Corporations from social startups to fitness crazes have taken notice. In addition to the solidarity found in sweating out it at yoga boutiques, Crossfit, and SoulCycle, there’s the communal draw of eating together with the Dinner Party, a network that connects 20-something and 30-somethings in major cities to discuss loss and grief over a meal.
Harvard’s Casper ter Kuile and Angie Thurston discovered six common themes corporations use to tap in on this new search for meaning: community, personal transformation, social transformation, purpose-finding, creativity, and accountability.
Fellow CEOs may not be as forthright as Zuckerberg, but the way they are forming their corporations—or the way they envision the future of their enterprises—mimic much of the inspiration and structure people used to get from church.
Longing for guidance and accountability, many nones pursue wisdom not from pastors but from peers and yogis. They meet every day not at the morning Bible study but at the local Crossfit box. At my local Crossfit, I’ve noticed they borrow many practices from the church. They have their own “liturgy”—a workout of the day followed by boxes around the country; “saints” in the many of the workouts named after individuals who lost their life in the military, police, or firefighting; and “discipleship,” as coaches guide you to the right form. They offer accountability; you have to reserve a spot in class, pay if you don’t show up, and record your progress online for all to see.
A Christian who teaches yoga in Vancouver recently wrote about a similar trend: “Churches and other formal religions struggle getting people to commit to regular attendance. Yoga studios don’t have this problem.” People don’t realize that the spiritual experiences and communities they are searching for can actually be found in churches themselves, she said.
Zuckerberg is right that Facebook has provided meaningful connections that the local church sometimes struggles to build among its disparate and busy members. While our newsfeeds may be filled with the highly polished versions of our friends’ lives, groups from neighborhood networks to personality type groups, provide the opportunity to take the mask off and divulge our weaknesses and innermost thoughts. In the best cases, we rally around one another, support one another, pray for one another, and provide respect and space for various viewpoints.
Among reasons young people leave the church, up to 20 percent cite a “lack of connection” with other believers, which suggests that learning how to build community—real relationships—is one of the most important tasks a church can undertake. Church leaders recognize this, and now emphasize the need for organic and authentic communities in their congregations, to the point that they’ve become missional buzzwords.
But for all that Zuckerberg gets right, there’s one thing he gets wrong: Facebook, nor any other form of social media or any other form of organization, can replace the church.
As faithful Christians know, church is not the local building on street corners around the world. The word church comes from the Greek word ekklesia, literally defined as “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly.” In the Christian sense of the word, ekkelsia simply means “the people of God,” the people who profess belief in the Lord Jesus Christ and who are therefore the visible representation of God on earth. The church is not the building; it is the people who populate it.