would look like within a church and religious context. “The goal is discipleship,” she said. This involves seeing social media as more than a tool for building an audience, and instead using it to build followers of Jesus.
“It doesn’t matter how many followers you have if those followers aren’t following Jesus through you,” Jones said. “We’re conduits. It’s not about the size of our following. The question is: ‘How are we helping people mature in their faith who are connected to our ministries?’ That’s what social media is about.”
Discipleship, she argued, does not occur when people enter a building and “watch a program.” It occurs when “we are in relationship with other people, challenging each other. And these are the kinds of relationships we can have when we leverage social media for ministry.”
She encouraged people to use Facebook groups as a primary tool to reach people, while also emphasizing taking relationships from online to offline in person can make all the difference in discipleship.
“God wants to do something new with social technology that we’ve never comprehended before,” she said.