The World Wide Web is My Parish? – my dissertation from 1999

Difference between Internet and Web - WWW and its services | Websites Management | The Internet is a network of connected devices that covers the entire world. The Web is a service that supports it, such as browsers, emails, FTP, etc

My dissertation has again come up in conversation this morning, as it does every so often, so I have decided to publish it here.

This began it’s life in 1999 trying to make a theological case for churches to be using the internet – which then pretty much meant web pages… Much of it is outdated and even laughable, when we look at what the internet is now, but the principles and the theology, in my opinion, remain the same. I have continued to reflect on this, becoming disabled and mainly living my life from my home has made the internet an even more important part of my life than I ever imagined, particularly church life and ministry, so I followed it up with these two posts last year: The World Wide Web is My Parish – Zoom editions part one and part two, but this is where it all started.

An exploration of church websites with particular reference to Web Pages of Methodist Churches in the North West of England (I was living in Bolton at the time).

The computer has become a major tool of communication, and with the addition of a modem connects us to the rest of the world that has that access. A recent survey shows 3.9% of the world’s population are now online[1], and that number is growing rapidly.  Four years ago that was just 0.63%.  The UK alone has 8.1 million users of the Internet[2].  Schools are connected, and our children are being brought up to find their information there.  It is also a place for social interaction, and discussion.  It has become the place for exchange of products and ideas.

The question therefore for the Church, and each individual church, is what part should we take in the World Wide Web?  Should we be involved, or keep our distance?  The World Wide Web was only invented in 1991 (Zaleski, 1997, p6), so ten years ago we would not even have been asking these questions.  However now that it does exist, and plays such an informing role in society, the church needs to ask the questions, and then decide what it is going to do about the answers.

Society In 1999

In recent years, society has undergone some fundamental changes.  Much of its community base has been lost.   We have become a “society of strangers” (Lyon, 1994, p25).  People have become more mobile; we do not know our neighbours as we may once have; we travel to out of town centres for our shopping, rather than finding our needs met in our community. Derek Foster is concerned that there is a danger of thinking virtual community is “real” community? (Porter, 1997, p31)   Perhaps the question should be if there is any such thing a real community any more, or if our ways of finding community are just changing?  If we are to maintain any kind of relationship with other people, rather than each existing as islands, then we must begin to find that somewhere else.  Rheingold would question if Cyberspace is the place to do that, or if it offers merely a simulation (Porter, 1997, p66).  The question is “What is real?”  It may be that today’s society needs to redefine the answer to that question.  Community is about much more than geography.  Even within a geographical area we would tend only to mix with those we have something in common with, so there must be some other form of bond than locality.  Perhaps we can draw a comparison with a dispersed community such as the Jesuits; all working in different places, separate from other members of the community, but still in community with them.

If community is defined as “a body of people having common interests or enjoyment” (Cassell Giant Paperback Dictionary), or a place where there is holding-in-common of qualities, properties, identities or ideas” (Porter, 1997, p8), then the Internet is a new place of community.  It could even be argued that people on the Internet do exist in the same locality – but that is in Cyberspace rather than a physical space.  We cannot negate the fact that for many The Internet is where they find their “community”; it is “real” to them. The Internet allows you to communicate with someone who is not a part of your physical community (Porter, 1997, p24), but shares some bond with you, bringing the possibility of building a new community.   I can discuss issues with people who understand what I mean, and not just those I happen to be near.

Horror stories do abound of people taking on different identities on the Internet, but are face to face relationships any more genuine?  People may be seeking to find a community in which they are safe and accepted which the apparently impersonal Internet offers.  It is possible to immediately find people with exactly the same interests as you, wherever they are.  Correspondence does happen, relationships are formed, and a community is born.  Cyberspace has become a reality, a way of relating with other humans (Porter, 1997, p74).  Virtual reality has become real.  The Church needs to discover how it can best respond to that fact.  No denomination would dream of a new town being constructed without some church presence there, so why should a whole new community be born on the Internet with no church presence?  The church has to find the appropriate forum to be in that space.

Connery, compares cyberspace with coffee houses of seventeenth century.  They were the public places, well known, easy to find, unregulated by the crown, places of circulation of news and informed opinion people were so hungry for; alongside the possibility of planting stories, or manipulation and fraud (Porter, 1997, p163-165).   This was a place where people could not so much escape to, but enter into to discover things that were otherwise hidden to them.  Cyberspace can become part of our search for truth and meaning; it is the easiest way for those who have use of it, to access opinion.   Web pages become the newspapers available in those coffee houses, and newsgroups become the discussions round the room.

