Based on the results nearly a year later, the answer to that question is a resounding yes.
Sears launched the “One Body of Christ Experiment (all Christians of Facebook)” group last March. Twenty-four hours later, the group had 356 members. As the group approaches its one-year anniversary, it has more than 770,000 members and growing.
“What we thought when we started it is that there are so many divisions in Christianity by denominations, by race, by income and other things,” Sears said. “There’s an old quote that says, ‘The most segregated hour of the week is 11 a.m. on Sunday morning.’
“The Internet is very good at connecting a lot of different people in a lot of different ways. If millions of buyers and sellers can get together on sites like eBay, why not connect the body of Christ and its diverse backgrounds?”
Sears, a 36-year-old MIT graduate, sees “One Body of Christ” as a natural outgrowth of his business, Boston-based TechMission. TechMission is an umbrella organization designed to connect people with organizations and communities that require additional services. Included on the site are urban ministry programs and the ability to tap into grant monies for social development projects.
“One Body of Christ” features a link to one of TechMission’s groups, Christianvolunteering,org. Sears said in the past year Christianvolunteering.org has connected 6,000 volunteers to more than $3 million in assistance in large part to the Facebook exposure.
To handle the heavy traffic on the board, Sears has enlisted the services of one of his employees, Rakiesha Chase, as a full-time group administrator. With her and two other people shepherding the discussion, the task is massive.
“When you have 5,000 topics on the board with anywhere from 10 to 100 comments each in a discussion, it becomes quite a bit to manage,” Sears said. “How do you manage a crowd of 300,000 people with three people as moderators? We do the best we can.”
Not all of the group’s discussion board users are Christians. Atheists often engage Christian members in debates and Sears has had several requests from members to drop atheist posts from the board.
“I’ve heard people on both sides of this issue,” Sears said. “I’ve heard some Christians say the atheists shouldn’t be on there. I’ve had atheists plead with me to keep them on there, that this is the place where they’ve been able to have some of the best conversations on these topics that are important to them. We can argue and disagree, but through this dialog, people can grow.”
As passionate as Sears is about his business, it’s matched by his impression of the impact technology and the Internet can have on uniting Christians. He analogized the growth of online Christian communities to the First Reformation of Protestant churches gaining hold apart from the Catholic Church. Technology provides a level of interconnectivity Christians need to embrace, he said.
“What if you were able to line up all the Christian lawyers globally who are taking on the issue of human trafficking?” Sears asked. “You take an issue like that and match the resources up with the people who need them.”
He hopes those connections can help erode what he termed “social leprosy” that divides Christians over denominational and socioeconomic lines.
“With divisions like race, denominations and ideology, there are resources that without connections now go through a very small funnel,” Sears said. “This is where you can have a lot of mainstream denominations ignoring what other groups are doing. Say you have a black church with great needs that can use the Internet to connect them with resources such as Web design, legal and medical help.”
That close relationship between Christians of all stripes that Sears envisions is captured by the striking illustration on the board. It is a black-and-white drawing of Jesus wearing the crown of thorns and hugging a child. There are red marks of blood on his forehead, hands and side to show the torture of the crucifixion.
Sears said the artwork came from a poster given to him with a paraphrased caption that Jesus is holding humanity together in his pain and sacrifice.
“That picture is really what ‘One Body of Christ’ is about,” Sears said. “We as Christians need to reach out and touch one another.”
One Body of Christ Experiment (all Christians on Facebook) Group: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=25394770723
Christian Volunteering: http://www.christianvolunteering.org