- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2000

Churches can fulfill the great commission through the Internet, says Walter P. Wilson, author of the new book "The Internet Church."

Mr. Wilson is chairman and CEO of Exclaim Technologies in San Jose, Calif. He has also worked for 35 years as an operating executive at three Fortune 100 companies. He also helped create a Web site for his church, Calvary Church of Los Gatos, Calif.

Q: How do you see the church staying competitive in today's electronic market?

A: The church is going to have to start viewing itself as being in the information business. We are called to tell the story about what God has done. It is not surprising that God would want us to use modern resources, such as the Internet.

It is how the rest of the world is communicating, so why should the church body be any different? Right now, except for a handful of churches, we are not competing.

Q: What does the church need to do in the next five years to have a chance at keeping its evangelical edge?

A: We need a new strategy. Ministry is very effective, but we are conducting silly conversations. What I mean is, we are so focused on reforming our neighbors, that we are not worried about ourselves or helping others.

We need to get out into the world and engage in adult-to-adult relationships. We also need to use technology to our advantage. The Internet affords us the ability to create communities, provide counseling and share the Gospel with someone on the other side of the world.

Q: How would your church's Web site be able to help someone in Japan?

A: I lived in Japan, and there are vast cultural differences. Japanese people are very shy and introverted. They would never engage in a deep, spiritual conversation. It would be too personal, and it would be considered impolite.

In America, however, we openly talk about everything. We can engage in a spiritual conversation with a complete stranger and have them respond. Religion on the Web allows the Japanese people to discuss spiritual matters without losing face. It presents the opportunity for people everywhere to respond to the Gospel.

Q: How will underdeveloped countries be able to have access to the Internet?

A: In the next few years, everyone will have access to the Internet through home computers, public libraries and coffee shops. E-books, which are small, electronic devices that can be plugged into the Internet and downloaded, will also be available. Theoretically, millions of people could be reading the Bible over the Internet for free.

Q: Do you think the Internet will help people warm to the idea of religion?

A: I think there will be a mixture of people logging on to our [church's] site. Some will visit out of curiosity; some, because they are searching for a deeper meaning in life.

Our site is designed to bring people to an intimate, life-saving view of Christ. We need to be out there with the good news that Jesus saves. Many people have come to our church because they were involved with the on-line community of believers they met on our Web site.

It is vital that the church realizes its marketing potential.

Q: How are churches responding to the challenges of an electronic world and marketplace? A: I get the general sense that churches are behind and perhaps falling more behind. Attendance among major Christian denominations is declining.

We are not keeping up with culture any more than we are affecting it. Instead, we have embraced today's culture. There is no lifestyle difference, so the world observes two things: 1) We go to church; 2) we are very critical.

The Internet provides us with the ability to do as Matthew 24:14 commands: "And this Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations." The Internet allows us to develop relationships, witness and share with people that we would be unable to reach under normal circumstances.

Q: You see the Internet as God's tool to spread the Gospel. Do you think believers and churches are ready to engage?

A: Lyle Schaller, a consultant to churches across the country, says, "In spite of the social upheaval churches are experiencing, most churches will operate like it is the 1950s."

Our ways of operating need to change. I think we no longer have a choice in the matter. In business, the ones that do not expand and grow, fail. The church is not immune to this theory. We can no longer argue the merits of technology. We need to realize its power.

God placed the perfect tool in our hands. The Internet is linking 6 billion people worldwide. I think God would like His churches to be a part of that.

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