- Associated Press - Sunday, July 6, 2014

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) - A baby dedication. That soul-stirring sermon. Raised communion cups.

Text it. Tweet it. Tag it on YouTube.

Churches and other houses of worship that once reminded those in the pews to turn their phones off before services now are encouraging their congregations to post to Facebook as the inspiration hits them.

“If the public Wi-Fi is down for some reason, we’ll hear about it,” Wayne Bennett, the communications director at Grace Community Church, says of the people who take this charge to heart.

The expanding digital world has birthed this electronic church - the new evangelism - and some congregations are finding that it’s bringing the curious to their doors.

Digital media allows anyone with a keyboard to take a virtual step inside a church in the same way that potential homebuyers can get a floor-by-floor look inside a real estate property on the market.

It’s sometimes the first step for people looking for a church without having to visit a bunch of them.

Local religious leaders know that what’s on their websites might just get someone in the door. What people in the pews tweet is often the best invitation, they say.

A major faith study shows a growing population of people called “nones,” who select no religious affiliation at all but say they are spiritual, said the Rev. Ann Marie Alderman, the minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greensboro. Her intentionally liberal church community believes personal experience, conscience and reason should be the final authorities in religion and not a book or a person or an institution.

“We feel we are best postured to be attractive to people like that if they knew about us,” Alderman said, so she mentions social media at the start of every gathering.

“We tell them to put their cellphones or iPads in worship mode and to feel free to text or tweet - to send messages to whoever it is who is following them to share what they hear or are experiencing,” she said.

“Their friends may know them as pretty cool people and may not think of them as being in church, and when they tweet a message while sitting there … we hope that’s having the impact of people not being afraid to come and experience it for themselves.”

Some of the people who have visited World Victory International Christian Center have said they did so based on something they saw on the church’s website or social media, said Stephanie Morehead, who leads the social media ministry, which is made up of both adults and teenagers. The church is into Instagram, Facebook and Twitter - and making connections.

World Victory International, like the Summit Church in Kernersville, posts its sermons online.

Other churches have also explored ways to use digital media. First Presbyterian has a webcam so members can watch a renovation project as it occurs, and Evangel Fellowship Church of God in Christ texts daily videos spoken by Pastor Otis Lockett Jr.

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