Is Facebook hindering our community?
As of this morning, we have 300 pending requests to join the Unchurching Facebook group. 

Admittedly, we try not to let the waiting line get that long. But we got a bit behind during the holidays, plus some members of the admin team are battling sickness (and even worse) right now.

However, merely looking at how much our group has grown this past month (meaning, looking at the membership total) doesn't accurately reflect how much work our moderators have actually done.

After all, we started the month with 4403 members, and are currently at 4432. Therefore, some simple math would make it seem like we only added 29 new numbers, right?

But we actually added over 3x that many people. You see, what's not reflected by our steadily growing membership numbers are how many folks leave the group every month. Here's what our growth really looked like.

We began the month with with 4403 members, then about 20 trickled out. We processed a bunch of new requests and added 55 new people. But then we lost 14, added 39, then lost 31, until we arrived at the end of the month with our 4,432 current members.

You see, even though our Facebook group experiences very steady growth (it's basically tripled in size since this time last year), we also experience very steady losses too. So, even though we ended up with a net increase of 29 new members, we actually added nearly 100 new folks!

What's the big deal?

Okay, but are these kinds of losses a problem? Who can say for sure? I'm sure a large number of folks pop in to see what Unchurching is about, then leave after satisfying their curiosity. I hope others simply got whatever it is they needed before moving on.

However, I also suspect there are a few folks who left who might have stayed if we were able to organize and moderate our conversations a bit differently. What I'm saying is: the limited tools we have available through Facebook groups might actually be hurting our community.

Here's the deal

Currently, all posts are dumped into a single news feed which is constantly moving, like a conveyor belt. Whenever you submit a post, for a brief shining moment, it appears at the top of the group's news feed. But the moment another member submits a post, your post will be driven down the belt. As more posts are submitted, the conveyor keeps going.

However, there's still hope your little post won't have a short shelf life! If another member reads and replies with a comment, or a clicks a reaction button (love, like, hate, etc.), then Facebook takes notice.

And very often, your post will get promoted back to the top of the constantly moving news feed. I think the theory behind this makes sense: the hope is that such a system allows the best content to rise like cream to the top of the news feed.

The problem is: this system still treats every conversation as something with a shelf life. Sure, a bunch of initial engagement might extend the shelf life of your post, kinda like a hit play experiencing an extended run.

But eventually all the activity will die down. And when that happens, your amazing post (and all the conversation it generated in the comments of the post) will begin to slip in rank and slip into obscurity.

How this hurts the group

Maybe this isn't a problem for certain types of groups. For instance, if this were a group about current technology, current music, or movies, or if we were discussing news events or last night's episode of some TV show, then discussion topics wouldn't require a long shelf-life because no one will want to have these same conversations next week.

But in our case, its the exact opposite. Every time a new member joins the group, they have all the same questions every other member did when they first joined the group. And honestly, I think a lot of our members really enjoy answering these questions. After all, it's very validating to go from having nothing but questions to being able to share a few answers.

But once you've grown beyond the "Unchurching 101" questions, what does your involvement in this group look like? Personally, I think that's where a lot of our declining membership comes from. After all, who would stick around a book club if everyone was always reading and discussing only one book?

Also, how can our community, as a whole, ever progress? If the group's news feed is always dominated by some of the more urgent (yet still more basic) questions, how can the group conversation ever move forward?

Obviously, we don't want to shut down new members for asking questions we've already answered for ourselves. But those of us who are further along in the process need a place to discuss where we are in the process with others who are at a similar place in the process.

What might the solution look like?

Wouldn't it be great if we could have multiple conversations running at the same time, without competing for the same screen real estate at the top of a single new feed? Wouldn't it be great if conversations had no shelf life?

And what if we had a way to organize all the amazing info being shared and turn it into some sort of ongoing resource, some kind knowledge base? What would be possible if we could actually build on each other's knowledge?

These are the kind of questions that have been plaguing me for months as I've been scouring the internet, looking at various tools and services. (In fact, the problems outlined above are only some of the logistical problems with Facebook groups that I hope we can solve.)

Sign up now for a sneak peek!

For those who don't know, I'll be discussing some possible solutions—along with new unchurching projects and events I'm planning for 2018—when we do our first Patreon video call for our first 100 patrons.

Want to be part of this call? Great news! It's only $2 a month to become a patron (unless you choose to give more, of course). The only bad news is: as of this writing, there are only 22 seats left to make the initial 100 cutoff (the video stream will only allow 100 guests).

This past year was a really exciting year for our community. But I think this next year is going to blow it out of the water. To get a small glimpse of what I'm so excited about, simply sign up on the unchurching Patreon page to become a patron and join me on this video call! Hope to see you there!