Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently hosted the first Facebook Community Summit and unveiled the company's new mission statement, but his speech seems to be meeting with some backlash due to apparent comparisons between Facebook's new mission and the function of churches. Some sources are implying that Zuckerberg's comments could even be construed as Facebook aiming to supplant traditional churches, though he never says such directly in his speech. Zuckerberg uses quotes such as "Whether they're churches, sports teams, or neighborhood groups, they give us the strength to expand our horizons and care about broader issues", and "People who go to church are more likely to volunteer and give to charity -- not just because they're religious, but because they're part of a community" to exemplify churches as communities. The ambiguity is easy to see in the fact that the speech centers around Facebook becoming a "meaningful community" for more of its users, in a similar vein.
The speech in Chicago garnered the attention of multiple news outlets, some of whom see implications therein as meaning that Facebook is indeed aiming to at least partially replace churches, among other types of communities, at least for those not already an active part of such communities. When Mark Zuckerberg speaks of "meaningful communities," he clarifies that the term refers to groups that help connect people to others with common interests and give them a place for meaningful interaction. Obviously, a church of any sort performs such a function for those who are part of a given religion, and provides a secure and welcoming place to discuss the interest, being religion, and engage in meaningful activities centered around it. Bible study and worship are two of the most prominent examples in Christian churches. While Zuckerberg never makes a direct comparison, the repeated mention of the concept of a church and the functions laid out in the new mission statement seems to imply that at the very least, Zuckerberg aspires to have Facebook emulate some of the functions of a typical church.
On the other side of the coin, it's just as easy to take Zuckerberg's speech at face value; he wants Facebook to embody the spirit of community for its users, and is only using churches as an example to get his point across. He speaks of sports teams and neighborhood initiatives in a similar manner, but in a bit less detail. He uses churches to speak to not only the sense of belonging and chances for kinship that a meaningful community imparts, but also its influence on attendees' activities outside of said community. This runs parallel to his assertion that Facebook has an inherent responsibility to foster connections and help people managing communities to keep things civil, and keep members happy. He speaks of "challenges we can only take on together...," and says, "the more connected we are, the happier we feel and the healthier we are." His stance on community is clear, but so is ambiguity regarding where Facebook fits in, thus the backlash.