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Church’s Internet training gives entrée to new families

CLEWISTON, Fla. (BP)–First Baptist Church of Clewiston, Fla., is reaching people through the Internet, but not the way you might imagine.
People are coming to church to learn how to reap the benefits — while avoiding the dangers — of the Internet. More importantly, many who attend the eight-week “Internet for Families Seminar” are unchurched who are introduced to the gospel and the church’s ministry.
The seminar uses a combination of teaching lectures, class discussion, PowerPoint presentations, on-line demonstrations, and take-home activities. Besides teaching e-mail, browsing, searching, downloading and updating, Internet for Families offers help in protecting oneself and one’s family from the dangers of the Internet.
Ken Reaves, the church’s pastor, wrote the materials and teaches the seminar. It was Reaves’ associate, Terry Willett, who came up with the idea. “Our pastor is known as a computer guru. He has the unique mix of knowing ministry well and knowing computers well. I kept bugging him to teach a class on the Internet during our Discipleship Training time.”
Reluctantly, Reaves agreed and the church placed a small ad in the local weekly paper. The day after the ad appeared, 22 people called the church office to sign up for the seminar. By the morning of the first session in January 1997, 44 had signed up. Sixty-four showed up for the first session. By week two, enrollment had reached 101, with an average attendance of 76.
The seminar helped open the church’s ministry to the community. Unchurched parents brought their children to the church’s music and Discipleship Training classes. One couple learned the youth were studying True Love Waits materials on teen sexual abstinence at the same time and brought their teenagers the next Wednesday. Some came early and visited the Wednesday night worship service, while others visited on Sunday. Still others have e-mailed Reaves, asking for prayer for themselves or for a friend. One family asked questions about what it means to become a Christian and join the church. Others expressed interest in Sunday school, the women’s ministry, Vacation Bible School and the ongoing ministry to youth and children.
Seminar participants included parents with young children as well as senior adults. More than half were not members of the church. Most in the seminar had owned a computer less than a year, and over half for fewer than six months.
“The response far exceeded anything any of us expected,” Reaves said, “especially for a town of less than 10,000.” Because of its success, the church started a second seminar in April. This fall, they offered an Internet for Kids class.
“The tremendous response we’ve had to the seminar caught me off guard,” Reaves said. “We’ve followed up on those who attended the first two seminars, and this fall we were better prepared to minister to those who attend.
“One of the reasons Internet for Families is for adults is because we spend a whole session talking very candidly about the dangers that the Internet poses to families,” Reaves said. “We show them how to protect themselves and their families.” Another session is devoted to protecting personal privacy and protecting equipment from viruses.
The gospel is also included in the seminar. In the next-to-last session, Reaves demonstrates how to use all the skills learned in the seminar by doing an on-line Bible study. The Bible study is on Romans 5:8. By the end of that hour, everyone in the room has heard the gospel in a non-threatening way. “We haven’t had a single objection to what we’ve done.”
Others have heard about the seminar and are interested in hosting seminars in their churches. He already has several churches ready to pilot the materials. He also was scheduled to lead instructional sessions in a number of associational and regional events this fall.
Internet for Families Seminar has provided First Baptist with another entry point into the church. “People who wouldn’t normally come near a church are coming,” Willett said. “Several now see our church as relevant, one which makes a difference in their everyday lives. Not only are Christians learning how to use their computers, but many non-Christians are getting exposed to the church and Christ. It’s very exciting.”