Abstract: This essay will investigate how Facebook has given Christian Young Adults aged between 18-26 years old, a space to express and re-define their identity as well as how it has been evolving across the social media platform to embrace the idea of a “third place” for these youth. This is shown by looking into how the young adults find their identity and why do they need to have an online identity. This is done by delving into the self-presentation and self- management theories. It also delves into why they have joined groups such as these to have a third place on social media. There have been reasons such as COVID – 19 that have allowed them to belong to a third place where they are free to talk about their beliefs with like- minded people.
Facebook as an online platform has helped give Christian young adults a place to identify with their self and their belief. The advent of the internet has rapidly changed the way religion is practiced and shared, and with the active voices of millions of online users, the information received by the user is new and varied. This has created a new stage for Christians and followers of other religions to practice, discuss, and promote their religious beliefs. Loss of identity amongst the Christian youth due to the rapidly changing socio-economic conditions have led to these youth trying to find themselves and recreate identities through social platforms – however this creates a different religious practice and mindset compared the age-old customs held by traditional worship.
Technology has changed the practice of Christianity and takes it away from its traditional roots. What was once a community activity that involved physically being present in church activities and groups is now online. Stroope’s article writes that strong social networks reinforced the practice and values of Christianity and its behavior which kept the follower’s faith and loyalty strong. (Stroope, 2011). Religious groups and communities complimented and filled the needs and wants of their own such as acceptance among the community and peers while having a strong connection to the church and its faith. With the digital revolution, online spaces were more accessible to sharing faith-based ideas and religious teachings.
There are over hundreds of different Christian young adults’ groups on Facebook and people join them for many varied reasons. In recent years since its creation Facebook has been used as a third place for people with the same ideas or beliefs to join an online group forum where they can share and post their ideas. Increased access and use of social media have allowed people to express their beliefs and opinions freely on online platforms. Religious activities for Christians include Bible Study, attending mass and sharing Faith in social outings. These activities, instead of meeting physically, have been changed to a digital platform.
Having an identity online is made of influences such as insecurity, self- promotion, and peer perception. These factors are for people who want to be able to have an online presence that others will like.
Mark Zuckerberg wanted Facebook to be an online platform where people would have an online identity that was linked with their physical identity. For him having more than one identity displayed that the person has a lack of integrity. Having multiple online identity contradicts who the users are. (Brusseau, 2019). However, the need to have online personalities and meet with standards shown by peers has led to users having two distinctive personalities – real life and online. Christian young adults may find what they were looking for online – a good religious community to part of. However, ideals and the teachings can vary to any extent, and this can influence a young adult to recreate their identity according to their beliefs. It can be a positive or negative influence is due to who the associate with.
A key factor that Facebook users follow is a self-presentation theory. This means that a person releases certain information that will help them portray themselves in a certain manner. This kind of self-motivation is fueled by other people’s presence as well as their ideas on how one should be on Facebook. Self-presentation can also be seen as a defensive move to make sure that people view the user that particular way (Baumeister & Hutton, 1987).
There are two types of self-presentational motivation, which includes pleasing the audience and to show to others how they need to be portrayed. While both two ideas are similar, they are in fact slightly different. Pleasing the audience means that the user understands or has some knowledge of who their audience is to please them. The audience is made up of people who might be in their immediate circle of friends or a larger group of people that are not their friends. The second idea is more about the user making sure their Facebook is what the audience wants to see or read. This can be done by understanding what their audience wants to see or read and tailoring their post to fit those criteria (Baumeister & Hutton, 1987). The negative side of having self-presentation, is that one cares too much about what others may see or believe and they lose who they really are. Insecurities about self-image and identity can create room for impulsive and irrational decisions – making such individuals vulnerable to extremist opinions or beliefs (Baumeister & Hutton, 1987).
