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St Pixels invades Facebook
First Church of Christ Zuckerberg

Posted on 07 May 2011, 4:54

I went to church last week, which is rare for me these days, but then it was the ‘don’t even have to get out of your sofa’ church experience of St Pixels, the online church.

St Pixels has been around since 2005 (when it took over from Church of Fools), but it’s always been a website based community. Last week was different, though, as the church is flirting with the idea of moving its live services off its own sacred IP address and on to Facebook. This is rather fascinating, as I don’t think anyone’s tried it before.

Unlike the experience offered by online campus churches such as LifeChurch, which broadcast their services on the Net to a passive audience, St Pixels offers something potentially more satisfying and Web 2. Everyone who checks in for a service can see and chat with everyone else. And that makes the whole experience – including a cascade of typed prayers as well as rude asides during the sermon – a lot more human and churchlike.

On the down side, the readings at St Pixels are accompanied by pictures of puppies, sunsets and snowy trees, enough to make the hardened designers of Hallmark cards weep. But then that’s just like church too, or churches fixated on PowerPoint, anyway.

After the Facebook service, where I joined 22 other people for bells, prayers, readings, a sermon and a corporate typeathon of the Lord’s Prayer, I spoke to Mark Howe, a leader at St Pixels and the chief mover of the software side of things, about the Facebook initiative, which has been beta testing and launches properly next week at the Christian Resources Exhibition.

These days, he said, you need a multi-million dollar budget if you want to launch a new virtual world from scratch. But Facebook offers the chance to do something really effective and at low cost, because the infrastructure is all there.

‘There are already lots of people on Facebook,’ he says, ‘and there’s an open model of how to communicate with them. You write your code, plug it into Facebook, and amazingly it works. It’s the complete opposite of getting apps into the Apple Store.’

Who else is doing this? ‘I don’t think anyone else,’ says Mark. ‘Christians are setting up Facebook groups, of course, or micro-blogging about their ministry, but there’s only a limited amount of synergy and interaction.’

And looking at the wider commercial scene, no one is really offering a real-time experience where lots of people can interact at the same time. ‘If you look at the big Facebook games, such as Farmville, they only offer an individual experience. They’re not offering “I’m online, you’re online, we’re here together” – which is what we’re doing.’

Mark thinks the demand for what St Pixels is doing could be quite high. ‘Facebook users will be just two clicks away from joining a St Pixels service,’ he says. That’s a big change from what we currently offer, where you have to go to the website, find the right page, register, download the software and then log in for the service. We think people will like the idea that they can simply say to their Facebook friends, click this and come to church.’

The launch services on Facebook are next Tuesday, 10 May, at 1 and 3pm. But beta testing is continuing at the moment – check the St Pixels app on Facebook for details.

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