Churches look to the Internet to continue ministry, outreach work

Commercial enterprises have done it.

So have newspapers and television stations.

Even the Internal Revenue Service has taken it's business online.

It's only logical that church leaders are increasingly looking to the Internet to help them engage the public, create and sustain a sense of community and belonging, and even expand their respective ministries.

In the South Sound, the Church of Living Water is only one of several churches that stream their services live online. Pastor Terry Fisher said that while some viewers are local people who can't physically attend the services for health or social reasons, many are local military personnel stationed in Iraq.

The World Wide Web has proved to be a convenient way for members traveling to any part of the world with an Internet cafe to take part in services and feel close to home, he said.

"One person sent a photo of his wife, who was in an Internet cafe in Beijing," Fisher said. "She's sitting there watching our live service in China. It really helps us get out there."

Pastor Dale Oquist of the Evergreen Christian Community Church said that through the blog he maintains on the church's Web site, the Internet has helped him reach people in places he would never have thought he'd be able to reach as a religious leader, including those in the Czech Republic and parts of Asia.

"We want to be more interactive, and right now, that's done mainly through the blog," Oquist said. "If not everyday, I try to update it multiple times a week so people know we can converse about things. I'll just share random thoughts and they can comment on that. ... We believe that church is not a destination -- it's a conversation."

He said he recently received an e-mail from a man in Colorado who wanted to wish him a happy anniversary. "I've had people say 'I just read it everyday and I feel connected to you.' For a pastor, I can't pastor by myself to that many people. This gives me a venue and a structure that allows me to stay connected to people and help them develop their faith."

Other interactive content on Evergreen's Web site include audio messages and podcasts, and members are able to download notes and study questions for Bible study or personal meditation, he said.

The church's site does not currently stream services, but it's possible for the future, Oquist said. Because its members are continually getting younger, chatrooms, interactive prayers and even video podcasts are also being considered.

"The thing that's exciting me is that the potential seems limitless, and that's why we'll do everything we can to utilize its connection to our world," he said."

Fisher is similarly optimistic. "At some point, we expect to have the ability for members -- or congregates -- to get passwords and to exchange more information," he said. "We're just scratching the surface of what's possible."

In addition to watching the live streams, members are able to sign up for a variety of ministry and church-related activites on the Web site now and avoid the hassle of standing in lines and filling out paperwork, Fisher said.

"That's the way of society right now," he said. "People are doing more and more shopping at home. The church needs to keep step with that as a matter of convenience, but also to stay relevant."

The church has also set up an emergency network for its members in the event of a natural disaster or a terrorist attack.

"It's all intended to care for a greater number of people. It's a great tool."

For examples of the online features discussed above and to see what other area churches are creating their presence on the Internet, click on the links on the right side of this page.