We could question whether it is ethical for the Church to take a part in a medium that excludes many around the world by cost and reliable communication lines.  Yet the fact that many cannot and never will be able to access the Internet does not mean that it is not a real medium for those who can.  There is a large part of society for whom Cyberspace is, at least in part, “home”.  Not everyone has access to a library, or local newspaper, or stops to read the church notice board, but that would not stop us using the options there to reach those who do. 

Being Church in the World

The Church is called to “proclaim the gospel afresh in every age” (Nazir Ali, 1995, p vii).  Part of being christian and being church is to live out your experience of God where you are, within your community.  To do this the church needs to be a part of its community and not hide in a “holy huddle” in the safe place.  If we are to bring the gospel to the world we have to be where the people are.  We would not imagine trying to take the gospel message to another country whilst staying in England.  If the church is to be incarnational, it needs to be profoundly “in” places. Historically, the church has made its biggest impact when it and the gospel presentation have resonated with the situation of the surrounding community (Warren, 1995, p21).  If the church is to be effective in being church, it has to be where people are.  If we are not incarnate in culture, we fail to be church in that place.   The church has to be relevant to where people are.

Michael Nazir-Ali puts forward the Anglican Parochial system as an embodiment of this (1995, p10).  The church exists in communities, in public buildings, proclaiming that they are church.  The church, in British communities, is there.  Ideally it stands as a beacon of God’s presence in that place.  Methodism plays its part historically by breaking out of imposed structures and boundaries, when necessary, to be where people are.  John Wesley left the buildings and preached in the streets and fields to reach people.  To believe in God incarnate is to want to see the church incarnate in the world, not just clinging to its familiar ways.  Unless we express church in a way our community understands, we are failing to be Christ’s body to them.

Many of today’s generation have a mistrust of institutions in general (Beaudoin, 1998, p95).  They would not set foot in church because it is an unfamiliar, unwelcoming, and alien environment.  The Church therefore has to meet them where they are, which for many is Cyberspace.  There is a need to liberate Jesus from clutches of church focussed on institutional buildings, so that he can be experienced and encountered anew for each generation.  That must be presented in a way that is relevant to their understanding.

Throughout history, particularly by the church, there have been profound misgivings about machines and technology and the effect they may have on the social and spiritual well being of the nation (Porter, 1997, p58).  There are many that have grave reservations about the Internet and the effect it may have.  Nazir-Ali points to a lesson to be learnt from the newly industrialised countries of Africa and Asia, that the old order is disappearing with the impact of technology and the intellectual challenges of technological development (1995, p21).  If the church fails to take the old order into the new, it will cease to have a dynamic impact among the culture it finds itself in.

“On the Net” is where a certain strata of society are, if the church is not there too, in some appropriate way, it is failing a whole section of society.  If we are to take seriously the lack of thirty-something’s in our churches, then Cyberculture is where many of them are – especially the men.  Most MUDs[3] and MOOs[4] are populated by people from Generation X[5] (Groothuis, 1997, p24), a generation mainly missing from the church.  If that is where they are, then the church should be among them.  Whilst it may be very difficult for the church per se to be visible in the places of virtual acquaintance, individual christians may be able to.  Otherwise the church should certainly have a place amongst web pages[6].  That is where everyone else feels able to “peddle their wares”, make a case for themselves, and stand up and be counted in Cyberspace. The World Wide Web is becoming the repository of information, with detailed data and opinion on any and every subject.  That is where those inhabitants of Cyberculture would turn to for their information.  Individual christians also have a role to play in newsgroups on the Internet.  Just as we would take part in discussion on issues in any environment we find ourselves in, be that in the office, the queue at the supermarket, or out walking the dog, so too we should be willing to share our thoughts and beliefs in on-line discussions.  This does not mean turning every conversation around to God, but sharing a distinctly christian perspective on questions.

As Frank Wright argues, for a christian presence on television, “There are many people “out there”, who do not know where to turn to in their misery and loneliness”.  They are not necessarily connected to any church, but somehow believe that “religion” has something to offer them” (Fount, 1989).  These same people may be wandering around the Web; it is a place people come to find answers.  Unless the church is there, it cannot meet those people at their point of need.  Schultz challenges us that “there comes a time for the Church of Jesus Christ to be bold enough to lay claim to a new medium” (1996, p 11).  The church has missed out much of the impact it could have had if it had made a decision to be “in” television, it must not miss the same opportunities with the Internet.  Wright asks if we have so conceptualised faith that we have forgotten it is primarily an invitation to see (1980, p15)? Have we become to hung up on our buildings that we forget what God can do, or even that he exists outside them?  For the Church to fulfil its mission, it has to be changed and learn new things (Newbigin, 1989, p124), not to move from its core foundation and principles, but reinterpret the way it expresses them.  We have failed to reach the present generation with living parables, the Internet is offering us a chance to take our place anew in contemporary society, in a way in which it recognises and can encounter.

