What would Jesus do? Visit church online and find out
Sundays are pretty typical for Charlotte native Steven Williams. He, along with his wife and daughter, start the day with breakfast and then gather for University Park Baptist Church’s 9:30 a.m. service. With Bible in tow, the Williams family sings along and listens intently to Senior Pastor Claude Alexander Jr.
There is, however, a slight twist to the Williams family’s church experience. They are watching the service live via webcast from their Greensboro home. The family relocated from Charlotte two years ago and has yet to find a church in Greensboro. Since they were active at University Park, they still wanted to feel connected. “We still consider ourselves to be members,” Williams says.
The Williams family is part of a growing number of people using the Internet to connect with their faith. A report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project showed that nearly two-thirds of Americans use the Internet for faith-related reasons.
Sharon Hector, University Park’s director of information and technology, says the positive feedback about the services has made the church’s investment in equipment (a camera and server) and manpower well worth it. “The overall response has been very favorable from our members and others,” she says. “Offering services online gives our viewers and members another avenue for worshiping and being ministered to by the word of God.” Hector also says that online services allow the church to minister to the sick, reach members serving in the military, or, as in the case of the Williams family, reach members located outside of the Charlotte area.
According to the church, an average of 1,500 people per week watch University Park’s worship services online (www.thepark
ministries.org). The worshippers, including some who classify themselves as “online members,” even contribute financially through tithes and offerings. Major credit cards are accepted.
The Rev. Joan Parrott, executive minister of The Park Ministries, says today’s church can’t be afraid of technology. “A relevant church in the twenty-first century is a ministry that preaches, teaches, and actualizes the word of God in a way that utilizes every tool available to them.”
University City Church is another local ministry that serves online worshippers, which it says number about 1,600 people per month (www.theuniversitycitychurch.com). “People who can’t physically attend service have a chance to keep in touch,” says Michael A. Stevens, senior pastor of University City Church.
“Others can ‘window shop’ for a church before deciding to attend.”
Although University Park and University City embrace new technology, leaders at both contend that online worship is not intended to replace traditional church services. “The Bible speaks of the importance and power of assembling often with other believers,” Parrott says. “We firmly believe that.”
Williams doesn’t plan for his family’s current church pattern to be long term. “Watching online is what I call a temporary fix, or filler, but definitely not an adequate substitute. [But] it’s still good to be able to see The Park and stay abreast of changes and see the growth that the church is experiencing."