In a Facebook group for Christians, pleasing the audience is something that needs to happen because belonging to the group means you need to understand and see from their standpoint. An example of a popular post in a Christian group is about living together without being married yet. While in any other conversations with other people this is something that one decides by themselves but in groups like this it is a trend that one must accept the group’s ideas that such things can be viewed as negative things. The other members of the group will also voice their own opinions but in reality, they will all roughly be saying the same answer. The reason that they conform to this idea is that they could be wrong in what they already know but because they belong to a group, they will understand it from the group’s point of view. They also must be able to reject any ideas that are not based on their religious beliefs such as not following the Bible.
A key factor is the impression management theory, where one can change how others view themselves to other people’s views. Facebook in a way uses this theory since a lot of people’s posts are about the first impression. This means that the viewers may unknowingly ask the users to change the posts depending on how many ‘Likes’ they receive (Dorethy et al., 2014).
The third place is a place that exists outside of work and home. It is a place that provides the people with a sense of belonging and a place to socialize with one another. (Oldenburg & Brissett, 1982). With this, Facebook is where like-minded people come together to express themselves and connect to other individuals whilst ensuring they belong to the same belief. Facebook groups can function as third place for people such as Christians Young Adults. The groups can provide them with a sense of belonging, a place to relax and connect with people. The reasons why these Facebook groups function as a third place is different for everyone. As an example, they might want to explore their connection to God, and they want to belong to religious communities that are not governed by traditional rules. By acting as third place these Facebook groups allow Christian Young Adults a place for them to share down their thoughts, share personal struggles and help others to find them closer to faith. It is through interactions with one another that people feel like they are part of a group that is for everyone who has that same belief.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared that COVID -19 was a global threat. During this pandemic, many emergency protocols were established such as lockdowns. This meant that people could not go on with their everyday lives such as attending church in person. The increase in social media use paved the way for an increase in Christian groups on the internet. People could attend services, have discussions, and share their ideas with similar minded people without risking the pandemic’s onslaught. Not having to physically be in their communities has changed the way religion is practiced and used. Young adults also found that these groups allowed them to be informed about the pandemic, however the reliability of this information has been questionable (Cinelli et al., 2020).
With the increase of the online groups for the Christian groups, many young adults have taken the chance to join other groups that are not the one that they belong to. This has happened quite a lot for Catholic young adults as many of the churches that they belong to do not have a Facebook or an online presence. Instead, these young adults have to find other churches that are on Facebook that will give them that spiritual teaching they require. Joining another church not their own can be daunting as they are not sure if they will receive what they are looking for. There is also the issue that there will be misinformation about the teachings. Joining another church means that you will be with strangers who they might not know but they have one common goal which is their belief and their ideas.
Not being able to be a part of these events in person can create insecurities among the people who follow the traditional customs. Traditional people are the patrons of the church where their teachings and service are done in a certain way. These insecurities can lead to them feeling lost in what they believe in as well as their own identity. For young adults who are religious and may have lost their social connection to their faith due to reasons such as moving location, Facebook groups have been a place that can provide that sense of security and belonging. This type of feeling has been present in their traditional community-based Christian lives. The lack of discipline is a result of less and less social embeddedness which can cause young adults to go astray when trying to figure out their identities.
The negative effect of this is that Christian young adults are more likely to believe in online groups that are closely resembles to what is familiar (Pauwels & Hardyns, 2018), and thus identify themselves with something else. The rise of American nationalism is intricately linked to Christian nationalism as the nationalistic ideals draw upon sayings in the Old Testament – ideas of denouncement of other faiths and idols. For a young adult from conservative background, the loss of identity due to community dispersion can re-emerge when joining a nationalist movement which emanates similar religious ideologies (Whitehead et al., 2018).
In conclusion, Facebook groups allow religious young adults a third place to be able to interact with another and a safe place to discuss their beliefs. This interaction is more based upon having an online identity that is made upon the factors of self-presentation and impression management. Both these theories are used on how users portray themselves on Facebook. The way that they portray themselves can lead up to how other members of the group see them.
Religious services often follow strict traditions and the divergence from traditional religious practices has changed the way young adults view themselves through the lenses of Christianity. The implications for this have both positive and negative effects and while for some social media has enhanced their outlook on religion and the world, for others it has been a place to find a sense of belonging.