There are examples of pastors adopting the lifestyle of those they seek to serve (Nazir-Ali, 1995, p25).  The church has people of cyber culture in its midst, not seeking to get alongside, but coming from there.  They should be encouraged to be church where they are.  Part of their normal activity is to produce Web Pages for their various interests, so what could be more normal than to also write pages for the church?

We may object to some of the less than healthy things that are on the Internet.  It is a very easy medium for different forms of pornography; there are MUDs where people pretend to be someone or some thing they are not; all kinds of people are able to peddle their opinions with no reference point; it is possible to become addicted, or “surf” to the detriment of other responsibilities.  But just because something has a darker side, does not mean the church should keep away.  Every town has these presences, yet the church does not refuse to build there, it comes amongst the good and bad and stands for Christ there.  I am reminded of the christian bookshop in Bolton that used to be directly opposite a sex shop. By not having a presence on the Internet, the church is not going to effect it in any way.  To be there can stake a claim for good. The gospel of Christ is for all, whatever we think of their lifestyle.  Experience shows us that generally people do not come to the church, the church has to go to a place of encounter with them, and meet them where they are.

Pope Gregory the Great told Augustine not to needlessly destroy the culture of the pagan Anglo-Saxons, not even to destroy their shrines, but to purify it and claim for Christian use (Nazir-Ali, 1995, p24).  This is the challenge for the church today, not to blunder in and seek to destroy someone’s culture, but to speak the gospel into that culture.  Christ came to fulfil the possibilities of Judaism, not destroy it for the corruption that had emerged within it.  The church is called to witness into culture, showing what it is to be Christ’s body, not abandoning that culture because there is something it does not find tasteful.

There are many opposing beliefs expressed on the Internet, that the Church has to find a place amongst.  It may well be that     

  “Worship Jesus and live;

                                      Worship Satan and live; and

                                      Worship Allah and live”

are digitally equal, though unequally true (Groothius, 1997, p83), but unless “worship Jesus and live” is there with the others it is not even equal in that space.  We can only ever put the gospel claims alongside those of others, but if we do not even put them there, no impact is possible.

Pope John Paul II saw that “With the advent of computer telecommunications … the church is offered further means for fulfilling her mission. The Church can more readily inform the world of her beliefs and explain the reasons for her stance” (Bakshi, on his Web Page).  We should seek to live and move in the culture, learn their ways, hear their stories, live as a christian in that place, minister to people’s needs and discern the right time for proclamation.

Groothius argues quite strongly for being wary of Cyberspace (1997, p19).  He uses Romans 12:2 and 1John 2:15-17 to point to christians keeping a distance from culture.  This overlooks the fact that Christ came into the world (John 1:10; 9:5), it was only by being in the world that he could bring light to it.  We are called to show a new way in the world, to live by God’s standards in a place that has either no, or individualistic, standards (2Cor 1:12).  We cannot do that if we never enter Cyberspace.  We can be wary of being sucked into the culture, without exercising any discernment, but not so wary that we fail to seize the opportunities The Internet presents.  If the Internet is a place where it is difficult to know what “truth” is, then that is where we should be seeking to make a stand for The Truth. In seeking to be part of culture, the church must maintain the integrity of gospel; a watered down gospel does not have liberating life-giving power.   But a gospel not even incultrated has no effect at all.  There is a balance for church to find of being counter-cultural and taking a place in culture.  We may challenge, but can only make a difference by being there. The church can join the search for new community, taking its place in it, and not missing its voice in the discussion. 

What a Web Page is for

Before we can begin to critique Church Web Pages, and the place they may have in the World Wide Web, we need to consider what any Web page can be expected to do. 

Web pages are a specific part of what the Internet can do.  BT sees them as having the power to “help your company communicate with existing customers, potential customers and opinion formers”[7].  If that it what it can do for a company, then why can the church not harness the power to reach those who might need to know about it.  People are as likely to be looking for a church as some of the obscure companies who do have web pages.

We are perhaps expecting rather too much if we think that just by putting a Web page up, our churches are suddenly going to be filled with people.   As Schwartz points out, most Web pages appeal only to a narrow audience (1997, p18). Indeed in research, Healy observed Vietnamese students hanging out only on Vietnamese channels (Porter, 1997, p62).  We may question whether people actually surf outside their normal boundaries, although one of the most fascinating aspects of the World Wide Web is that people come to all sorts of pages by following links through. The Church could be one of those threads in the Web, and needs to be there for those looking for the Church for whatever reason. We may not reach the multitudes, but the Church will at least be there for those seeking it.  If some people use the Internet as their source of information, if they do want to find the church, it has to be accessible.   Given that so few people today  have church connections, when they do need one, even if only as a service-provider, they have to be able to be in contact with one.  If they cannot access the church as easily as they can any other service, as the Internet offers, we fail to serve the community – real or cyber.

