20 Jun 2010 Internet church: ‘We are helping bring church into people’s homes’
“It’s a plagiarized idea,” NLC Executive Pastor Rick Bezet said. “A lot of churches do it. We’ve always known we wanted to do it, but it takes a certain amount of technology to do it right. We wanted to start it last year, but we couldn’t get everything lined up properly.
“It fits New Life Church. We want to be a church that’s everywhere in the state of Arkansas. The Internet Campus goes ahead of us. It’s a cheap way to be in a city before you get there physically.”
The Internet Campus launched Feb. 14, extending New Life Church’s total number of campuses to five.
“It’s been the easiest thing we’ve ever done,” NLC Programming Director Phil Noblit said. “It’s been nothing compared to starting a new physical campus. We were disappointed when we couldn’t start it last fall, but it was the best thing that could have happened. It gave us time to prepare, plan, design and test it. When we finally launched, it was a breeze.”
The Internet Campus provides the New Life Church experience – live worship and a relevant message. Viewers can chat with other viewers and even request one-on-one prayer with a pastor.
“Church can be more authentic online than it can be anywhere else,” Bezet said. “Church is the most plastic place in the world. Online, you can go in anonymously.
People who have been abused by spiritual leaders, people ashamed about their relationship with God or confused about spirituality – the Internet is a safe place for them to walk in.
“My dad hasn’t been in church in 20 years. The only time he visits a church is when he comes up to see me or my brother. Now every Sunday morning at 11:30, he attends our church by watching online. My dad is a part of our church now, and he lives in Baton Rouge. Now that’s a pretty cool deal.”
Two NLC pastors staff the Internet Campus each weekend. Adam Roth serves as the Internet Pastor, answering prayer requests and counseling viewers. Matthew
Leonard keeps the experience running as the Webmaster and Internet Campus Director. Other volunteers serve as a sort of greeter by chatting with and welcoming viewers who log into the site.
“The Internet staff will play a major role in the success of the Internet Campus,” Bezet said. “It grows based on their gifts. The product we’re handing them is good, but they have to make the campus a community. We want to eventually add small groups, training and a children’s ministry. You don’t ever need a room. That’s the beauty of it all – we can dream like crazy.”
More important than anything, the Internet Campus provides another way to reach the next soul – here in Arkansas and around the world.
“Going to church can be intimidating, especially if it’s a church you’ve never been to before,” Bezet said. “To crank up the car, get all the kids in, find a parking spot, get past the greeters, find a seat – it’s all very intimidating sometimes. We have people watching from Kenya, Japan, Malaysia, Canada, California, Florida – from all over. I love the fact that a church can influence someone on the other side of the world without changing anything.”
Stacy MacDonald started attending New Life Church’s college ministry – Elevation – as a freshman at the University of Central Arkansas in 2005. She married in 2007 and moved to Chicago. She and her husband, Jonathan, have searched for a new church home for three years with little success.
“New beginnings were all very over-whelming,” MacDonald said. “We desired to find a new church quickly to have that as a constant in this ever changing new life we had taken on. Unfortunately, it turned into a much harder task than we ever dreamed.
“I remember the first time we watched an Internet service and how we felt that we were back in Conway . . . At the end of that first service, we were astounded at how we had felt more a part and connected to that service than we had at any of the services we had tried in Chicago. The worship was powerful and without a doubt translated into our living room. The teaching was brought with the same passion we remembered and had been searching for.”
The MacDonalds hook their computer up to their TV to watch the services each Sunday.
“Something that we have been continually impressed with is that we still feel a sense of community,” MacDonald said. “How is that possible when it’s just the two of us in our living room? We think it’s great how people ‘greet’ us on Sunday mornings – how there are people available for prayer and how people can [virtually] raise their hand during a salvation call. Do we wish we could be in a church setting? Yes. Is the idea of a ‘church setting’ changing a bit for us? Yes.
“We have many friends here who have a complicated – to say the least – relationship with the Lord. This new Internet Campus has given us a chance for a new conversation with our friends. They’re each taken back with the idea of going to church this way, but then they are intrigued to find out more. We hope that soon our small little apartment here in the city will become a meeting place for us all to get together and watch on a Sunday morning. Many of them have been burned and hurt by churches and find it hard to set foot into a church. This seems to be a bit easier for them to try God again.”
It’s the early responses that have made the new campus a success in Leonard’s eyes.
“What keeps me excited about it every week is that people are responding,” Leonard said. “At least one person every weekend says something like ‘I had given up on God until I saw this website.’ In some ways, I think the Internet Campus allows different opportunities to connect with people that a typical church setting doesn’t allow. We’re never going to reach any less people by doing this.”
The anonymity of the Internet has allowed some viewers to really let go and get honest with their problems.
“We get extreme prayer requests,” Roth said. “It’s not that people don’t open up in our church, but they get really open online. We really think about how to pray for people. It’s not generic, plastic prayers. It’s custom made. We listen, and we talk.
“Prayer requests get deep: marriages about to end, people need spiritual or physical healing, they hate their job, the kids don’t like them. People open up without ever shaking your hand because we’ve removed that initial fear of contact. We are helping bring church into people’s homes – there’s no greater function of a church.”
For more information about the NLC Internet Campus, visit www.newlifechurch.tv.