People thinking about going to Porterfield Baptist Church can look over the building, see and hear the pastor's sermons and learn about events in the life of the church before they ever enter the building.
The church's website, www.pbcexchange.com, offers those options and more, an example of how technology is being increasingly embraced by religious organizations to serve and communicate with strangers and members alike.
"To me, every local church has its own personality," said Mark Eaton, pastor of Porterfield Baptist. "And the website is a way someone can get a feel for the personality of the church."
Photo courtesy of Mark Eaton, Porterfield Baptist Church
Porterfield Baptist Church has an extensive website that includes video and audio archives of seminars, photos, schedules of events and more.
According to a recent report by the Cooperative Congregations Studies Partnership, surveys of Christian, Jewish and Muslim houses of worship indicate they are using technology more and more. Of the more than 11,000 congregations surveyed, 90 percent used email in 2010, up from 35 percent a decade earlier. Over the same period, the number of congregations using websites rose from one-third to more than two-thirds and more than 40 percent of congregations reported using Facebook.
"To me, it's almost mandatory to have some type of presence on the Web or Facebook," said Chris Gimpel, pastor of New Life United Pentecostal Church in Marietta.
Since Gimpel became the church's interim pastor in the fall, his wife, Tracy, has designed a new website for the church and started and maintains its Facebook page. As they prepare to transition to Marietta full-time, Gimpel said he's looking to add an audio library of sermons "for people that have missed or people that are curious."
Use of technology by religious groups
Website only - 35 percent.
Facebook and website - 34 percent.
Facebook only - 7 percent.
Neither - 24 percent.
Source: "Virtually Religious: Technology and Internet Use in American Congregations," faithcommunitiestoday.org
Having sermons available online has been a benefit to Porterfield members, Eaton said, with some using them to feel connected when they can't come to church due to illness. One couple used them to feel closer to home when work took them out of the country.
"While they were overseas, they would log on to the website and watch the sermons together," Eaton said.
Porterfield's website also features photos from church events, information about its programs, a special site for the youth group and videos of baptisms for friends and family who might not have been able to attend.
The website is designed to benefit church members and people who may be looking for a church to attend, Eaton said. Even with greeters and a welcome team present on Sundays, going to a new church can sometimes be intimidating, he said.
Using the website is "a non-threatening way for them get acquainted with your church and decide whether they want to attend," Eaton said.
The Rev. Jim Condrey, pastor of Rockland United Methodist Church in Belpre, said he brought more technology and multimedia resources to his previous appointment in Liberty Center and that's part of why he was appointed at Rockland in 2010. The average age at the church is about 55, and Condrey said he thinks technology can help appeal to younger people.
"I think we're recognizing in the mainstream church we are getting older," he said. "And so for churches to be relevant, we need to be able to connect with the culture."
Announcements about upcoming events and photos from activities are posted on the church's Facebook page, and they also have a website, although it's not as up to date, Condrey said. He also employs other technological methods of communicating with the congregation.
"My primary means of communicating with the younger folks ... is texting," he said. "I thought I would be one of the last ones that would start texting, but it's quick, it's effective."
Condrey said he's building a team to help the church make further use out of technology.
Eaton noted one reason Porterfield has had so much success with its site is the contributions of volunteers, led by member Mike McCammon.