Baumeister, R., & Hutton, D. (1987). Self-Presentation Theory: Self-Construction and Audience Pleasing (pp. 71-72). Springer-Verlag.
Brusseau, J. (2019). Ethics of identity in the time of big data. First Monday, 24(5). https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v24i5.9624
Cinelli, M., Quattrociocchi, W., Galeazzi, A., Valensise, C. M., Brugnoli, E., Schmidt, A. L., Zola, P., Zollo, F., & Scala, A. (2020). The COVID-19 social media infodemic. Scientific Reports, 10(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-73510-5
Dorethy, M. D., Fiebert, M. S., & Warren, C. R. (2014). Examining Social Networking Site Behaviors: Photo Sharing and Impression Management on Facebook. International Review of Social Sciences and Humanities, 6(2), 111–112. ResearchGate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/260285535_Examining_Social_Networking_Site_Behaviors_Photo_Sharing_and_Impression_Management_on_Facebook
Gramlich, J. (2019). 10 facts about Americans and Facebook. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/05/16/facts-about-americans-and-facebook/#:~:text=1%20Around%20seven-in-ten%20U.S.%20adults%20%2869%25%29%20use%20Facebook%2C
Oldenburg, R., & Brissett, D. (1982). The third place. Qualitative Sociology, 5(4), 265–284. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf00986754
Pauwels, L. J. R., & Hardyns, W. (2018). Endorsement for Extremism, Exposure to Extremism via Social Media and Self-Reported Political/Religious Aggression. International Journal of Developmental Science, 12(1-2), 51–69. https://doi.org/10.3233/dev-170229
Shafie, L. A., Nayan, S., & Osman, N. (2012). Constructing Identity through Facebook Profiles: Online Identity and Visual Impression Management of University Students in Malaysia. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 65, 134–140. ScienceDirect. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.11.102
Stroope, S. (2011). Social Networks and Religion: The Role of Congregational Social Embeddedness in Religious Belief and Practice. Sociology of Religion, 73(3), 273–298. JSTOR. https://doi.org/10.1093/socrel/srr052
Whitehead, A. L., Perry, S. L., & Baker, J. O. (2018). Make America Christian Again: Christian Nationalism and Voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election. Sociology of Religion, 79(2), 147–171. https://doi.org/10.1093/socrel/srx070
18 thoughts on “Christian Young Adults on Facebook”
Hi Amber, what a great paper!
Indeed, COVID-19 has changed the way society communicates and the way people go about their normal daily practices. Most of which have been taken for granted for many years.
Being a Christian myself, I witnessed first-hand the constant changes that took place and the efforts that members went too in order to ensure the congregation stayed connected. Our congregation much like many others delivered their services through zoom. Believe it or not, not all people in todays society have access to the internet. In which case, a group of members within our church volunteered their time, to downloading the service to USB’s and delivering it to those members houses which didn’t have access to internet/zoom. However, obviously all congregations have their fair share of traditionalists who would refuse to except online church. So, there were still some members that were “missing in action” for a while.
Furthermore, there was a lot of discussion running about leading up to the release of restrictions as to whether people would return to face-to-face church or would they just continue watching the recorded version which is uploaded every Sunday evening. I’m a real introvert (home body) and will admit, for that reason I myself found it hard to return to face-to-face church. But what made it more difficult was the social distancing, no singing, and no morning tea. In my opinion fellowship is a very important part of church and social distancing even when face-to-face took a lot of the true spirt of fellowship away from our congregation.
Facebook has always been a part of our congregation, even prior to COVID. You see, there are several bible study groups that meet within our congregation and we were lucky enough to be able to resume meeting after only a short while. This was due to living in rural NSW rather than the big smoke where the restrictions on visitors to one’s home were less invasive. However, the study group which im involved in has had their own Facebook messenger group set up for several years now. It is a helpful fast paced means of communication to our small private group. Such things as what study we will be looking at, what to bring for dinner and most importantly prayer points. I can honestly say our messenger group has strengthened our small bible study (which you could call a community) as it has brought us closer together, being able to share information and reach out when we need that extra bit of encouragement and/or support.
