Cumberland First Baptist Church

Two Peas in a Pod

Examining one church community divided online into two separate communities with individual goals



After low service attendance, the Cumberland First Baptist Church Outreach team decided to make a website for Cumberland in hope of gaining new members. I examined what changes to church attendance and community, if any, were apparent after the creation of the website and the development of this new digital community. Two main themes emerged: first, the communication between the church community became more outspoken online, through links to Facebook which shows Community Building. Second, the sole purpose of the Cumberland First Baptist website seems to be to inform non-members about the goals, values, and beliefs of Cumberland and thus, to gain more members.

Main Points/ arguments

  • The biggest difference in the CFBC website versus its Facebook group counterpart is that instead of creating a community for its members, it serves rather as a persona for the church. It builds up the church but only serves those who are not already members, thus eliminating an interactive online community, like Facebook does.
  • Both the original CFBC website and it's Facebook link appeal to already and potential members. The the "move" in this particular series of online communities is "welcoming," and the purpose of that move is to get more members and visitors to produce a welcoming, inclusive ethos.
  • Perhaps we can argue that members of the online community are more outspoken on Facebook because not only are they trying to recruit new members, but the Facebook links also serves as a tool for communication between them outside of the typical Sunday service. They are able to more easily talk about topics, issues, subjects of interests, share news and post about events.


Cumberland First Baptist Church website

Cumberland First Baptist Church

One of the first quotes seen on the webpage is such:

“We are a place that seeks fresh practices of worship and spirituality and new connections between life and faith. Perhaps the best way to get to know us is to join us for coffee at 9:30 am Sunday mornings and then stay for our 10:00 am worship service. Please join us.”

The Home page of the Cumberland First Baptist Church attempts here to introduce the church as well as give a brief idea of its purpose while providing information about attending services. It is a welcoming message. The “move”(Harris) here is the church using the website to get more members and visitors. 3 After interviewing Thomas Wyatt Watkins, my father, and the pastor of Cumberland First Baptist Church, this point is more supported. I asked which part of the website they focused and worked most on for potential viewers to see and which part of the website is the most
important part of the website. His response was:

The main page is by far the most important, because it holds all the new event-oriented material, often with links to other pages or sites that inform persons how to participate. It is also the first impression the viewer gets. Viewers usually only give you an average of 8 seconds to “impress” them enough to dig deeper into your site.

As shown above, the most important aspects of the church are described on the home page of the website. Watkins argues that the website’s homepage needs to “impress” the viewer initially to capture their interest so that they keep browsing through the site. This website is aimed towards persons looking for a place to worship with the same values and ideas that it has. It is made to attract people to the church so that they want to visit. 4Watkins explains that:

The main purpose of the site was to provide persons a venue for exploring the congregation without having to “church shop” in person. More specifically, as a progressive and welcoming and affirming (of lgbt persons) faith community located in a more conservative setting, we have thought of our website as an ideal tool for “leap-frogging” geography in order to connect with demography. It seems to have worked.

Lastly, I asked Watkins about whether or not he felt that the goal of the website had been accomplished. He replied confidently:

Yes, the goal has been largely accomplished, in the sense that most of the people who find and co me to relate to our congregation first discovered us on the web…we have conducted informal surveys, and we always ask newcomers how they have found us. Our webmaster also gives us date on the site activity.

Cumberland First Baptist Church Facebook group

The website itself serves to provide new church “shoppers” the information they need in order to decide if Cumberland is the right place for them before having to visit the church in person, saving them time and effort. Contrastingly, the Facebook page seems to be aimed more towards the already-members of Cumberland. 5 It is a place to share information about events, and personal news. I asked Watkins about his opinion about whether or not Facebook serves as an efficient tool for communication for the church. He responded:

“Yes, Facebook serves the church community, as an increasing number of persons, ranging in age from 18 to 60 or so, are avid Facebook users. A good number of members communicate with one another weekly and almost exclusively on Facebook.”

The Facebook link is not the first thing the viewer is guided to see; however, after visiting the Facebook link, it seems that it has almost replaced the website in popularity. When visiting the Facebook page, one can see a difference in language. The posts are much more informal and it is open to the members for discussion. Members, not just church leaders are able to write their own news on the wall of the page, creating a tighter community. 6An example of this is below when Jackie Smiley-Stevens wrote on the Cumberland First Baptist Facebook wall:

Hello Friends! I just wanted to pop on to tell you that our friends Denis and Niki Reeves that attend CFBC had their precious baby girl today! She is absolutely beautiful! Her name is Reese and she weighed a whopping 5 lbs. 6 oz.!! So TINY!! And 18 in. long! Please add the new Mommy and Baby to your prayers today! (and Daddy too!)

In this case, the Cumberland First Baptist Church online function serves as a means of revealing and sharing more personal information important to that community. A post such as this one reveals how tight nit the community is even on Facebook. The user’s “move” (Harris), is to inform the community of her news. The Facebook link provides that option, whereas the Cumberland Page itself is not open to outside comments. It is more formal and professional.

A problem thus arises with the communication on Facebook. If someone posts something opinion based that is not necessarily the opinion of the church, conflict may arise if the material posted is offensive or controversial in any way. There is no filter on Facebook, whereas the website for the church is only accessible to a few people to edit. 9

Another post is from Debbie Spivey Noffke who shared on the Facebook page her feelings about an event from the previous night:

“What a fun evening last night at the Craft Party and Off The Beaten Path Coffeehouse. My sides hurt this morning from so much laughing. WHEN IS THE NEXT ONE?????” Underneath her post were comments from other members who also attended the Coffeehouse. Jannell Franklin commented “It was fun!” Lisa Deckert commented “Thanks to EVERYONE who participated!!!!! You all ROCK!!! :)”

These are all very informal conversations which are written as though the person was speaking the words. The tone, caps, and enthusiasm used in these comments are used to show true feeling, revealing what would be the tone of voice if speaking in person. The difference of language between the professional, official website of Cumberland First Baptist church and the Facebook group for the church is very apparent. 8 I asked Watkins How he thought adding a Facebook link has benefited or hurt the church? He responded:

The upside of Facebook is that many people have adopted it as their primary medium of communication, so that to be in conversation with them means to have a Facebook page and to use it. It is also great for announcing and tracking events in the life of the church. The downside is that with social media you give up significant control of message, as anyone can post opinions which may or may not reflect the rather nuanced view of the congregation and its leadership, carefully thought about and articulated in every other venue, including on the website itself.


The official website for Cumberland First Baptist Church proves to be a tool in attracting new members to the church community, whereas the Facebook link/group is a direct tool for communication between members of the church. It is a way to share news and event information, even if the messages sometimes seem too informal. Communication online, in this instance, is more versatile online than in person. Although these two websites are about the same community, they each expresses, and represent parts the community separately and aim to accomplish their own goals, differentiating them enormously. This differentiation creates a specialization in the online church community, which can act to bring in new and old members but also attract non-church-going members.


  1. Cumberland First Baptist Church. Web. <>
  1. Harris, Joseph. Rewritting:How To Do Things With Text. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2006. Print.