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Sharon Heights broadcasts Sunday, Wednesday services on church’s websitecomment (0)

March 24, 2011

By Sondra Washington

Websites, Facebook and Twitter have become mainstays for many Alabama Baptist churches trying to keep their members and guests informed. But sermon notes, blogs and tweets about church programs can only do so much for those who can’t attend regular worship services.

That’s why leaders of Sharon Heights Baptist Church, Brookside, decided to expand their online ministries by offering live broadcasts of Sunday and Wednesday services on the church’s website, www.sharonheights.org.

Since launching last year, the outreach, which originally was created for the North Jefferson Baptist Association congregation’s large number of firefighters and medical professionals working on Sundays, has regular viewers across the country and beyond.

Each week, between 40 and 50 computers are logged into the church’s services with repeat visitors from Wyoming, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Alabama. The church even had a viewer from the United Kingdom once.

“It’s a great ministry tool,” Pastor Jason Dunlap said. “It’s just another area of ministry that we thought was a necessity. … Lots of people call it (the Internet) an evil tool but not if you use it right. Anything can be evil or used to glorify God.”

He said the staff receives comments every week from church members who are pleased with the online services.
Eric Morrison, church video director, points out that they are great for reaching the homebound or people who are at home sick. And he makes sure that they don’t miss a thing.

“We [video the services] from beginning to end,” Morrison said. “So everybody gets to see everything. That way if there is a decision made, they get to see it.”

Snow and frozen roads threatened to make everyone miss services Dec. 26. Worship services were canceled but Dunlap, who lives across the street from the church, and Morrison taped a worship service with only one other member in the building. Usually a seven-man team handles this job. More than 150 computers were tuned in, allowing a large number of the 400–500 churchgoers typically present on Sundays to join in worship online.

James Bensko, a firefighter for two firehouses, can only go to church one out of three Sundays, so he is very thankful for the online services. “Being able to see it online is the next best thing to being there,” he said. “You get to hear the sermon, hear the expression, see the people and hear the songs that the choir sings. It puts you there without actually being there. … Even though we are not able to fellowship there, you get the feeling of being able to fellowship.”

Bensko said his family also has “attended” online services.

“My wife and family were home sick once, and my wife was able to log onto the Internet and watch with two out of three of the kids,” he said. “It’s a huge benefit for me, but it’s a benefit to single mothers or parents who have to stay at home on Sundays. … If you are out of town, you can watch the service on Sunday morning and still be on vacation.”

The British person who viewed a service said he found the church through an online chat, according to Morrison.

“He said he didn’t go to church because there was a lot of bickering amongst the members, but finding us was so great,” Morrison said. “He said that [Dunlap] was the first pastor he actually met where it (the sermon) made sense and he really enjoyed watching the service. The people in the church didn’t argue.”

But people aren’t just watching the services. In some cases, they are responding to needs they learn about. Recently an online donor — who is not a member of Sharon Heights Baptist — gave the church $5,000 for its elevator fund-raiser.

Dunlap encourages other church leaders who may be looking into offering live online services to take it slow and don’t go cheap.

“It takes time for people to catch on to what you are doing,” he said. “Don’t expect it to be 1,000 viewers on there (from the beginning). … If you are going to do something for Jesus, do it great. Why be good when you can be great? But if it’s going to be great, it’s going to cost.”

Sharon Heights’ online services, which are provided through an Atlanta-based company, cost about $800 per month. But Morrison said some individuals in the church have gone above and beyond their regular tithe to make sure the ministry continues.

“It’s been exciting and an incredible ride for all of us,” he said. “We all are trying to do the best that we can. … We know that there are people out there depending on us, and these people are coming back. It’s a blessing to see them coming back to see us and wanting to be fed by what we are doing. … It’s powerful to know that technology allows us to do what we are doing now. We used to have to pay thousands of dollars for airtime on TV and radio, and now you can use the power of the Internet to reach double the amount of folks.”

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