Faith communities are embracing the Internet to share the gospel
By Kerry Scott
These days, the word most likely brings to mind a very different image: one of the high-tech wireless devices that keeps us connected to the world via broadband Internet.
Local churches, including First Baptist Church of New Hope and Owens Cross Roads Church of Christ, are beginning to see an increasing number of members using tablets and smartphones to read Scripture, take notes on sermons or Bible lessons and come up with new ways to connect with their congregations.
When NHTC’s Central Office Manager, Steven Campbell, went on vacation recently, he and his family were able to watch the Sunday service from his iPhone while traveling. “It was amazing to feel like we were right there and didn’t miss a thing,” he says.
At First Baptist Church of New Hope (www.firstbaptistnewhope.com), the church has gone so far as to install a wireless router in the sanctuary, making it possible for members or visitors to use their devices. Even Pastor Tim Verhine uses an iPad for his sermon notes. While not many are doing so now, it’s a trend that will continue to rise.
The church also displays Scripture on a large projection screen so the congregation can follow along with the pastor. “The Scripture is large and easy to read for members who might have trouble reading small print,” says Bob Freeman, who manages the sound room. “Different preachers like different translations of the Bible, too. We’re able to switch to just about 40 different translations with our MediaShout program.”
That lines up with what is taking place nationally. A study by The Barna Group, a research organization focused on spiritual development, concluded in an April 2012 study that more than 65 percent of Protestant churches now regularly use large screen projections during their services compared to only 39 percent in 2000.
While the church has had an Internet presence for years with their website, they now use it as the primary tool for keeping members informed. “I use email quite a bit,” says Rhonda Cain, the church secretary. “I have a master list that I send emails to whenever we have a sickness, death, urgent need or an event we want to let people know about.” She says that those with Internet access help spread the word to the increasingly smaller number of members who don’t have Internet.
The Barna study noted that 62 percent of Protestant churches have an Internet presence and 26 percent are using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Gigabytes of Gospel
Broadband is also giving churchgoers access to a greater range of material. “Once you get tied into it, it becomes an indispensable tool,” says Freeman. He’s using it to stream videos from sources like YouTube that can help illustrate a particular Scripture lesson, and are sometimes just for fun.
“Some people may have been a little hesitant about broadband at first,” says Freeman, “but they appreciate it now.”
A few miles down the road at Owens Cross Roads Church of Christ (www.ocrcoc.org), they are doing many of the same things. They’re also using their fiber connection to make Sunday morning services available live online to members. It’s been used to stream weddings and even funerals, too. “It’s a tremendous blessing for loved ones who can’t travel to be able to see a service that they couldn’t make,” says Campbell, who also serves as sound technician at the church.
He’s not the only person working though. “One person just doesn’t have enough hands to do everything, so we have an entire team that works together to make sure everything runs smoothly,” he says. Their team consists of Tony Harrell, Mark Burleson, Zack Cavender, Todd Morrison, David Bingham and Justin Pannell.
Pannell, who is the youth minister and associate pastor OCR COC, believes broadband also serves as a research tool for the community. “New people in town, or someone looking for a church, can go online and see what a service at our church is like and see if it’s somewhere they think they can join in,” he explains.
The fiber network NHTC is building throughout its service area will make future upgrades possible, too. One day, OCR Church of Christ hopes to stream high-definition video. “We would have to make some upgrades on our part to do that, but the infrastructure is there if we choose to do so,” says Pannell.
He has a theory about all this technology. He believes that since all truth comes from God, any scientific achievements or technological advancements we make are gifts from Him. “One way we glorify God is by maximizing technology,” says Pannell. “He allowed us to create airplanes, so now we take those planes to foreign countries to share the gospel. We should use the Internet to fully maximize it for His glory, both now and in the future.”