It’s interesting to hear you talk of religion and Facebook as a positive combination as you so often see slandering of peoples religious views on Facebook. For that reason, it’s not something you would thing a congregation would encourage their young adult to connect with. I also agree that false teaching can occur online if people don’t have adequate understanding and/or feel peer pressured.
In all I believe social media has the ability to positively impact the growth of ones faith, it provides them with a safe place to talk freely. But the individual also needs to feel comfortable in speaking about their faith face-to-face. This is the same for any topic such as sexuality, profession, body image and so…
Congratulations on writing so gracefully on a topic that is so often miss judged.
Thank you for reading my paper. I definitely agree with the points you have made.
I think your congregation has become more advanced than mine and I haven’t seen any Facebook presence or even have its services shared online through Zoom. This could be due to the patrons of my church are mainly made up of people who are in the older generation and think are more traditionists . It has forced many families with children and young adults like me to got ‘attend’ other church services to get that spiritual growth.
Great paper Amber! This was a very thought-provoking and insightful paper. I agree that Facebook is a great alternative to use during COVID19 as in-person connections are not something we can all do nowadays and connecting with individuals with the same spiritual interests and values is extremely important, especially during times like this. Through groups on Facebook, people are able to stay connected to their roots with the support of other like-minded people which is incredible.
You mentioned that Facebook groups allow religious young adults a third place to be able to interact with another and a safe place to discuss their beliefs and I believe this is a great alternative as well. For Christians, going to church is something that is extremely significant so being able to turn to Facebook or any social media to discuss their beliefs and keep their identity in tack through these platforms is amazing and very important. In times like this, we normally turn to the internet and this helps us stay connected despite any situations we may face.
Great paper! 🙂
Thank you for your comments and its great that you found it interesting.
I agree with your points especially the last point about how Christians who are using social media allows them to still have their identity online. I think that’s one point that users can easily forget is that we don’t have to have an online identity and real life identity but one where they are merged for other online users to see.
Thank you again.
This is Wen. I found your paper interesting and thought-provoking since I’m not a Christian, your paper is an eye-opener for me! I agree with you that Facebook as a social media platform is really important in strengthening the bonds between Christian members in the church, especially during this pandemic, it has no doubt that moving the community to an online environment is never easy but it is definitely a significant action to be taken.
I have read a scholar paper about a survey based in the U.S. which indicated that social media can be influencial and effective in promoting Christian for the purpose of outreaching and proselytization (Lee, 2017). As Kellher and Sweetser (2012) stated that “those who used social networking sites and social media tools (sans experimental assignments) were more likely to report feeling empowered to their current position, has greater perceived expertise, and fel greater prestige within their organizations.”
Do you think that the use of hashtags on Instagram would help in outreaching the Christian culture instead of organizing events on Facebook? Since a research has shown that the media engagement rates are 0.09% and 1.60% for Facebook and Instagram respectivey per post (Feehan, 2019), in other words, Instagram is more engaging than Facebook.
Lee, Y‐J. (2017, November 2). Is your church “liked” on Facebook? Social media use of Christian congregations in the United States. Nonprofit Management & Leadership. 2018; 28: 393– 398. https://doi-org.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/10.1002/nml.21291
Tom Kelleher & Kaye Sweetser (2012) Social Media Adoption Among University Communicators, Journal of Public Relations Research, 24:2, 105-122, DOI: 10.1080/1062726X.2012.626130
Feehan, B. (2019, February 15). 2019 Social Media Industry Benchmark Report. Rival IQ. https://www.rivaliq.com/blog/2019-social-media-benchmark-report/
Thank your for your comments and for those journal articles. They were fascinating to read and it has some good points.
To your question while I do agree that Instagram is more engaging than Facebook I believe groups such as Christian Young Adults, Instagram might make it a bit impossible to connect to. Unlike Facebook, Instagram can be only be really used on phones to upload photos or even videos.