One way to attract other community users to church Web pages is to give “Value-added-information” (Schwattz, 1997, p42).  To not just tell people about the church, but with an insight to the whole community.  Some of the Web pages I visited are part of the towns Web Ring (for example in Ilkley), others link in by supplying information about the town as well as the church.  This is not just bringing people unawares, but shows the churches interest in and place amongst the whole of the community it is set in.

However, ideally a Web site should not just be an advert for a real entity, but provide an experience in itself (Schwartz, 1997, p23). A web page is not a comunal meeting place, as a church is, but does allow free acces to the thoughts and actions of the church.  A visit to a Web Page should deliver something more than an on-line newsletter, or pretty pictures of the church.  There must be something for people to take away – even if it only that the church does exist, and is alive in Cyberspace.  Newbigin uses the illustration of Peter on the day of Pentecost – something was happening that made the people ask, “What is going on?” (1989, p117).  That should be our aim, for people to stop and see what is going on in the church.  To encounter something that can be for them.

Even if we expect Church Web pages only to attract other Christians, then there is still something valuable in encouraging one another, sharing ideas, and being able to move around the Connexion easily.  Little Lever church, for example is sharing it’s building project, in the hope of both gaining from other peoples experiences and acting as a resources for other churches considering something similar.  Other churches spoke of sharing experiences of organ buying, and upkeep.  There are isues unique to churches that Web pages can be a forum for information sharing and encouragement.

The Methodist Church itself has set up a direcory for all Methodist Church Web pages to register at as a facility to help churches use the medium.  The Church recognises the importance of people in every generation using the means of their age to tell people about the gospel.  “For us to ignore the Web wold be like St Paul ignoring the boat or John Wesley ignoring the Horse”  (Methodist Webweaver).  The Web is a medium by which we can travel the world.

Ultimately, if the World Wide Web is where people are going to for their information, then by not having a Web page may be overlooked for a neighbouring one that is – even if it is a Mosque of Kingdom Hall!  To some degree the church having any presence on the Web is a witness to the fact that it exists, and that must be for some reason.  Web pages are about people sharing their experience, and this is what sharing the gospel is about (Newbigin, 1989, p7).  A Web page is a starting point – a place to offer our beliefs, and let others know our experience.

How do Web Pages relate to Church?

Having considered what Web Pages can do, I went on to look at examples of Pages that churches have posted on the Web.  I selected to visit and view those registered on the Methodist Church of Great Britain Home Page, list of Methodist Church web sites in the U.K.  This gave a sample of 121.  They were all visited between 15th and 26th March 1999, and the following data extracted from my observations.

Graph 1 (results as a percentage) Contents of Web Pages Visited

Many of the Web pages were clearly in the embryonic stages; two thirds of the sites were created in the last twelve months.  Therefore from a brief visit I could not make any definitive conclusions, and obviously each designer will have their own interests to pursue on a page but trends do begin to appear.   What is obvious is that a growing number of churches, or at least some of the people in them, are coming to believe that churches should have Web pages. 

I also visited for a more in depth analysis of the sites, those in the Bolton and Rochdale and neighbouring Districts – namely Liverpool, Manchester and Stockport, North Lancashire, and West Yorkshire.  I sent questionnaires to the designers of the eighteen sites and received sixteen replies.  Whilst sixteen cannot be a conclusive statistical sample, it may begin to show trends, certainly within this specific area of the country. 

Who writes the pages?

Three main trends immediately appear.  All the pages in the sample were designed by men[8]; 75% were designed by lay people; and 56% of the designers fitted into the 31-45 age brackets.

Graph 2  Ages of Page Designers Responding

This is also where the gap is in many churches, so if these men can speak to their gender and age, in the language they all speak, perhaps this is an important ministry.  These men are inhabiting their natural environment, they would be on the Web anyway and are bringing their church involvement there.  Writing Web pages can also be a way of involving men who are more on the edge of church life.  In Little Lever, in looking for someone to hand the Web Page maintenance on to, three men who have no other role within the church have offered to take over running of the Web Page.  It is perhaps something that those who have little confidence in other areas, feel they can contribute to the life of the church.

It was interesting that only 27% of the pages had any comment from the Minister on, and for many of those what was there was within an on-line magazine.  I wonder if this is because the Minister has no input at all into the Web page, and if that is because they do not have the time, if they have no interest, or they do not feel they have the skills.  Perhaps the Minister is perfectly happy, but does not feel the need to make a contribution.  It may be that the Minister has not been asked, and what we see is a contribution by one member, not necessarily representing the whole church.  Where the Minister has created the page, I would assume that is because he is interested in the Web, or considers it so important that they are willing to be the one to do it.  Within the Methodist system of itinerancy, it can be better for something to be owned by the church community, and not run by the Minister, but perhaps it needs an initial kick-start from them.  Some Ministerial input does give it a certain authority to the Page.  It is also the Minister who is often the public face of the church, so perhaps there is a place for hearing that voice.

