Religious folks looking for an alternative to the risqué images on MySpace.com have created a space of their own.
MyChurch.org modeled itself after the wildly popular social networking site and launched late last year. It reported more than 3,700 churches had created online communities through the site by April.
"When church leaders saw their younger congregants on social networking sites like MySpace, they recognized an opportunity to foster community between Sundays," MyChurch representatives explained in a prepared statement. "Churches have traditionally been cautious to adopt Internet technology, fearing that a virtual church might keep members out of the pews. But churches have flooded onto social networking sites. There are more than 100,000 religious groups on MySpace."
Owner and operator JC Media reports that MyChurch.org receives 2.5 million page views a month. It allows pastors to record and upload sermons and congregants to discuss them. Users can embed Bible passages into blogs, and organize and register for local events. The site allows access to electronic bulletins, classifieds, recent sermons, a U.S. church map, prayer requests, podcasts, comments, photos, and personal profiles, of course.
"Conversations we've never had time for are coming together online," Pastor Dan Beasley, of the Calvary Community Church in Maryland, said in a prepared statement. The profiles and pictures are revealing things about us that might take years to come out. We're seeing folks show their true gifts. People we didn't know as teachers are emerging in the blogs, and encouragement and mercy are shown in the comments."
More than 80 people access Beasley's online church community at MyChurch.org.
MyChurch.org is a social networking tool for Christians and their churches, but the site encourages non-Christian individuals to join as well. It points out that it is a way for people who have relocated to meet others in their new towns. Access is free for individuals, but churches support the effort by paying $12 monthly for premium subscriptions. Premium services include donation links and PayPal accounts, ad-free pages, customer service support, a spot on the church map, and 1-Gbyte of disk space (instead of 100 Mbytes for free membership).
The site archives sermons into an online library, offers a collaborative blog, provides a photo sharing application, and contains event calendars for churches and individuals. The site operators describe themselves as "four guys and a gal who love their church communities and want to create meaningful technologies."
Pastor Jim Somerville of First Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., said that the service allows missionaries from his church to stay in touch while serving in far-away places like Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone, Taiwan, and Dubai.