There is now a new name on the internet church scene, as Church-on-the-net.com launched today. It is a project of Holy Trinity Church Ripon, with the support of the Diocese of Ripon and Leeds. Nicola, one of a team of five running the site, is a regular commenter on this blog. I asked her a couple of questions about Church on the Net:
How did the idea for the site come about?
It was truly one of those God moments, but I can’t expect people to just take that on board! But I do work on the Holy Trinity Ripon website and I was seeing from the hit statistics that we were getting hits from all over the world, from people asking the oddest questions about Christianity & doctrine. And it got me to thinking about how there obviously aren’t enough easy answers out there, and certainly not gathered together in one place or in simple language. Sin may be hard to explain in 500 words or less—the length of all our articles—but it needs to be done! Unchurched people aren’t going looking for doctorates or sermons: they just want to know what we think. So our articles are meant to be like a chat over a coffee – but written down.
I see from the site that you’re targetting it at non-churchgoers. I know that some similar sites have found that they have mainly attracted existing churchgoers – do you have any plans to make sure this doesn’t happen?
Well, in trying to be inclusive, we certainly won’t exclude Christians! So we won’t be trying to stop that happening. In fact I think a lot of backslidden or hurting Christians may come to the site – and those who are maybe travelling, or housebound, or carers, and those who are afraid to ask ’simple’ questions, and those who are new to the faith and want to know more. But to be honest the reference section articles (’what is sin’, ‘what is grace’, ‘what’s the cross all about’ etc) may not be meaty enough for Christians. However, they might be interested in the weekly address, changed for every Sunday morning.
We’ve seen a lot of models of online services/worship/community/even ‘church’, but not much particularly evangelistic. Some sites which purport to be evangelistic ask you to sign a statement of faith before you enter! How many ‘bricks’ churches do this? Some ask for donations right up-front (very very common!) and on one I saw, when you click on the question ‘What if I don’t believe in this stuff?’, you get a web page with scary music and the following text in a fiery font: ‘You will most likely go to hell.’ Encouraging!
As for Christian communities online attracting existing churchgoers, both St Pixels and i-church are made up of predominantly Christian members, although I hear i-church is going to be launching a renewed and more evangelistic site soon.
Thanks to Nicola for answering my questions. I have to say the site does look very good in terms of design and background content. It has blogs and forums and feeds and everything. What it needs now is regular new material and some users – the latter being the most difficult bit as those of us who run websites know.
It is good that Church on the Net recognises the other online churches that are out there and is trying to do something a bit different. It was interesting to see online churches being heavily featured today on the Heaven and Earth show. St Pixels got a lot of attention as did Second Life, which to me is entirely unappealing.
One thing that I sometimes wonder is whether there are places online that function as ‘church’ even though they do not carry that name and probably did not set out to become such a thing. Communities of blogs, bulletin boards and even the comments sections of individual blogs come to mind. I have to say that that has sometimes been my experience. That said I still remain a fan of the old fashioned style ‘bricks and mortar’ real life church. You should go along one time – you might like it.
All the best to Nicola and the Church on the Net team – I hope it really takes off for you.
Updated: Some edits to text above.