Graph 3  Date pages were last updated  (out of 68 specifying)

It was encouraging to see that of the 68 sites that specified when they had last been updated, 66% of them had been in the last three months, with 39% in the last month, some even weekly.  Web pages have the potential to be instant, with no delays in editing and printing, so we should seek to maximise those opportunities.  Some of the diaries however were out of date, which is similar to some church notice boards, so perhaps we should not be surprised.  This may however reinforce the impression of the church being out of date, or trying to dabble in technology and not keeping up. 

We must be aware of what we are saying once we have set up a Web page, whether it becomes set in stone, or is continually updated with what the church is doing.  Some things do not need updating: the church history does not change unless something significant happens; directions to the church will alter little; Ministers do not move that often.  But a Page that supplies only that kind of information will not have people re-visiting it often.  A Page supplying this month’s activities need to make sure that they are indeed this month’s and not several months out of date!  That kind of Page will have people coming back to see what new things are happening. 

To keep updating a Web page, keeping it fresh and interesting requires both commitment and creativity.  It may well be that someone with the skills to initially design and set up a Web page is not the one with innovative editorial and compositional talents.  It may be that a team supplying material to the page constructor helps to keep ideas flowing and takes some of the burden.  As a Web Page is very much a public statement about a particular church, a team of contributors also gives more balance of opinion and perspective.  The Church in Abingdon specifically set out to write a Web Page out of a working group, having first introduced the clergy and members of the Executive Committee to the World Wide Web, and what other churches were doing there.  Perhaps this is one way to get interested parties to work together on a common project for the church.

No church actually paid for Web Space, all were part of the authors personal Internet Service Provider package, except St Anne’s on Sea who were taking up the Methodist Church’s offer of free web space.  The space is there to be used at no additional cost; the church has a readily available source of free advertising available, that it is missing out on if it does not have a Web Page.

I noted the number of churches that actually specified if they had an Alpha Course, partly as an attempt to try and see if it was a particular type of church that has a web page.  This does however assume that all who have Alpha Courses think it should be included on the web page, and that you can classify a type of church that hosts Alpha.  This was however reinforced by one church that was actually very proud to declare it did not have an Alpha Course.  This sort of information helps someone to get a feel for the church they are visiting on-line.

Who are the pages for?

Web Pages can reach those that traditional church buildings can not.  Many cannot get there by circumstance (as the Web page of Partenia Diocese[9] is set up to include, Zaleski, 1997, p4), others would find stepping over the threshold far too intimidating.  A Web Page is an opportunity to explore and ask questions, without having to risk personal encounter.  If a visit to a Web Site is either the beginning of further steps, or confirmation of further steps to be taken (Zaleski, 1997, p73), then the Pages are part of the journey, and not the entire experience.  They can be a complementary facet to the church.

It is clear that these Web Pages link to physical communities, we are not encountering places that only exist in the minds and lives of those who meet on the Net.  The inclusion of a map, with clear directions on how to reach the church, with times of worship and a diary, clarify that these places of worship have a physical existence.  The Web Page serves as an introduction, a taster, or guide, but the existence of the church is found in its totality in its meeting together week by week.  With 92.5% of the sites listing the worship times, and 80% having a diary of church events, this points to the fact that the physical acts of the church together are what are important.  This also shows an expectation that not only church members will visit the churches Pages, but also those who do not know where the building is.  The web Page is an invitation to come and see.

Only 23% of the sites visited had any kind of gospel declaration or message.  This re-enforces the fact that these sites are not meant to be a replacement for meeting in the (in 2021 I would say as the) church, but an invitation to come and find out more.  However, perhaps we need to give casual visitors to the site a reason to be coming to the church, rather than looking good on a web page.  Ultimately the church has to have some reason to be on the World Wide Web, other than to appear trendy.

It also seems logical that there be at least some form of contacting the church.  There is little point knowing about this church, if it cannot be accessed.  If Web Pages are an opportunity to explore and ask questions, then there has to be the facility to do so, and receive answers.

Sharing the history of the church and its presence in a community links it in to local history, and can bring people to the pages through that route.  It shows the church has a place within the totality of the area, and not just for those who are members.  If church web pages are to be accessed by people other than those already interested there has to be some way of linking them in with people looking for other information.  There are opportunities for links to local town pages, local societies, Tourist Information, and Newspaper Web Pages.  The Church does however have more to offer than as just a Local History Society.  It is good to show where we come from, and ground our experience, but the church also needs to show that it has a here and now, and offers a future.  Faith is grounded in historical fact, but also lives today and holds something more for tomorrow.

