Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently sparked controversy when he said that his creation, the world's largest social network, is similar to a church in the way both create community and bring people together.
Speaking in Chicago during the first Facebook Communities Summit on June 23, Zuckerberg appeared to suggest that communities created by Facebook users can serve the same needs as traditional communities, including churches, according to CBN News.
He said he wants "Facebook's whole mission" geared towards creating "meaningful communities" on his social media platform, which has two billion users.
"Whether they're churches, sports teams or neighborhood groups, they give us the strength to expand our horizons and care about broader issues," Zuckerberg said.
He defended his call for creating Facebook communities by citing studies that allegedly proved that the more connected people are, the happier they feel and the healthier they are.
"People who go to church are more likely to volunteer and give to charity—not just because they're religious, but because they're part of a community," he said.
Christian publications interpreted Zuckerberg's remarks in different ways, according to Crux. Some said he was apparently suggesting that the social network should draw inspiration from the church.
However, others said he seemed to be envisioning a future where Facebook replaces the church.
Dr. Corne Bekker, the Dean of Regent University's School of Divinity, is one of them.
Speaking to CBN News, Bekker said Zuckerberg misunderstands the "nature of the Church."
"What makes the Church the Church, is not community," he said. "It is the presence of God."
Bekker said Facebook communities can never take the place of churches.
"When we simply build communities of interest, those communities cannot last. There's not enough there to keep people together," he said.
In his speech, Zuckerberg also noted that church membership is dropping. Bekker agrees with him on that point, saying the reason for this is precisely because congregations are not focusing on God's presence in their midst.
Bekker said the Church is also different from other "community organizations" because it is the place where people worship God, which cannot be said of Facebook communities.
Although Bekker believes Zuckerberg misunderstands the Church, the Christian academic welcomes the Facebook founder's desire to form "meaningful communities."
"I think we as a Church should go to Mark and say 'yes, we'll take hands with you, we can work together, we can indeed do this together,'" he said.