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Keep spiritual surfers in mind, he advises churches on the Web

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–It’s not enough these days for churches just to board the online train to cyberspace, they need to be riding first-class, Brian Daniel, events coordinator at LifeWay Glorieta Conference Center, said.

“As a church, the issue is not whether you have a presence on the Web, but how you are using that presence,” Daniel told church music leaders attending his seminar, “Using the Internet for Ministry,” during Church Music Leadership Conference, June 14-20 at Glorieta, N.M. The music ministries department of LifeWay Christian Resources sponsored the conference.

Daniel said a study by Christian researcher George Barna found that if the church does not “begin to encompass the online world in its ministry, it risks losing even more of its eroding influence in society.”

Only in the last couple of years have churches found the Internet invaluable for reaching unchurched audiences, he said.

“The Internet has been an untapped resource that churches are just beginning to learn how to incorporate,” Daniel said.

In hindsight, “that’s not necessarily bad because we do want to avoid just being trendy. But now that we know the Internet is here to stay, you as representatives of your churches have a lot of ministry opportunities through the Web.”

Americans are more devoted to seeking spiritual enlightenment today than in any previous time in the 20th century, he said; however, church attendance is at an all-time low because seekers feel alienated from the traditional church.

“The Internet is shaping Christianity in ways that few people in the traditional church would have imagined,” he said. “Millions of Internet users meet online to pray, discuss their faith in chat rooms, seek spiritual guidance and study the Bible.”

Research conducted in May 2001 found Internet users in America numbered about 120 million, with about 60 million users online every day, Daniel said. In 2000, 9.7 billion e-mails were sent daily worldwide, up 64 percent from 1999.

“One-third of Americans would say goodbye to television; just give me my Internet,” he said.

According to a 2000 Pew Internet & American Life Project, 21 percent of people surfing the Web have looked for spiritual or religious information online, 18 percent have taken advantage of online banking and 15 percent have participated in online auctions, he said.

“Every day, 2 million Americans search the Internet for religious or spiritual material,” Daniel said.

The church’s mandate, he said, is to learn as much as possible about how Christians and seekers desire to use the Internet for spiritual matters, to strive to understand the medium itself and its potential influence and to figure out how to respond to that.

Churches with an Internet presence should ask themselves: Do we have it for the right reasons? Is it effective? How could it be better?

To churches without a website, Daniel made four suggestions:

First, they should evaluate their needs for a site and then evaluate their resources in light of decisions on who will build the site, who will maintain it and how much it will cost to support.

Daniel said in 30 percent of churches a staff member maintains the site; in 41 percent, volunteers maintain it; 22 percent, the pastor; and 7 percent, outside vendors or others.

Third, Daniel said, leaders should determine where the focus of their site should be (evangelism, missions, worship, community service, discipleship, education, fellowship/community). Finally, they need to conduct initial planning by answering the following questions?

What is the church trying to communicate? Who will design the site? Where will the content come from? What Internet server will host the site? How can it be promoted? How can the site be consistent with the church’s culture?

Daniel said there are eight “must haves” for any new website, according to LifeWay Christian Resources’ E-business group, which hosts many free church sites:

1) Welcome message or a mission statement.

2) A listing of worship service times.

3) A list of staff people and contact information.

4) A description of the church’s ministries.

5) Presentation of the gospel.

6) List of upcoming events and calendar information.

7) Contact numbers and an address for the church.

8) Directions to the church and a map of classroom locations, if necessary.

Daniel provided conference participants with a long list of additional ideas for website content, including:

— Recruiting volunteers for congregational work.

— Mechanism for prayer requests and praise reports.

— Posting information on volunteer needs in the community.

— Providing sign-up feature for classes or events.

— Allowing online fundraising.

— Providing discussion space for group studies/interactive chat groups.

— Posting church newsletter in Adobe Acrobat format.

— Providing sermon outlines.

— Linking to other helpful sites in the community.

— Giving a history of the church.

— Supplying mission updates, photos, diaries.

— Offering photo albums, online directories.

— Providing online daily devotional.

— Posting online polls.

— Providing guest book.

— Offering special sections for departments and classes.

Daniel said churches wanting to take advantage of LifeWay’s free professional Web pages should visit www.lifewaylink.com.
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Pastor’s Internet savvy reaches growing audience

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