Facebook is always looking for new ways to engage more users, and they have been slowly rolling out and testing a new one for its Group application, called “prayer posts.” Faith leaders’ reactions have run the gamut from wary to enthusiastic.

Prayer posts can be turned on by a group administrator, and it both prompts prayer requests plus provides for a “reaction” button that indicates that someone viewing the prayer request will be praying. You can also leave a comment or word of encouragement, like any other Facebook post.

The impetus for the new feature turns out to be COVID-19 and the challenges it presented to the normal ways of doing church we were all used to.

“Our mission to give people the power to build community extends to the world’s largest community; the faith community,” Nona Jones, head of Global Faith Partnerships at Facebook, said in a written statement to Religion News Service.

“As a local church pastor with my husband, I know very well how disruptive the last year has been for people of faith and the houses of worship that serve them,” Jones said. “This is why we are committed to finding ways to build the tools that help people connect to hope on Facebook.”

Various faith leaders around the country were interviewed recently by The Associated Press about the new Facebook feature. The Rev. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas expressed enthusiasm for prayer posts.

“Facebook and other social media platforms continue to be tremendous tools to spread the Gospel of Christ and connect believers with one another — especially during this pandemic,” Jeffress said. “While any tool can be misused, I support any effort like this that encourages people to turn to the one true God in our time of need.”

The Rev. Bob Stec, pastor of St. Ambrose Catholic Parish in Brunswick, Ohio, was more circumspect. On the positive side, he sees the new feature as a positive affirmation of people’s need for an “authentic community” of prayer, support and worship.

But, he cautioned that while there are positives to the feature, “it is not necessarily the deeply authentic community that we need. We need to join our voices and hands in prayer. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder with each other and walk through great moments and challenges together.”

Throughout the pandemic, churches used social media, including Facebook Live, to broadcast their worship services and stay connected to members. Facebook has been actively courting relationships with the faith community since 2017, according to The New York Times, working to create apps such as daily Bible verses or ways to donate to ministries.

Still, we should never let Facebook replace the body of Christ or forsake meeting together for worship and fellowship. Scripture is clear on that point – see Hebrews 10:25.

Wilfredo De Jesús, a pastor and the general treasurer for the Assemblies of God, told The Times he was grateful for Facebook, but ultimately, he said, “we want everyone to put their face in another book.”

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