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Church websites that stream live worship services make faith impersonal

October 18, 2007:

In the United States, more and more people are visiting church websites and evaluating congregations, often without having actually met anyone at the Church. Observers say that some Church people are worried that the practice of faith is getting ever more impersonal and consequently less powerful.

Tom Bandy, president of EasumBandy and Associates, a Church consultancy, says that “church shoppers used to have to go to the service, sit in the back row and watch. The website has just replaced that. The color schemes, the formatting, the language, the music – those things powerfully reveal who (in the Church) want to come there and who’s going to be accepted there.”

Observers say that, as tools for reaching potential worshipers, church websites are growing in number and getting more sophisticated. Five years ago, for instance, churches accounted for only 5% of clientele for StreamGuys, a California-based provider of streaming audio and video services. Today, churches represent over 20% of the company’s business.

At the Community Church of Joy in Glendale, Arizona, worship services began streaming live over the internet in September 2007. Video services are available every Sunday morning on the Church’s website.

Mark Sorensen, who oversees the website of the Community Church of Joy, says, “We are working as fast as we can to add those components to help people feel a connection. Just like people do a lot of car shopping and major purchase shopping online, they see what they can find out about the church online before their decision to come for the first time.”

It has been found that large churches, especially evangelical ones, make use of the Web most for outreach.

A research survey of 871 Protestant congregations conducted across the United States in 2006 revealed that 82% of churches with more than 200 worship attendees have websites, compared with only 29% of those with fewer than 100.

Another finding was that evangelical congregations are far more likely than mainline churches to offer sermons in streaming audio, pages for teens or video testimonies from parishioners.

Scott Thumma, religion sociologist at Hartford Seminary, observes, “Efforts to leverage the Web for recruitment are paying off for congregations. Church shoppers increasingly make the discernment process a largely online experience.”

Scott Thumma is the author of Beyond Megachurch Myths: What We Can Learn From America's Largest Megachurches.

While many people find that the Web helps people to communicate with people far and wide, they are concerned about, as an observer put it, “offering a tool that creates the semblance of a spiritual connection but does not ultimately satisfy a thirst for God.”




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