All of those who responded to my more in depth questionnaire spoke of their intention of creating a web page in some degree to be about getting the church known, letting the community know what went on there.  It is also a way of keeping Internet connected members of the church informed of what is going on. There was a perceived evangelistic opportunity, although it varied as to how far that was a primary objective or a natural part of the church having anything to say.

Creators were conscious of the church not missing the opportunity, but harnessing ever-changing technology.  There was a desire that the church must not get left behind, but be visibly involved in contemporary activities. 

Hall Road, Shipley also spoke of the fact that it made the church think about what was interesting about itself to those around.  Doing this is a step towards reaching out in any way to the church.  Knowing what we are about is a good basis for what we do and say.

Churches were keen to share what are strong features of their ministry; for example Hillside provides resources in music and drama, and is also to seek ideas from others.  Some also spoke of Web pages being a resource in Stationing – both for the Circuit and the Minister.  Certainly the first thing I did when I was stationed was look to see if the church had a Web page.  It is one more way to see how the church presents itself to the outside world.

Some of the creators also used a Church Web Page for them to develop new skills.  This was an intention that had been fulfilled!  For one person it was “a bit of fun”, in fact for most I would assume maintaining the page is a hobby.  Perhaps if the church does nothing other than show it can have fun, and knows how to use modern technology it is not doing too badly!  The Church is often accused of being out of date, being on the Internet, if done well, is a counter to that.

To a large degree whether people felt their site had met their original intention, depended on how high their expectations were.  Trinity, Clitheroe felt they had still to make full use of the Web, and wanted to publicise the page through various Search Engines.  Most people said they were beginning to get some response, usually by e-mail contacts so at least they knew someone was visiting.  As more people seem to be connected to the Web every week, this can only increase.  If a Web page is getting some visits it is obviously meeting a need – even if it is only one of curiosity.  There have also been e-mail contacts be people long moved, even out of the country, pleased to be able to make contact with former places of worship.

A Church Web Page therefore is for many people:  for the community at large to know what the church is and does; for churches to share resources and experiences; to get the church to think about what it has got to say to the community  – on or off the Net; and not least of all for the designers to be able to offer their skills in a place the church needs to be.

Where are Pages going?

If we are to create successful Web Pages, we need to define by what criteria we judge “successful”, whom we are trying to reach, and what we want to tell them.  Pages can just evolve, but those who know where they are going are more likely to be coherent and meaningful.

Designers had given thought to development of the pages, they were not intended to stay as they were but to grow with the technology.  Most spoke of adding new graphics when they were able – and had time!  Most also realised the need to constantly update the pages, to keep interest and remain relevant.  It is important that having joined the World Wide Web, the church continues to keep up with developments.  If we are to continue to be relevant we need to remain where others are and not lag behind.

People wanted to develop their sites with more resources, which could be a valuable use amongst churches. There is also recognition of the possibilities of links to other sites as a resource, sharing what has been helpful. Skipton and Grassington Circuit looked to the future as a way of supporting Ministers and Local Preachers, with possible resources for prayer and preaching.

Trinity, Clitheroe also wanted a regular feature to keep peoples interest, and encourage them to return to the site.  Some churches are keen to publish the Sunday Service on the site.  This would be very helpful for those who can not get to church, but a great challenge to the preacher!

Some sites also wanted to include e-mail prayer chains or boards, this is something a church can positively offer, and is relatively easily set up.  People can leave messages, which can either be used in the church, left on the web page for others to access and pray for, or a ring of people can be set up which prayer requests are e-mailed around.

However, many spoke of lack of time to give to the Web Site and of re-aligned ambitions for how often updating could be achieved.  If the church is serious about using the World Wide Web in their ministry then it has to consider the supply of resources to do the job, and keep it up to date.


Whatever a church does on the World Wide Web, whatever front it presents, has to be carried on in the local church.  This is born out in the fact that so many sites include the details of the church’s activities.  An immediate challenge is take make sure the Web Page and the reality are recognisable as being the same place.  The Internet is a place where people can take on any identity they want, however fanciful or far form reality that is.  If the church is to stand for truth, that has be encountered if people are to step from Cyberspace through the local church doors on a Sunday.

We have to take seriously the fact that the World Wide Web has become a community where anyone can speak – although no one has to listen.  The Church must have a voice, but should be realistic in its expectations.  People speak of positive responses to their Web Pages, but usually by those who are looking at Church Sites anyway.

The World Wide Web is a rapidly changing landscape with more and more sites being added all the time.  Having accepted the challenge to stake a place in it, the church needs to continue to be relevant, continually exploring what it is to be church in that place.

