This week, as part of our ongoing Mainstream Web Watch series, we'll be looking into how religious groups are using Web technologies. As early adopters in the tech industry, many of us have near spiritual experiences about our favorite products - as Rob Cottingham highlighted in his RWW cartoon over the weekend! But let's look at how actual religions are deploying web technologies to spread their respective gospels.
In this post we'll look at a Christian church, LifeChurch, which is using the Web in an extensive way. In upcoming posts we'll cover other religions, such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. Note that we're going to keep a tight focus on the technology - rather than what is being preached with the technology.
The first site we're looking at was suggested by a RWW commenter on Rob's cartoon, David Mackey from IT news aggregator Informed Networker. He pointed out LifeChurch TV, a sophisticated rich media site that aims to preach Christianity over the Internet. LifeChurch.tv describes itself as a "multi-site church" that provides video coverage to "enable all of our twelve locations to be connected as one".
LifeChurch.tv is a production of the Life Church, a Christian "megachurch" that formed in 1996 in Edmond, Oklahoma. It appears that the church started its tv operations in 2001, then in April 2006 the LifeChurch.tv "Internet Campus" was launched. This provided weekly live, interactive church broadcasts over the Internet, for anyone in the world to tune into. The website also began offering "online LifeGroups" (small collaborative networks). At the same time a sub-site called LifeChurch.tv Open started, with the aim of offering free content to other churches.
Last but not least, in April 2007, LifeChurch opened a presence in SecondLife. Andrea Useem attended one of the virtual world services, but wasn't overly impressed. "I was looking forward to chatting with people in the cavernous but furnished church lobby", she wrote, "[but] unfortunately, the 15 or so people who attended the service disappeared quickly, and I found myself as I usually am in Second Life -- wandering around by myself." (thanks Marcello for the link)
Praise Be Web 2.0
The LifeChurch websites today are an impressive and well designed collection of content, tools and online video. The main Internet Campus site features a blog which has many 'web 2.0' features: a variety of RSS feeds, embedded video widgets, 'share this' links, live prayer and help options, and connections to Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Vimeo. Also the blog has a number of international translations via the Wordpress plugin Nothing2Hide - e.g. the Korean version.
The Open site also has a blog, written by the church pastors. Its most recent post at time of writing is about a new initiative called LifeShare, which Pastor Bobby Gruenewald describes as a "7-day challenge for the church to move together online with purpose." He describes how they're using the Web to connect with people:
"We're doing this at a few different levels, ranging from simple steps like tweets and internet campus e-invites to more in-depth efforts like sharing online how God is working in your life and embedding video teaching on your blog. We're connecting daily through a live video stream to talk about next steps and pray together. LifeShare is open to anyone, anywhere, so feel free to join us by signing up here."
LifeChurch's Web Apps
What's really great to see is how LifeChurch is using best-in-class web apps to create each different aspect of their online presence - Twitter for real-time communication, Wufoo to create their online forms, Blip.tv for video teaching, Mogulus for live broadcasting, and so on.
recently announced ChurchMetrics.com, which is a web app that helps churches "track attendance, giving, salvations, and baptisms." As yet the app hasn't been launched publicly, but it sounds like a great example of web analytics applied to the real world (which on this blog means beyond tech!).But they're also building their own apps, for example the
The main web app that LifeChurch has released so far is YouVersion.com, a free online Bible which presents Christian Scripture in a variety of media formats, including pictures, video, journal entries, and blog posts. The beta of this app was launched in October 2007. And yes, there is an iPhone app version!
Overall we come away very impressed by how LifeChurch is utilizing the Internet. It is using a variety of web apps to achieve its purpose, and creating its own as well. The church's websites and apps are visually rich and sophisticated in features.
Most importantly, the web activities of LifeChurch are bringing its message to many more people than they would've reached without an online presence. It's a great example of the mainstream web, using many of the tools and trends we've preached here on ReadWriteWeb over the years!
Tell us in the comments about other religious organizations using the Web. We're going to explore a few examples this week, from Christianity as well as other religions.