I just found out that a person can go live on Instagram as the interface recently got changed. I am not sure how long you can be on live or if the platform allows the video to be stored after recording.
Kopackova and Bilkova ( 2014) article does mention about how in the future mobile learning ( m- learning ) will be the new way of the teaching using social media especially Instagram. Even though its been 7 years since the article got published and there has been no m-learning it might happen in a couple of years.
With the way Instagram is always getting new updates I am very sure that Facebook will definitely be a social media of the past but currently Instagram is not ready.
We will have to see what other social media apart from Facebook that can have groups such as Christian Young Adults.
Kopackova, H., & Bilkova, R. (2014). Mobile devices in learning — Are students ready for the change? IEEE Xplore. https://doi.org/10.1109/ICETA.2014.7107546
Thanks for such a great paper, Amber! It has been an interesting period with Covid 19 and the church at large. Personally, it was interesting to see the way outreach changed, particularly coming from an extremely traditional church. Though I can only speak from my personal experience, it was heartening to see online services and such, being embraced by the larger church family. Of course, it was the younger generation, particularly this age group, who impacted how our church family functioned throughout. It is encouraging that something as simple as Facebook has been a great encouragement for so many young people. The last year really reinforced that reality. For me personally, going back to ‘real life’ church has become more of a challenge when it has become so much more easier to engage within social media platforms. But to this end, it has been interesting to note, after reading your paper and strolling through my Facebook feeds, that this prior facebook connection has strengthened the younger generation of my church. I was fascinated by the ‘self-presentation’ theory in pleasing the audience, it has allowed this connection for young adults, both online and in fostering the same in the real world. It opens discussion and helps in understanding the values and morals we uphold as Christians, the why we believe what we believe.
Thanks for reading my paper and am glad you enjoyed it.
I agree its the younger generation particularly that have used Facebook to keep the Church still open even through trying times like the Covid-19. I also feel that in a way they are the ones who are teaching the more older but traditionalist patrons how to still ‘attend services’.
I think with people turning to internet for answers why can’t we have groups dedicated for faith and religion if it helps strengthen their belief.
There are people who are looking for answers spiritually, but they are mislead by other who also give their own opinions on Facebook.
When you ask a question, they might give answers against what your church has taught you, and you can be swayed by them and think that it might suit your style.
It is a good idea that a church should have a Facebook account that would represent themselves.
When a church doesn’t have an account, the youths go looking around for other church groups online.
Thanks for reading my paper. I definitely do agree that sometimes Facebook can be a place where misinformation can be troublesome and that people only go on it to ask for help when churches themselves cannot help.
I totally agree Amber. This is an insightful article to read. Facebook is currently one of the major platforms currently attracting millions of users around the world during this covid situation. Anyone can take advantage of Facebook to maintain a good relationship with others who identify with certain tastes, products, interests etc. It’s definitely a great tool for young Christians around the world to connect and interact with each other.
Thank you for reading my paper and am glad that you have found this to be a great read.
Very thought provoking Amber. I wonder if the lack of tradition in Facebook groups, compared to physical churches, allows for a wider range of outcomes based on the individuals motivations. Individuals motivated by humility will likely find groups that promote authentic connection and transformative growth. Whereas, individuals motivated by their confirmation bias will find insular, separatist groups that serve as an echo chamber for their existing beliefs.
Thank you for reading my paper and am glad that you found it thought provoking.
Thank you again.
This is a very interesting article to read, you have made some points on why people use Facebook, and how Christians young adults use Facebook to their own advantage. The COVID 19 has also made the information in the article possible such as, online church services.
Great to read you paper!
Thank you for reading my paper and am glad that you found it interesting. Covid 19 pushed people to explore how to be part of the religious community even if they have moved to an online platform.
I agree. Facebook is a great alternative to in person connections, as a platform to connect with like minded individuals, especially in a pandemic world like today.
Thank you for your reading my paper