Building an online church community can not only present an identifying face to the outside world, but can also serve as a vehicle for connection and fellowship for members of a congregation. One of the most difficult challenges that many churches face is that of helping members to meet and form relationships. With the fast pace of life that many members experience, coupled with the large scope and size of many churches, it can be easy to simply attend services anonymously without forming relationships with other Christians. In times past, churches could serve as the social center for many communities. Today's world holds so many distractions and alternative technologies that a sense of distance and isolation can be hard for even the most effective ministry to overcome. One answer to this dilemma could be the creation of an online church community. Beyond just using a website as a calling card to those who are seeking basic information such as service times and pastor biographies, these communities can help members forge valuable connections that can favorably impact the congregation as a whole. These interactive features can easily be used in conjunction with more traditional website content such as calendars, schedules, and service times.
Taking an approach that is similar to popular social networking websites, an online church community might allow members to participate in discussion forums and live chat rooms. Opportunities for members to post profile pages might also be a popular feature. In a way, the very technologies that have crowded into member's lives and pulled them away from the benefits of fellowship can be used effectively to reconnect once isolated parishioners. For an already overburdened leadership, the thought of creating and moderating a large interactive website might seem daunting. But here is where the sense of community can really kick in. By giving ownership of the website and it's many features to the members themselves, the emphasis is taken away from a few busy leaders to the congregation as a whole. A part time webmaster who functions with the help of volunteers can turn a little real estate on the world wide web into one of the church's most dynamic areas of ministry. The evangelistic possibilities of a quality website can be very important as well. Solid content along with opportunities to meet and get to know church members online might encourage the unchurched to pay a visit come Sunday morning.
An online church community can also be used to keep members informed on upcoming church events. If a specific series of sermons are planned, the site can be used to not only let the congregation know, but also to supply background materials or Bible references for advance study. Profiles of individual areas of ministry can be helpful as well, particularly to new members or to those considering visiting the church. The convenience of finding out about classes, ministry opportunities and childcare options by visiting the website is a feature that many parishioners may appreciate. Downloads of past sermons may be offered as well. An online church community can also offer interactive calendars that help membership keep abreast of what is going on and plan accordingly. Photographs of recent church activities can be an enjoyable feature for members to share. An explanation of a church's core beliefs along with a statement of faith could be included as well. The Bible encourages believers to turn to God at times when they feel afraid or are in need of strength. "Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness." (Isaiah 41:10)
There are a number of professional agencies that can provide help and guidance to churches as they create a quality website and online church community. In addition to traditional services such as web design and content, these professionals can also help church leadership craft opportunities for members to post items and content as they communicate with other members and visitors. As with secular social networking sites, some specific rules of conduct will apply. But, with a little monitoring, interactive membership participation can result in many positive changes. One of the benefits of this approach is that members can take an active rather than passive role. Church websites are traditionally the domain and responsibility of local leadership. Taking a slightly different approach could change the way that membership feels about becoming involved as a part of the body. Rather than expecting church leadership to handle all responsibilities for this site, members can enjoy a sense of trust and ownership if they are permitted to make contributions.
Parents of teenagers might also appreciate an online church community. Concern over safety and Internet predators can make many Christian parents hesitant to allow their children to participate on secular social networking websites. The opportunity to enjoy similar features in a Christian setting might be seen as a major benefit by many parents. There are also organizations that allow churches to connect their website to opportunities for Christian chat rooms and discussion forums rather than building them into the church's website. Software programs that make adding content as simple as pointing and clicking is also available. No matter what features a ministry organization might choose, an online church community can be used to forge important connections and breath new life into a congregation.