World Wide Worship: Church and its congregation head to cyberspace

Praise the Lord and click the mouse. Churches are going where the people are to grow their congregations — the Web.

Central Christian Church of Las Vegas opened two new campuses last weekend, and one of them has virtual visitors from across the globe. The church’s online campus (www.centralonlinecampus.com) resembles its brick-and-mortar houses of worship in many ways. There are people greeting visitors in the lobby, scheduled worship services, small discussion groups and a collection plate.

Kurt Ervin, executive pastor of church expansion, has overseen the new cybercampus, which he says is one of only a handful like it on the Web. "People didn’t come to us and say, ‘This will be a great idea,’ " Ervin said. "I spent the last eight to 10 months looking into the social networking phenomenon. Facebook just broke 100 million users. MySpace is at 135 million and 10 million adults read blogs every day in America.

"There is a shift happening to technology and online. People work online, shop online, bank online, take classes online and meet people online. Last year, in four of 10 marriages, the people met online. By 2010 as many as 50 million people will rely on the Internet to provide their faith-based experiences."

Central Christian is on the leading edge of this movement, as the online campus is much more than an information page about the church. To get full site benefits, users should first register. The steps are simple, including a verification e-mail to complete the process.

The lobby area includes a video player and chat rooms, enabling those waiting for a video service to chat live. The video presentation of weekend services are not on-demand, but instead scheduled at set times. These "simulated live" services will be taped during a Saturday service for online viewing on Sundays.

"It’s not like a podcast. We’re creating an actual church environment online," Ervin said. "You can’t walk into an actual church and ask them to start it (the service). With online you are interacting with everyone at the service. You have the ability to chat with people while watching the teaching and you can take notes. You can even make an offering."

Ervin said Central Christian averaged a total of 12,000 to 13,000 people at 16 weekend services before opening the Desert Oasis and online campuses. He doesn’t know how many to expect at the cyberservices, but he’s been spreading the word through a Facebook group that had several hundred members last week. It includes people in Australia, the Netherlands and Italy. The Facebook group has been deleted, and members were asked to register at the online campus.

Sunday Web services are scheduled for 4:30 a.m., 7 a.m., 9 a.m., 10:20 a.m., 11:45 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., to accommodate multiple time zones, Ervin said.

Share your Internet story with me at agibes@reviewjournal.com.

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