People are on the World Wide Web.  They use it for information, to try and find some basis for their lives, to find what they feel is missing, or just to escape from where they are and be able to go anywhere.  It can be a place of dreaming dreams, and informing reality.  It is a place of searching, where one thing easily leads to another.

The Church is a place for people searching for truth, love, peace and wholeness.  We have that to offer and should seek to make that offer in any place where people are.  The World Wide Web is becoming such a significant part of the lives of so many people, the first place to which they turn.  The church is failing to fulfil is mission to go into all the world if it is not in that part of technology that covers the whole world, regardless of any political, geographical or physical boundaries.

Whatever we feel about the World Wide Web, it is here and plays a part in the lives of many people.  We need to be there for the people who inhabit that space now.  It is happening.  The church can either ignore it, and with it the people who find a life there; or we can try and meet with those who do communicate this way in a way they understand.

Church Web Pages are a way to be there for people who would not normally come into church.  They can remind them that the church is still alive and well, and ready to welcome them.  Those pages can be a very good form of introduction, giving people an overall view of what to expect.  They are not a replacement for the life of the church in the physical community, but an important enhancement and extension of it.

To be Church is to live as Christ’s people wherever other people are, for ever expanding numbers of this generation that is the World Wide Web.  Christ spent his time, not just in the Temple, but out where people were.  That continues to be the challenge for the church today.  A challenge that in part can be fulfilled by a presence on the Web, but a presence that must match that which is lived out in the reality of the local church.


Table for Graph 1

 HistoryMapWorship TimesContactMinister’s LetterDiary“Gospel” MessageAlpha Course
Not included5742916  88249391

Table for Graph 2

Age of Designer15-3031-4546-60Over 61

Table for Graph 3

Date last updatedThis month2-3 months ago3-6 months agolonger

Questionnaire sent to Web Pages

Who in the church maintains this page?

 Minister/other leader/church member/ team of people

How many mega-bytes is it?

Do you pay for your web space?

When was it set up?

How often is it updated?

How many visits have you had (if you know)?

What was the original intention of this web page?

Do you feel it has met that intention?

How do you see your page developing?

What do you feel are the possibilities for church web pages?

Are you:


Under 15  15-30  31-45  46-60  over 60


Beaudoin, Tom           Virtual Faith                                         Jossey-Bass    1998

Cobb, Jennifer            Cybergrace                                         Crown              1998

Dixon, Patrick              Cyberchurch                                        Kingsway            1997

Donnellan, Craig (ed) The Internet – Marvel or Menace            Independence 1997

Gill, Robin                   The Myth of the Empty Church           SPCK              1993

Groothuis, Douglas     The Soul in Cyberspace                     Baker               1997

Lyon, David                 Postmodernity             Open University Press            1994

Nazir-Ali, Michael        Mission and Dialogue                         SPCK              1995

Newbigin, Leslie         The Gospel in a Pluralist Society       SPCK              1989

Porter, David (ed)       Internet Culture                                   Routledge            1997

Sanneh, Lamin            Translating the Message                    Orbis               1990

Schultze, Quentin J    Internet for Christians       Gospel Communications         1996

Schwartz, Evanl          Webonomics                                       Penguin            1997

Tillich, Paul                 Theology of Culture                            O.U.P              1959

Warren, Robert           Building Missionary Congregations    CHP                1995

Wickham, E R             Encounter with Modern Society            Lutterworth      1964

Wright, Frank              Invisible Network                                 Fount               1989

Wright, Frank              The Pastoral Nature of Ministry          SCM                1980

Zaleski, Jeff                 The Soul of Cyberspace                     Harper S.F.     1997

Magazine Articles:

Aze, Stephen              Use Your Imagination Connect Magazine               Autumn 1998

                                    50 Pure Gold               Internet Magazine            January 1999 

                                    Surf’s Up                                 PC Direct            May 1999

Web Pages for Articles:

Bakshi, Priya        The Impact of the Internet on Religion

Bedell, Ken          The Extent and Nature of Religion on the Internet

Henderson, Charles                The Emerging Faith Communities of Cyberspace

Hewitt, Steve                           Can there be a REAL Internet Church?


