Growing number of congregations are creating Internet offshoots
By Rachel Zoll
Church volunteers greet visitors entering the lobby. The worship band begins its set and a pastor offers to pray privately with anyone during the service.
When the sermon is done, it’s time for communion, and the pastor guides attendees through the ritual. Later, worshippers exchange Facebook and e-mail addresses so they can stay in touch.
There is nothing remarkable about this encounter, which is replicated countless times each weekend at churches around the world. It’s all happening online.
The World Wide Web has become the hottest place to build a church. A growing number of congregations are creating Internet offshoots that go far beyond streaming weekly services.
The sites are fully interactive, with a dedicated Internet pastor, live chat in an online “lobby,” Bible study, one-on-one prayer through IM and communion. (Viewers use their own bread and wine or water from home.) On one site, viewers can click on a tab during worship to accept Christ as their savior. Flamingo Road Church, based in Cooper City, Fla., twice conducted long-distance baptisms using the Internet.
“The goal is to not let people at home feel like they’re watching what’s happening, but they’re part of it. They’re participating,” said Brian Vasil, Flamingo Road’s Internet pastor.