If you are a church leader not using the Internet, you are missing out on a new world of potential. Dozens of sites can make your ministry more productive. The Barna Research Group claims that by now nearly half of all Protestant churches in North America have a Web site that lists upcoming church activities and provides background information and current congregational news. The advantages of an online presence for members and especially nonmembers are obvious.
Entire hymnals exist on the Web. They are far more versatile and "capable" than their paper ancestors. They can actually play the hymn on your computer. You can search not only by title, author, and composer but also by scriptural reference, meter, or even fullt ext search of the lyrics. Cyberhymnal.org has over 4,400 hymns. Lutheran-hymnal.com has six complete Lutheran hymnals.
Other sites will play a snatch of any con temporary Christian song and then, for a small fee, allow you to print the score. Church musicians should investigate classicalarchives.com, www.praisecharts.com, sheetmusicdirect.com, sunhawk.com, and worshiptogether.com. Recorded clips of 350 different choirs singing thousands of anthems are available at www.geocities.com/hearchoirs/.
The entire Adventist hymnal can be played online in MIDI at www3.telus.net/sdahymnal; see also www.digitalhymnal.org, which is less complete but offers more options.
It is close to impossible to communicate too much, so an active email list is vital. Snail mail is still needed for the older members not on the Internet, but email is the future. No special software is required. With Microsoft's free email software, Outlook Express, you can manage categorized lists, emailing all the members, or just the youth, deacons, church board, etc.
Members will appreciate the timely communication of prayer requests, illnesses, last-minute changes, etc. The church communication secretary can email not only announcements but entire bulletins, sermon notes, even board agendas. Being kept in the loop keeps the members happy.
Bible.gospelcom.net will display any particular Bible passage, or do a concordance search of 16 different Bible versions in 30 languages. You can list all passages that contain, say, the words "Jesus" and "priests." Other Bible study aids and commentaries are avail able on this site, as well as at www.bible.org and www.ccel.org. You may already have Bible search software and a library. Now all of your online members do too!
An exhaustive concordance to the published writings of Ellen G. White is available online at egwdatabase.whiteestate.org, and a complete online index to Adventist periodicals at www.andrews.edu/library/car/sdapiindex.html.
For speakers, teachers, and writers, the Web offers resources of revolutionary proportions. Research has never been easier. Type "sermon Samaritan woman" (without quotes) into Google.com and Google will gladly serve up, in less than a second, more than 18,000 such sermons—free! The judicious pastor can glean anecdotes, ideas, and quotes from a wide range of sources without the wholesale bor rowing that constitutes plagiarism.
These days Google stands above the pack as the leading search engine. With its blazing speed, it is so multi-talented that many pastors make it their home page or download its tool bar. Google is a calculator: type in a formula and it will provide the numerical solution; or type in "teaspoons in a gallon" and it will give the answer. It's a dictionary: type in a word and it will give you the definition. It's a national telephone directory: type in a name and a state (city optional) and get a telephone number. It will also trans late paragraphs from one language to another.
One of Google's more amazing abilities enhances pastoral visitation: type any telephone number into Google, and it will offer a map of the address of that phone number! Or you can start with an address: type in "Reno, NV," or a specific street address, for a detailed map. For a list of Google's abilities, see www.google.com/help/ features.html. No other Web site offers so much. And remember Google's constantly updated newspage.
The Web contains more information than a large reference library, and Google is the gateway. Computer malfunction? Just type the error mes sage into Google. Want the full lyrics to some obscure hymn? Just type a snatch of the lyrics between quote marks into Google. Want to buy a house? Want to know more about Melchizedek? It's all on the Web, though you may have to sort through some nonsense. Children's Sabbath School leaders can find hoards of material—quizzes, pictures to color, etc.—ready to print and use.
Newer search engines are rising to challenge Google. Alltheweb.com now indexes more sites: the same ser mon search on "Samaritan woman" returns 64,000 results.
Entire libraries are available on the Net, capable of full-text searching (whose content is not necessarily accessible to Google). These include Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Bartleby, Books-on-line, The Internet Public Library, Project Gutenberg, The Online Books Page, Electronic Text Center, Elibrary, and Questia (look these up by using Google). Still more online religious libraries are listed at www.crosssearch.com/Reference/ OnlineJLibraries/.
For those who still like to buy their own books, there is Amazon.com, the second most useful site on the Web. Amazon has the highest-ever customer-satisfaction rating of any company in history. Amazon sells everything but specializes in books. It will display all books in print on a particular subject and sell them at a generous discount, with no sales tax, and no shipping charge on orders over $25! Local stores can't compete. For most books Amazon offers online reviews, sometimes hundreds per book. This book review feature is a great research tool. You can delve into the text of many books because pages of front- and end-matter are provided online. Amazon also presents you with a list of books similar to the one you are looking at.
Recently Amazon unveiled its most astonishing capability: full-text searches of over 130,000 books—33 million pages—called "Search Inside the Book." Amazon has always allowed keyword searches of book titles; now it searches the full text of the book.
A recent search using the word "Sabbath" generated over 9,000 volumes. You can read any page that con tains your keyword, and browse a few pages backward and forward. But you cannot read the book from beginning to end, and you cannot download or copy text because Amazon supplies only pictures of pages, not electronic text, and their objective is for you to purchase their books.
Adventist books can be purchased from adventistbookcenter.com. All things Adventist can be accessed through www.Adventist.org or www.Plusline.org.
Most Adventist media programming, such as It Is Written, can be viewed over the Internet. 3ABN leads in technological prowess; it is broad cast live and in real-time over the Net in broadband (a dial-up connection works, but the quality is poor).
Bible studies are available on the Net from most of the Adventist media sites. Here the Voice of Prophecy has jumped ahead by taking the next logical step in evangelism. One of their Web sites, www.prophecyspeaks.com, offers an entire series of evangelistic meetings by Lonnie Melashenko on demand in broadband video. Another broadband series featuring Kenneth Cox suffers from slightly lower resolution (www.wordsight.org/net2000). An earlier low-resolution series featuing Dwight Nelson (www.net98.org/schedule.html) is still useful for those without a broadband connection.
Another evangelistic tool is the Jesus film (now seen by one out of every three people living on earth) available on the Net in broadband in any one of 60 languages at www.jesusfilm.org. These video presentations can be used effectively in pastor's classes or evangelistic outreach with the addition of the live human touch.
The Web makes it possible to hold online theological chats, real-time meetings, and expert training—with out the necessity of physical proximity. Up to 500 participants in an online conference room can hear the moderator over their speakers and can type in comments visible to all.
The moderator, whose face can be displayed onscreen in real time, can present documents and allow any participant to edit them, or can lead the group on an Internet tour. The charge starts at around 15 cents per minute per participant and is cheaper for quantity purchases—which certainly beats the high cost of travel. There are many competing sites; a search for "web conferencing" may unearth some free offers.
The Web is powerful, but with great power comes great danger. A great time-saver, it can be an even greater time-waster. Surfing the Net devours hours—and dollars. Technology is expensive, and Barna has found that born-again Christians spend twice as much money on consumer electronics each year as they donate to their church. Finally, plenty of toxic waste is lurking on the Web, so a good filter program is essential. A wise pastor may ask his wife to create a password and keep it secret even from him!
Welcome to the new world of the Web. Offer it up to Jesus then use it to glorify His name through the advancement of your ministry and that of your congregation.