Churches Extend Outreach to World Wide Web Movement to Put Religion On-Line Means 'Net' Surfers Can Find Everything from Christian Bookstores to Buddhist Chat Groups

By Laurent Belsie, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, October 24, 1995 | Go to article overview

Churches Extend Outreach to World Wide Web Movement to Put Religion On-Line Means 'Net' Surfers Can Find Everything from Christian Bookstores to Buddhist Chat Groups


Laurent Belsie, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


The Web Chapel sounds like a church. It has a chaplain, a Bible study program, and a place where people can ask for help through prayer.

But it's not a church. Instead of four walls and a steeple, it has an Internet address. Its members take prayer requests on-line. Even its chaplain, Steve Woods, communicates with visitors via electronic mail. "The Internet is the next great avenue for communicating the Gospel to the world," he says.

The Web Chapel is part of an international movement to put religion on-line. Today the computer user surfing the Internet is likely to run across on-line Christian bookstores and Buddhist discussion groups, church-software salesmen and religious scholars. In the last few years a steady stream of church groups has come on-line. In the last few months, there's been a torrent of interest. "All of a sudden ... it just came to mushroom," says Bob Rudis of Media Management, a Roanoke, Va., consulting firm that helps Christian groups get onto the Internet.

"The evangelical activity is really starting to explode," adds Quentin Schultze, professor of communications at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Mr. Schultze, who edits a biweekly Internet newsletter for Christians, started noticing the move in the early 1990s. First, such mainline Christian groups as Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians began hosting Internet discussion groups. Now, Methodists, Baptists, and others are jumping onto the bandwagon and setting up sites on the graphical part of the Internet, called the World Wide Web. Every issue of Schultze's newsletter lists some 50 to 100 new Christian Web sites. (For users with access to the Web, the newsletter can be found at http://www.gospelcom. net/ifc/index.html.)

Although Christian groups predominate, the Web plays host to religions of all kinds. A quick search earlier this week turned up dozens of groups, including the Islamic Resources Home Page (http://latif.com/welcome.html), the Global Hindu Electronic Network (http://rbhatnagar.csm.uc. edu:8080/ajay_old.html), and the Web site for the Talk.Religion. Buddhism on-line discussion group (http://www.lib.ox.ac.uk/ internet/news/faq/talk.religion. buddhism.html.

Much of what religious groups do on-line is communicate. Sometimes they share ideas via discussion groups. The Religion forum on the CompuServe on-line service, for example, hosts electronic conversations on such topics as "creation versus evolution" and the role of the Virgin Mary. Other groups are using the technology to reach out to the world.

On-line advantages

"We're trying to put a Christian presence on the Internet," says Duane Smith, marketing director for Gospel Communications Network, a part of Gospel Films Inc. in Muskegon, Mich. The technology has some advantages over other electronic media, he adds. "Television is one-directional. You sit there and watch it, but how do you respond? With the Internet, you can react."

Mr. Smith's Web site (http://www.gospelcom.net/new. html) accommodates a variety of interests from religious testimonials to the Christian Sports Flash Weekly (the latest news on Christian athletes). The most popular feature is the Bible Gateway, where users can search for words and passages in up to five versions of the Bible. Smith says, "People are more interested in getting to the word of God rather than the other printed material that goes along with it."

Another example is The First Church of Christ, Scientist - the Boston-based church that publishes this newspaper. …

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