The Personal Touch: Using the Web to Connect Believers in the Local Church

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by Janet Laballiere

I Corinthians 12:13: For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Surprisingly, one thing most of us have in common is the internet. We may vary in age, race, or interests, but most of us surf the net. Whether we started surfing the internet to connect with long lost school friends or to monitor our bank account, the internet has become a common ground from which relationships can grow. Anyone who has been in a chat room or on a social networking site knows that people are lonely. In a world in which we have endless ways to communicate, people are disconnected from each other. The internet provides an opportunity to reconnect with other believers.

Local church websites can offer an opportunity to build these connections, providing a vibrant atmosphere for encouragement and discourse. These websites often have chat rooms where members can discuss a variety of subjects and interests. A website can also provide interactive forums to conduct online lectures and studies. Historical sections create a sense of purpose in younger or newer believers. Historical sections also allow older believers to reconnect with their history of service in the church and its impact on the community surrounding them. Online photo albums are reminders of fun family events and help to construct a photo essay of the church’s service to the community inside and outside of the doors. Church websites emphasize our unified vision and doctrinal stance, based on God’s word. It reminds us of our past achievements and a continued vision for the future. For the visitor or unbeliever, it is a snapshot of who we are and what we believe. When that person enters our local church, they have already “met” us and are attracted to our “image.” Therefore, it is critical that our website creates the image of us that we truly want to reflect.

Last year was Hammond Christian Reformed Church’s (Hammond, IN) 50th Anniversary. In 1959, Hammond CRC began as a mission outreach to the community and has grown into a stable, dynamic local church. This continuing, dramatic growth is a testament to those who heard God’s voice when establishing the church fifty years ago. The church is alive and vibrant because of God’s vision and the faithfulness of His people. Within the church history, we remembered those faithful men and women, some of whom are still members of our church. Although unspoken, the church’s history was also designed to challenge newer believers to take the reins and move forward with the vision. Our history speaks to younger believers, saying, “Here is where God has brought us. Join the vision. Run the race with us and when we are gone, carry on.”

Before the anniversary began, the church formed a committee to plan a roster of events which included the website. The church website is a part of the overall ministry goals for the church and is never just an “informational website.” It is utilized to enhance, expand or promote existing ministries and the anniversary was no exception. As part of the yearlong celebration, the church website included a calendar of planned events, anniversary photos and the pastor’s comments. The online historical information was updated and the family news centered on messages that reiterated the church’s vision and reliance on God for past and future growth.

Our life in Christ radiates through the believing body. It shines through their love for each other and their familial connection. Getting to know and love each believer in our local church is essential for our growth in the Lord and more importantly, our reflection of Christ to the community. The church website can provide a quick, easy way to communicate with other believers, even when we are at our busiest. Ministering to your neighbor during worship services is very unlikely. We may not have time to talk after a service, make a phone call or write a letter. However, it is possible for church websites to have a chat function that allows believers to communicate with each other in a spontaneous fashion. A quick “how are you feeling?” through web chat or a pop up chat screen with a funny face can be very meaningful. Being able to encourage or reach out to another believer through the church website chat function confirms the idea that wherever we are, we are connected by the Blood. Finally, online sections for prayer requests or online prayer meetings allow believers to connect as a “congregation” even though we are not in “church.” This allows the local family of God to love each other on the most concrete, powerful way possible and reinforces our daily commitment to seek God’s face on each other’s behalf.

The Church body is made up of many different personalities which make the body vibrant. Using a church website to build bridges between age groups can be a fun and fascinating journey. Church websites give older and younger believers a forum to display their generational differences while maintaining an eternal connection to biblical truths. The website may alternate between using a chorus and a hymn as musical background but the doctrine remains the same.

To draw various age groups together, the church may consider including a “point/counterpoint” section in which various age groups can weigh in on important daily or weekly topics. One may base these discussions on the weekly sermon or on subjects that are light hearted yet can reflect strong differences depending on the age of the participant. A good question for the week might be “which novel influences you most as a teenager and why?” or “Name an issue upon which you and your parents could not agree. What was your opinion and what was theirs? Do you still feel the way you did then?” It is also important to set behavioral and discussion guidelines to assure that responses are based on Godly communication principles. Disagreements are fine as long as they remain civil. Once participants are comfortable with the process and understand the guidelines, selected subjects may even delve into more serious subjects like dating, movie content, sharing the gospel or choosing friends. When carefully managed, “point/counterpoint” sections in which various topics can be debated between age groups can be enlightening to all groups. Having people from various ages, cultural, ethnic or economic backgrounds work on the website together can create opportunities for discussion and resolution without ever opening an online forum for such discourse. Church websites can be a healing, growing and encouraging place on or off the web.

I have witnessed the benefits of having scripture and family news information on the web. Our homebound population, though unable to attend church, often has access to the church website and has commented on the encouragement they receive from reviewing the weekly family news. Seeing photos of children playing in the church yard or members enjoying a moment together brings a sense of connection and hope.

It is also possible to utilize the church website to present God’s word to unbelievers and people who have fallen away from the church. At least once a week, I use my Face book or Twitter account to “market” my church. I mention an event or service and post a link to the website. People from all over the world have written me about the church website and several have actually visited the site to read some of the doctrinal and program information. Imagine someone in Istanbul or Surinam, leaning on their elbows in front of a computer screen, reading scripture from a church website in a place he or she may never see. How does it feel to know that this person may kneel to speak the sinner’s prayer and meet you in heaven with outstretched hands, saying, “You touched me. You don’t know me but I heard His voice through your faithfulness.”

Years ago, when I was a very young woman, I worked at a mission in Chicago. I met a lot of troubled women who, through God’s loving hand, became the fragrant flowers God designed them to be. Whenever I lose track of one of these women, I ask the Lord to tell her to call me. They always do. However, after moving from Chicago three years ago, most of these women don’t know my new number and I don’t know where they are. Just last week, as I was writing this article, one of those women came to mind and I thought, “Jesus, I wonder how she is? But she could never contact me now.” I opened my Face book account and there she was! She posted a message to me that said, “I was thinking about you and decided to look you up on Face book, just by chance. And there you were.”

It’s been 15 years since I’ve seen this woman and God used this new technology to demonstrate His faithfulness. We can encourage each other once again. As one wordsmith once remarked, “The words may have changed but the music remains the same.” Whether by Pony Express or through online chat rooms, sharing God’s word and caring for His people remains the believer’s primary goal and God continues to help us utilize current technology to do it.

The key to any type of growth is prayer. Praying as a congregation for the wisdom to create a vibrant website is the first step in doing so. God’s hand will produce opportunities that we could never think of. That is the beauty of our life in Christ. What a wonderful gift to have a church website! God has provided yet another opportunity to build His people, bind them together and through that bind, reach the unsaved world. His name is wonderful and so it should be.

Janet Laballiere has been a member of Hammond Christian Reformed Church for 2 years. She has a degree in Theology and owns an online all natural pet products business. She has an intelligent, delightful daughter, a friendly Jack Russell terrier and an old, objectionable cat.

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