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Blog » Why The Table Isn't Just a Christian Version of Facebook
Why The Table Isn't Just a Christian Version of Facebook
One of the biggest challenges we face is helping people to understand the difference between The Table and Facebook. Some of our detractors say people don't need another social network. They claim people might look around for awhile, but they'll soon head back to Facebook, and never return to The Table.
Now that we have thousands of real users using The Table in their churches, we're happy to report that concern is baseless. Our users are actually using The Table more and more as time goes on. For example, one church which launched in early December and now has over 1,200 people on their Table has seen prayer frequency on their Prayer Wall rise 45% between the end of December and today.
It is important to note that many of these same users that are returning over and over to The Table are adept in social media, having been long-time Facebook users. They continue to use Facebook, and they use it well. But they also feel the Table brings a whole new dimension to their church community.
Before we begin, we want it to be clear that we don't intend to insult Facebook in making these comparisons. Everyone in our office regularly uses and enjoys Facebook. We've all received real, personal value from their platform, they fill a particular need very well, and we're thankful for their pioneering work. When we say we're not trying to compete with or replace Facebook, it's not just lip service. We really mean it. They've done their job well.
Having said that, there are at least three profound differences between The Table and Facebook that we think really matter to the people who use The Table.
The Three Big Differences
- The fact that The Table is designed for "us" instead of "me" is a fundamental shift from the traditional social media mindset.
- The Table's atmosphere of privacy and intimacy causes different behaviors to arise that are not seen elsewhere online.
- The fact that The Table is designed specifically for the church directs what we create and helps us to define "success" differently.
Let's examine each of these in depth.
"Us" instead of "Me"
The first profound difference between The Table and Facebook is that Facebook is designed to be "me-centric" and The Table is designed to be "us-centric." We began our designs by centering around the shared space of the church ("us") rather than the isolated space of the individual ("me").
You're probably friends on Facebook with a few people from your church, but not all the people from your church. What that means is that all those people to whom you're not connected would never know if you've tried to post a prayer request to your Facebook Wall. And since they don't know you've posted that information, they can't use that opportunity to get to know you and serve you. They probably wouldn't even think to come find you on Facebook unless they met you in person. And if they did seek you out on Facebook before meeting you in person, it might even be considered a "creepy" thing to do.
By contrast, on The Table, people can choose to share new content (like a prayer request, discussion board topic, or a photo) with the whole church. Sharing information church-wide allows new introductions to strangers within your church to happen easily. And every time you meet a stranger on The Table, you know you have something in common with them already. You'll probably see them face-to-face in the foyer next Sunday. That's a powerful difference.
Two more great examples of The Table's "us-centric" design are our People Directory and Groups Directory. Discovering new people and groups at your church can't be done well on Facebook. Using Facebook to search for groups at your church (or even searching for your church itself) often leads to matches from other churches all over the world, and it's not clear which item in the search is the one you're looking for. In some cases, that problem causes multiple instances of the same Facebook group to be created, accidentally fracturing the community.
Let's say you were searching for your chuch's page on Facebook, in order to get to know other church members there. Once you finally found the right church, all the people who "like" that church on Facebook are listed as a single summed total (e.g. "1,832 People Like This") and you can only see six of those people at a time. That means meeting new people who go to your church via that church page on Facebook is a nearly-impossible chore.
The Table makes it easy. Every person in the church and every group visible to the whole church are all listed out in a convenient, searchable interface. No mistaken results from other churches. Every search result is immediately more relevant.
A Private Platform
The second profound difference is that on Facebook, everyone in the world is in the same giant, open room. Comments you make (depending on your account settings) could be seen by hundreds of millions of people. Furthermore, Facebook is growing more open at every turn. That's not a mistake on their part; a piece of their stated mission is to "make the world more open and connected."
By contrast, The Table is a comparatively closed system where the people in each church don't see and interact with everyone in every other church. That difference is not at all about being "safer" online when using The Table. It's about creating a space where intimacy, accountability, honesty and personal openness can happen. It's like the difference between sharing a highly vulnerable prayer request with your church family vs. sharing that same highly vulnerable prayer request on the microphone at your high school reunion. Those are very different groups of people, and there's a different purpose for each of them.
Designed for the Church
The third profound difference between Facebook and The Table is that Facebook's core functionality is made for 1-on-1 personal connections with acquaintances and friends, and personal "broadcasting." The Table's core functionality is made to allow people within the church to "live church together." Specifically, that means our built-in apps help people to live out a Christ-centered, gospel-centered life in the context of their church community.
How do our apps accomplish that lofty task? We'll give two examples.
First, we designed a Prayer Wall specifically to post and display prayer requests (including anonymous prayer requests!) from anyone and everyone in the church. It's certainly possible to post prayer requests to your church's Facebook page, but you'll notice very few people do it because it's awkward, overly-public, and it can't be anonymous when it needs to be. You might think people would be just as shy on their church's Table, but that's not what we've seen. In the last few months we've seen prayer requests by people expressing some of the most difficult emotions a person can experience. Calls for help that are only for the church's ears. We've seen stories of miracles and of God's work that are celebrated throughout the church. And through all this, connections are made between people that would have never happened otherwise. This kind of vulnerable sharing allows people go deeper in each others' lives in wonderfully sweet ways that strip away the facade of our Sunday morning silence.
Secondly, our upcoming Serve app is being built to match each person's giftedness and resources to real needs in their church. That idea wouldn't usually make sense outside the context of a local, physical community. The Facebook community is too global and too fractured to be used effectively or efficiently for that purpose. That's not a criticism of Facebook, it's just not what Facebook was created to be. That's why we don't agree when people see The Table and say our plan must be to "transfer behavior" from Facebook to The Table. These are behaviors that don't exist on Facebook. They can't be transferred because they weren't there to begin with.
Churches have suggested to us that the best thing about The Table is that it's not centered on what the church staff or leadership are doing or getting involved with. It's centered on the church being the church. It's centered on the community supporting each other through connection, prayer and service.
So, will non-social types come in droves to the Table? Will people actually find themselves drawn to physical community through this product? When a church experiences the kind of caring and considerate embrace that we’ve seen on The Table in recent months, the answer has been an unmistakable "yes."