Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Observing the Church in action (anonymously)

Exploring something new can be a bit intimidating. The excitement to pursue an interest to learn or do something new is often accompanied by a level of fear. There can be the fear of looking foolish in front of friends or family members when your enthusiasm in starting a new hobby isn't matched by your skill at it.

There can be a fear that others might not understand your desire to explore something new. It is only natural that you might want to begin to explore this new interest without a lot of people watching you. As much as possible, you'd like to be anonymous.

This can be true particularly when it comes to attending a church. Walking through the doors of a church for the first time can be a rather intimidating experience. There are some churches who ignore new attendees while there are others, on the other extreme, which pay so much attention to newcomers that those visitors feel as if they are being smothered and have become an open spectacle for all to see.

There are many churches which have purposely sought to find a balance in their approach in welcoming visitors. It is a learned skill on the part of members of a church to greet newcomers but not try to become their new best friends within the first five minutes after meeting each other.

Christians have often been on the leading edge of using new technology to help spread the faith in new and interesting ways. When a revival which started in New York City in the autumn of 1857 began to spread to other places in the United States, pastors in New York, Boston and Philadelphia used the 19th century version of the Internet, the telegraph, to stay in daily communication with each other with news about the spread of the revival in their cities. When Americans started moving westward as pioneers, some evangelists began to use railroad passenger cars as "chapel cars" so that a chapel could come to the people even if people could not otherwise get to a chapel or church building.

In the same spirit, with the continued expanding role of the Internet in our lives, one local church has developed an approach to allow visitors a sense of anonomity and to be able to observe a church service in a way that allows interaction in a virtual community using the Internet. Toward that goal, Woodside Bible Church of Troy Michigan has recently launched an "Internet Campus." The purpose of their effort is to give those who want to know more about the Christian faith the ability to observe a worship service, sermon or a Sunday School class and to do so anonymously. It would be like attending a church service in a room with a one-way mirror. The visitor can see out into the church but others cannot see him.

You can link to the Internet Campus here. There are opportunities to watch a video of the most recent church service, participate in a chat room, read the Bible online, create a customized Bible reading plan and even to ask for prayer with one of Woodside's online staff. None of this is meant to replace the in-person gathering of believers for worship and hearing the Bible explained and taught. However, it is a great way to reach out to people who are curious about Christianity and the church by using the same technology that they now use to search for answers to life's questions, namely through an online presence.