Faith Online: How Christians and Churches are using Web 2.0 Technology

Lori Halley 06 April 2009 5 comments

It's Holy Week on the Christian calendar and Easter is a trending topic on Twitter, with microblog messages reflecting the Internet's typical mix of the secular and religious. (The Easter Bunny and school holidays are common themes, but so are expressions of faith and anticipation of the most significant feast day for Christian.) As a recent Church Talk Radio podcast points out, Easter tends to draw in many busy people who haven't attended a church service since Christmas, if then — so the celebration brings with it an opportunity to strengthen a faith-based community and to extend its outreach.

twitter screenshot

The internet is a mission field and sometimes it’s easier to be effective if you see it as one. ~ John Saddington (ChurchCrunch)

Technology already plays a well-established role in many North American churches — whether in the form of a public-address system to help carry the preacher’s voice to the very back rows, or overhead projectors to display the lyrics of hymns; a PowerPoint presentation to pump up the sermon, or video-conferencing hook-ups with church-sponsored missionaries on the other side of the world.

To extend a ministry to the Internet is not a great leap, philosophically, and churches are beginning to embrace the technology that makes it possible.

I believe it was @catholicdadblog who "tweeted" recently about a cover story on the National Catholic Register, about using social media tools for evangelism: “Catholic Clicks Uptick: Facebook, Twitter and Plurk Being Used for Spreading the Faith.” Surprising? Perhaps not, considering that even the Vatican is on YouTube these days.

St. John Catholic Church in Imperial, Missouri, celebrates the Easter season with floral displays and a traditional mass in its sanctuary, but also in story and Flickr slideshows on the church website. Denver First Church in Englewood, Colorado, shares its Palm Sunday bulletin, “The Hope of The Cross,” on Scribd, and Trinity Church in New York City offers a “Lenten Juke Box” so website visitors can play music for Holy Week.

Sharing Resources

More than 18,000 individuals have contributed to build Sermon Central, a “preaching research and resource site” with free access to what very well may be the world’s largest repository of Christian sermons — some 300 new sermons are added each week.  At Sermon Cloud, free sermons are distributed in audio format to download or listen to online, and WingClips offers free video clips from inspirational films to view online or download to use in any church, school or other non-profit organization.

Bible Gateway offers a searchable online database of more than 100 versions of the Bible in many languages, daily readings by email, and audio recordings of scripture for the visually impaired, non-readers, or those who simply prefer the audio format. There’s even a version of Bible Gateway for users of mobile devices — and it’s intriguing to read that usage of the mobile site peaks on Sunday mornings during typical church-going hours! Are church members reading scripture by cell phone when they’re unable to attend a service? Or does this indicate a “virtual congregation” of people who don’t attend a brick-and-mortar church, but practice their devotions online when the church bells ring?

[T]he gospel of Jesus Christ will never change. However, we need to deliver it in formats that people want to consume it. This may be via podcast, via email, via contemporary service, via traditional service. It’s all the same message in different formats. ~ Dave Jackson (Grow Your Church Show)

For budget-strapped faith communities, free or low-cost access to such online resources can be a great benefit — but a greater benefit of Web 2.0 technology, arguably, comes with the opportunities for expanded outreach.

Building Communities

With more than 100,000 members, the Christianity discussion group has been active on MySpace since 2005. Facebook, however, seems to have a greater share of the Christian faithful among its users, connecting through Groups like the international Christian Youth Society, with nearly 1500 members, and 6 Degrees of Fellowship, which more than a quarter-million Facebook users have joined.  Even The Christian Chronicle, the international publication for members of Churches of Christ, last year added a Facebook fan page to expand the opportunities for discussion.

“The Internet provides an unlimited number of new possibilities in both positive and negative directions at the same time,” says Daniel Lohrmann, author of Virtual Integrity: Faithfully Navigating the Brave New Web.  “Moving forward, we need to rethink our entire approach to dealing with all types of online temptations that are embedded within popular Web sites.”

One response to this challenge may be the growing number of dedicated Christian social-networking sites, such as FaithLight, YourChristianSpace, and Xianz — billed as family-friendly alternatives to the mainstream networks. Some of these, like Jesus Rocks on IRC, offer free staff-monitored chat rooms as well as discussion forums where Christian teens and singles can meet like-minded people in a safe online environment.

Other faith-based non-profits choose to draw a more direct link between Internet usage and “real world” activities, creating their own membership communities online. The Middle Georgia Home School Association and Tri-Cities Education Association for Christian Homeschoolers, for example, are among the many faith-based Christian homeschooling organizations who connect with member families through their websites, blogs, online discussion forums, and email newsletters — but in addition to, not as a replacement for, to face-to-face meetings and activities such as baseball games, field trips, and parent support meetings.

Similarly, the Kawartha Christian Business Network brings together “Christian professionals who understand the value of networking as a means to build their business,” with a geographical focus. Others build online faith-based communities along the lines of gender, like Mentors in Ministry and the non-denominational Holy Woman Alliance which encourage Christian women in ministry, coaching, or other leadership roles in their faith and their communities. And Catholic Dads is a semi-formal network of independent bloggers with a common theme:

Catholic moms rock when it comes to building community. We men… not so good. That is what Catholic Dads is all about. Here we can share stories. Debate the issues of the day. Give advice. Share our faith. You know, guy stuff.

Building Bridges

Pope Benedict XVI's YouTube message for World Communications Day 2009 was a clear endorsement of  “the new technologies which have made the internet a resource of utmost importance, especially for the so-called digital generation." And what faith-based organization is not concerned with attracting youth members? But the true potential for internet ministries may be even more far-reaching:

"Undoubtedly,” the Pope told his audience of millions, worldwide, via radio, television and the Internet, “wise use of communications technology enables communities to be formed in ways that promote the search for the true, the good and the beautiful, transcending geographical boundaries and ethnic divisions.”

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Monday, 06 April 2009 at 5:15 PM

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Comments

  • John Ramsey said:

    Monday, 06 April 2009 at 12:16 PM

    Thanks for using my tweet in your post. My dad is amazed that his contributions to my blog have acquired so much reach.

  • Susan Bennett Mitchell said:

    Tuesday, 07 April 2009 at 8:16 AM

    Great article!. Mobile access to Bible Gateway spikes on Sunday morning during typical church hours because we're reading along in the digital Bible in class or worship, or doing related research sparked by something said by a teacher, preacher, or fellow congregant. -- tweeter SusanBeMitchell

  • Dave Jackson said:

    Wednesday, 08 April 2009 at 1:59 PM

    Thanks for the mention. I love this list of resources. Awesome stuff.

    Dave Jackson

    Grow Your Church Show

  • Wild Apricot Blog said:

    Saturday, 13 June 2009 at 10:51 AM

    I just received a real-world lesson in social networking done right — and a free bag of popcorn — thanks to Love Your City, a community outreach program by churches across Canada. What does this have to do with using social media to recruit new members

  • Gerbrand said:

    Thursday, 30 July 2009 at 12:59 PM

    Can someone please help me I am trying to find out how many crhistians are using the internet and how manny will start using the internet in the next year? and then how manny since the year 2000 to now 2009

    please let me know asap

    reply to my email:

    gtravelvacations@gmail.com

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