Social media and religion: Missiological perspective on the link between Facebook and the emergence of prophetic churches in southern Africa

African research/ MIRH/ 29 August 2022

By Mookgo S. Kgatle

Executive summary

The link between social media and religion has attracted the interest of many scholars in the last decade. Lim and Putnam (2010:914), in their article ‘Religion, social networks, and life satisfaction’, state that social networks offer strong evidence for social and participatory mechanisms shaping religion’s impact on life satisfaction. Although the rise of online social networking appears to represent a new challenge to religious individuals and institutions, Verschoor-Kirss (2012:1) opines that it is wrong to assume that the interaction between religion and technology is always adversarial.

Generally, technology can enhance religious practices through the expansion and creation of religious communities. Verschoor-Kirss (2012:9) continues to say that it would appear, therefore, that to unilaterally set up religion and technology as incompatible fails to take into account the complex ways in which both support and erode the other. Technology can be beneficial to religion when it enhances the communal aspects of religion, and detrimental to religion when it degrades these communal aspects. While there are certainly other aspects of religion that technology might influence, it would appear that community represents the most important one. Given the fact that online social networks generally appear to enhance notions of community, it is perhaps inevitable that religious organizations and individuals will turn to them in ever-increasing numbers. Whether this turn towards digital communities might inadvertently erode physical communities is unclear, though certainly possible (Verschoor-Kirss 2012:9).

The relationship between religion and social media has been discussed most recently. Faimau and Behrens (2016:66), for example, analyzed the ways in which certain linguistic strategies and religious discourses used in Facebook posts, reviews and comments on a religion-based Facebook page create and shape the narratives of religious authority, religious identity and religious community. However, social networks do not offer only positive results; at times, it is a source of destruction. In fact, the use of social networks in religion has both advantages and disadvantages. Miller, Mundey and Hill (2013:227) mention sacred and secular influences on social networks’ involvement and social behaviors, such as being in school and participating in organizations that are more non-religious.

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