Web Pages visited for information on contents

Methodist Church of Great Britain                            

Crown Terrace, Aberdeen                

St Paul’s Methodist Centre, Aberystwyth    

Addlestone Methodist Church                 

Airton Methodist Church                  

Alderney Methodist Church                                

Kennington Methodist/URC Church 

St John’s, Bangor                              

Banstead Methodist Church                                      

Staincross, Methodist Church                        


Trinity, Barton-on-Humber                          

Basingstoke Methodist Church                                    

Batley Central Methodist/URC Church         

Bedford South Circuit                 

Saint Mark’s & Putnoe Heights                                    

Brentwood Methodist Church  

Bridport United Church                             

Hillside, Brinscall                                                             

Broadstone Methodist Church         

Wheatley Lane, Burnley                                           

Cambridge Circuit                                                  

Cathnays Methodist Church                           

Canvey Island Methodist Church                          

Cheadle Methodist Church                      

Chertsey Methodist/URC Church       

Chessington Methodist Church     

Chesterfield Circuit                                     

Trinity, Clitheroe                                   

Earlsdon, Coventry              

Graingers Lane, Cradely Heath          

Elm Ridge, Darlington                                  

Brent Methodist Church                                            

Promenade, Douglas             

Abbots Langley Methodist Church                             

Trinity, East Grinstead                                   

Eastington Methodist Church                  

Epsom Methodist Church                                                          

Evesham Methodist Church   

Exeter Methodist Church                          

Faringdon Church                                                

Little Lever                                   

Seaton Road, Felixstowe                                

Fulwood, Preston                                                                  

Georgetown, Jersey        

Greenford Methodist Church             

Guildford Methodist Church            

Merrow Methodist Church

Southdown Methodist Church                                                                                                                                                                                            Heald Green            


Christ Church, Hitchin     

Lindley Methodist Church                  

Christ Church, Ilkley                                     

Bethesda, Jersey                                                     

La Rocque, Jersey          

Samaras, Jersey          



Cookridge, Leeds                      

Trinity, Leek                                             

Wesley, Leigh-on-Sea          

Trinity, Leighton Buzzard                               

Littlehampton United Church    

Little Neston

Childwall Valley                                               

Elm Hall Drive                                                           

Linacre Methodist Mission                       

Princes Park, Liverpool                                  

The Upper Room, Liverpool  

West London Mission                 

Upper Tooting Methodist Church            

Westminster Central Hall                              

Whitechapel Mission                                           

East Point Faith Centre, Suffolk       

St Mark’s, Maidenhead

St John’s, Luton                                   

Market Harborough                      

Monton Methodist Church                                   

Neath Methodist Church             

Vale of Belvoir Circuit                               

Offerton Methodist Church                                

Wesley, Oxford                                              

Palace Avenue, Paignton 

East Peckham Methodist Church             

Peterhead Methodist Church           

Town Street, Pinxton                                            

Crown Centre, Plymouth   

Mount Gould, Plymouth                  


Christ Church, Woodley                                 

Trinity, Earley                                                                

Woodley Airfield                   

Romsey Methodist Church  

Carrington Lane, Sale         

Sittingbourne Methodist Church           

Broomhill, Sheffield                            

Greenhill, Sheffield                                

Hall Royd, Shipley                             

St John’s, Shrewsbury                             

St Andrew’s, Skipton  

Skipton and Grassington Circuit       

Lyndon Methodist Church 

Southampton Circuit                                                           

Swaything, Southampton                

Liverpool Road, Birkdale                                    

Church Road, St Annes-on-Sea 

Stoneleigh Methodist Church                           

All Saints, Stevenage                                               

Thatcham Methodist Church

Tipton Green           

Truro Methodist Church                       

Holtwood Methodist Church                

Verewood Methodist Church                                          


North Watford                           


Widnes Circuit                            

Wesley, Winchester                                            


Witney Methodist Church              

High Street, Woking                  


Web Pages for Questionnaires:


Cheadle Hulme                      

Childwel Valley                      

Christ Church, Ilkley              

Elm Hall Drive                        

Hall Royd                               

Heald Green              

Hillside, Brinscall                   

Little Neston                           

Little Lever                             

Liverpool Road, Birkdale           

Makerfield Circuit                   

Monton                        `           

Princes Park, Toxteth            

St Annes on Sea                 

Skipton & Grassington           

The Upper Room                   

Tranmere Community Project 

Trinity, Clitheroe                     

Widness Circuit                      

This work is original and has not been submitted previously in support of a degree qualification or other course.

Pamela Webster                                                                     7th June 1999

[1] Nua survey quoted on Netcenter News, May 14th, 1999 (…tter/global051499.html?cp=let22fstr)

[2] Nua February 1999 summary of Computer Almanac Industry’s ranking report, Netcentre News, May 14th 1999

[3]  Multi-User Dungeon – “text based virtual worlds in which Internet users can create characters in a shared, interactive space” (Porter, Routledge, 1997), built around fantasy role-play.

[4] A Moo is virtual fantasy world of role-playing games, similar to Dungeons and Dragons

[5] Generation X – those born in the 1960’s and 1970’s (Beaudoin, 1998, p ix)

[6] A web page is a factual statement, or expression of opinion, and not a fantasy game or role- play.


[8] not surprising, given that only 20% of new browsers in Europe are women (PC Direct, May 1999)


~ by pamjw on June 9, 2021.

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