Online Church Community

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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.

Seeking New Christian Friends

Men, women, girls and boys seeking new Christian friends need look no further than the worldwide web. Faith-based sites offer millions of opportunities to meet new people from city to city, coast to coast, and country to country. There is really no reason why believers who share a love for Jesus and a love for people to connect with hundreds of likeminded individuals. From grade school students and college coeds, to active retirees and women and men in the armed forces, finding new believers with which to share a smile, an e-card, or instant message is easy with the Internet. Avenues of online communication exist for every age group. Singles may want to surf the web for online dates or potential lifelong partners. Grade school youngsters can find Internet pen pals throughout the globe, or carry out a class project to write service men and women stationed at overseas military installations. College coeds can connect with institutions and families abroad to become exchange students. Active retirees can meet other seniors who love to travel far and near and share photos of grandchildren or mementos from an exotic island excursion. The possibilities are unlimited for meeting and making friends who also happen to be brothers and sisters in Christ.

Web-based tools are not only for fun and friendship, but the digital age also brings likeminded faith-based organizations together for new partnerships. Churches of almost any size are sure to have several auxiliaries or missions groups seeking new Christian friends at ministries located in the United States or developing nations. Organizers can form relationships and partnerships with overseas ministries and aid in a quest to feed the hungry or provide much needed shelter or medical supplies in remote areas. The Internet enables faith-based organizations to share concerns and commissions to minister to the less fortunate on every continent. Instead of bearing the monetary burden of trying to carry out a mission alone, smaller churches can partner with larger mega-ministries using low-cost electronic communication methods. "Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). Faith-based sister organizations seeking new Christian friends and partners can implement permission based email programs, instant messaging, online audio and video broadcasts, and e-newsletters at a significant savings. In a surprisingly short time, donations and support can come pouring in from concerned citizens from all over the world.

Couples and singles seeking new Christian friends may discover fulfilling relationships with believers in domestic and foreign regions. People who love God are basically the same all over the world. Believers may express their faith differently due to denominational or cultural differences, but a commonality in Christ which transcends those differences can often be found. By sharing the good news of the kingdom across denominational and cultural barriers, the Body of Christ can experience renewal, regeneration and revival. Nothing can compare to the bond of love formed when two or more believers gather together for a single purpose, goal or mission. One of Jesus Christ's desires while He ministered during three and a half years on the earth was to see the believers come together as one: "That they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in Me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast send me. And the glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one" (John 17:21-22).

High-tech electronic communication devices, such as emails, e-newsletters, instant messaging, web conferencing, voice over Internet protocol (voip), and permission-based emails are regularly utilized to help faith-based organizations and individuals seeking new Christian friends develop lasting partnerships or lifelong companionships. Believers seeking new Christian friends can explore databases of millions of individuals worldwide by joining any number of faith-based Internet pen pal clubs, chat rooms, dating sites or marriage services. The experience of communicating online with people who share the love of Jesus is incomparable. The oneness of the Spirit and bond of perfection enables Christians from all walks of life to commune with the same mind and heart. Sharing one's faith is an integral part of reinforcing personal beliefs and exhorting others to grow stronger in Christ.

Individuals or organizations seeking new Christian friends can register on faith-based websites by selecting a user name and password and filling out an online application. Members are governed by certain guidelines and must adhere to cyberspace etiquette: in other words, no Bible-bashing or online debating about doctrinal differences. Nudity, profanity, or derogatory statements are naturally prohibited; and violators may have accounts closed without prior notice. Organizations are prohibited from selling products in religious chat rooms; however sponsored or embedded links may be purchased to drive traffic to merchant websites.

Faith-based home pages not only offer opportunities for believers seeking new Christian friends to meet people from all over the world, but they also provide resources for everything Christian. Sponsored links include suppliers of church furnishings, robes, banners, and accessories. Travel agencies feature packages for church groups, auxiliaries or missions. Pastors and evangelicals can find resources for studying, materials for preparing sermons, audio and video tapes, and software for bookkeeping and membership enrollment databases. The Christian community is indulged in every whim and every desire for products and services that help spread the good news of Jesus Christ throughout the world, making disciples of men and special friends.

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