It’s Fall.  Time for Church Shopping…

Orginally published on Wednesday, November 07, 2007 at 8:37 AM
by Todd Rhoades

From USA Today: "Across the country, fall is high season for "church shopping," as people in search of a new faith community to call home set about the task of finding one. But that doesn't mean they're showing up, singing hymns, shaking hands and sampling doughnuts at a different church each week. Instead, observers say, they're visiting church websites and evaluating congregations often without having actually met anyone at the church. And that has some church people worried that the practice of faith is getting ever more impersonal and consequently less powerful in an age driven by efficiency and impatience. Church shoppers "used to have to go to the service, sit in the back row and watch," says Tom Bandy, president of EasumBandy & Associates, a church consultancy. "The website has just replaced that. The color schemes, the formatting, the language, the music those things powerfully reveal who they (in the church) want to come there and who's going to be accepted there."

As tools for reaching potential worshipers, church websites are growing in number and getting more sophisticated. One sign: Five years ago, churches made up only 5% of clientele for StreamGuys, an Areada, Calif.-based provider of streaming audio and video services. Today, churches represent more than 20% of the company’s business.

At Community Church of Joy in Glendale, Ariz., worship services began streaming live over the Internet in September. Video services are available every Sunday morning on the church’s website.

“We’re working as fast as we can to add those components to help people feel a connection,” says Mark Sorensen, who oversees the site. “Just like people do a lot of car shopping and major purchase shopping online, they see what they can find out about the church online before their decision to come for the first time.”

Large churches, especially evangelical ones, are most inclined to use the Web for outreach. Eighty-two percent of churches with more than 200 worship attendees have websites, compared with only 29% of those with fewer than 100, according to a 2006 Ellison Research survey of 871 Protestant congregations nationwide. Another finding: Evangelical congregations are far more likely than mainline churches to offer sermons in streaming audio, pages for teens or video testimonies from parishioners.

Efforts to leverage the Web for recruitment are paying off for congregations, says Hartford Seminary religion sociologist Scott Thumma, who says church shoppers increasingly make the discernment process a largely online experience.

“I hear from people in churches that they’re constantly running into folks who say, ‘I saw your website. Now I’m here,’ “ says Thumma, author of Beyond Megachurch Myths: What We Can Learn From America’s Largest Megachurches.

“Having a website allows the religious consumer to be a much more informed consumer. (If people) can find can a congregation that fits their needs and their interests, they’re more likely to make a long-term commitment and to be a serious participant in the life of that church,” Thumma says.
More here at USA Today...

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