Evangelicals' Lead in Technology
By definition, evangelicals want to spread "the word"and they're often the first to adopt new tools to accomplish their mission.
In 1921, for example, preacher Edwin Van Ettin of Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh struck a deal with Westinghouse to air his words over the radio in what is said to be the first religious radio broadcast. And Billy Graham's first TV sermon in 1951 launched televangelism.
In today's broadcast-simulcast-Webcast-podcast world, evangelicals are among the most fervent of religious groups in the use of Internet technologies, says Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a Washington, D.C., research group that studies the social effects of the Internet. Sixty-nine percent of evangelicals use the Internet to send, receive and forward spiritual e-mail and electronic greeting cards and request prayers online, according to a Pew Internet survey last year. That's compared with 51% of Catholics and 54% of Jews, the Pew Internet study said.
Today, worshippers at many evangelical churches can tap into live Webcasts of Sunday sermons, register for online and in-classroom Bible workshops, search by date, time and location for upcoming events at the church campus, and tithe online with regular electronic funds transfer or automatic credit card payments.
Phoenix First Assembly of God, for instance, runs an interactive prayer page where video of the church's prayer-ministry leader plays, urging people to join on-site prayer groups that meet between Sunday sermons. There is also a form for Web users to submit online prayer requests. Volunteers at the physical church then perform the prayers.
Richard Buoscio, who oversees technology, facilities and other areas at the 15,000-member Arizona church, puts it plainly. "If you don't have a parking lot, you can't get the people in the church to hear the message and ultimately lead them to the Lord," he says. "A Web site is as important as a parking lot to a church."
The hip and faithful note that podcasting is the latest technology to be adopted by evangelical churches.
Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, an evangelical church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with 18,000 members, lets Apple iPod users download and take along a daily message from pastor Bob Coy, as part of what the church calls its Active Word Ministry.
Says Carl Mims, the church's director of information technology, "We're always investigating." K.S.N.