Finding God Online

Churches tap into the Internet to reach congregants

Don’t feel like getting out of bed to attend church? Can’t reach the church secretary to get a tithing receipt for your tax deduction? No problem. By implementing online technologies and adding Websites to their offerings, many churches are giving their congregations the luxury of watching Sunday service live online.

“One thing we are definitely conscious of is that we have to make things convenient for our members, and we can use our Website to do that,” says Tammi Miller, executive administrator at New Birth South Metropolitan Church (newbirthsouth.org) in Jonesboro, Georgia. The church is led by pastor André Landers. “A lot of people pay their [household] bills online, and it’s convenient for them to just pay their tithes with the rest of their bills,” explains Miller about the habits of New Birth’s 5,000 members. A branch of Bishop Eddie Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, New Birth South Metropolitan Church is preparing to duplicate its sister church’s ability to broadcast Sunday service online.

Miller estimates that about 25% of the church’s revenues are from online payments for books, CDs, and tapes, as well as tithing and class registrations. However, she says it cost a few thousand dollars to get their Website up and running.

“Most churches don’t have the funds for streaming video,” says Alphonse Matthews, one of the founders of The Black Church Page (www.theblackchurchpage.com), a Web database of black churches. “Video deals with major hardware issues, and you need a dedicated server. It takes the likes of an Eddie Long organization to get that type of work done,” says Matthews, who estimates that only half of the 5,200 churches in his database have a Website at all.

In setting up Church Websites America, Jonathan Brink researched 1,000 churches. He found that churches with more than 2,000 members have a Website manager on staff, whereas churches with about 400 members have a volunteer managing their Website technology. “Usually a member of the church who works in the field of technology manages the church Website as a hobby,” he says.

Jessica Whitaker fits the description. She is a senior IT analyst at a public utility company who suggested the idea of a Website to her pastor at First Baptist Church of Raleigh (www .fbcraleigh.org) in North Carolina about two years ago. “I now realize that a church Website is a rarity, but I’m still very happy that we have one. It shows that we are progressive and innovative and utilizing technology,” says Whitaker of her otherwise conservative church. She updates the website weekly. The most unique features are the Sunday school lesson plans, an events calendar, and an occasional church job posting.

Pastor Dumas A. Harshaw Jr., who presides over First Baptist’s congregation of 800, says it costs less than $500 a year to maintain the church’s Website, and he encourages pastors to follow his lead–even if they have to go into their own pockets to fund it. “Some believe the church is supposed to be 100 years behind, when everyone’s personal life is

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