Even older churches are beginning to use high-tech tools, including Bethany First Church of the Nazarene, which recently celebrated its 100th birthday. Its communications pastor, Bob Miller, said the challenge is to strike a balance.
"We have many in our fellowship who are not tech-savvy and don't have Internet access. There are many who think e-mail is old-fashioned and only communicate on Twitter and Facebook. The goal is to communicate in a way so that each person has an opportunity to know, act or respond, which requires multiple avenues of communication," he said.
The role of managing the church communications continues to grow, including adding volunteers and even an IT staff to keep up. Area churches use services such as YouTube and iTunes for podcasts, Flickr for sharing photos, and Twitter and Facebook for promoting its events and building community. If you'd like to hear more from the pastor than his pulpit message on Sunday, well, there's a blog for that, too. For one, Henderson Hills pastor Dennis Newkirk's blog, "From Dennis," gets a link from the home page of the church's Web site at www.hhbc.com.
While the usage of social media appears to be promoting the church more than the message of Christ, Steward believes that's a natural step in the progression of adapting technology, including providing "online church," something he described as a part of LifeChurch.tv's DNA, making it perhaps the most high-tech church in the metro area. Founded in 1996, LifeChurch.tv began using video teaching in 2001 and offers free worship resources to networked churches around the world; it recently surpassed 1 million downloads of such material.
People can not only watch LifeChurch.tv's online services from anywhere around the world, but are able to interact with a volunteer team led by an "experience host," get questions answered and have people pray for them.
Online isn't just relegated to the computer anymore, either. Steward sees mobile applications as the next "big thing" in technology, and LifeChurch. tv even encourages its members to follow along with the pastor's weekly talk on their Web-enabled phones, to access the Bible via YouVersion. com, take notes and even e-mail the talk to others, all during the service.
Henderson Hills will follow in LifeChurch.tv's digital footsteps, adding live, interactive ministry to the online service experience, and Bethany Nazarene recently added sermons to its Web site at www.bethanynaz.org, although they are neither live nor moderated.
Not a replacement
Does this new technology mean you can skip church altogether and just watch at home in your PJs or while sipping coffee at Starbucks? Not so fast.
"Scripture clearly says being a part of a fellowship is one of the direct commands of Jesus," Wilson said, who believes watching the online service is a convenience for those traveling or homebound, but not a replacement for church in person.
Steward adds that online church is "not even competition, because most of those watching aren't a part of a local church to begin with. We see it as another part of our ministry. It allows us to connect with more people and more places. One of the growth things is we stop telling them how to connect with us, but instead value and honor them at their point of need."
The pastors all agreed the Web site is the first stop for spiritual seekers to learn more about the church and even watch a few services before they visit in person. Tracking Web usage provides churches with helpful research to guide its mission, too.
In 30 days' time, Bethany Nazarene's site had 7,157 visits with 41,791 page views.
"This is up 5.75 percent over the previous month," Miller said, noting that the online sermons and study guides were among the most popular pages. He said the church's Facebook page, with 494 members, represents about 22 percent of its Sunday attendance.
LifeChurch.tv has online tracking down to a science, devoting a part of its site specifically to digital missions that explain the initiatives and providing a link to donate. The Web site states: "At LifeChurch.tv, God has led us to leverage every technology tool within our grasp to spread his truth and love across the planet. And he is working through these efforts more powerfully than we even dreamed possible. For just 7 a person, we reached 1,008,567 people in July 09."
One of the things Miller loves seeing churches do is use technology for instant feedback.
"We recently asked people to text us their prayer requests during a prayer time. And immediately they were read and were prayed for," he said.
Face-to-face or Facebook?
While you may not be asked for text prayer requests during mass at liturgical churches such as the Catholic Church, Roxy Kostuck, a 32-year-old member of Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Mustang, said her technology requirements are that the Web site be up-to-date with the latest information and events going on in the church.
"E-mail newsletters would be a nice supplement to the printed church bulletin and would help reduce paper waste, too," Kostuck said. Although it's not through her own parish's Web site, she enjoys looking up Scripture online and sharing biblical quotes with her friends via e-mail and Facebook.
Dr. Jami Lewis, a member of First Unitarian Church in Midtown, said she no longer even notices the bulletins on corkboards at church, and rarely reads the printed newsletter mailed to her home.
"As parents, we rely on e-mail so much to stay informed," Lewis said. "A lot of us are on Facebook, so we have started a few chats before, but it didn't really go far. We do have a care and concern group on Facebook where we get updates, but not very often."
While technology may be seen only as an "aid" in the church's mission, it has already rapidly changed the way we live and work in just the last few years. The future of Christianity