Those drawn to the UCC's websites during the next round of national television ads will find a new "virtual community" offering online worship experiences, Bible study, pastoral care and instruction in UCC basics.6
The new community i.ucc.org is not a congregation, says the Rev. David Schoen of the UCC's Evangelism Ministry, but it will help seekers "test" the UCC if they're not quite ready to visit a local church. Also, it will serve as a community-building place for those who live in areas where UCC churches are not yet established.
"What happens if the nearest UCC church is 50 miles away, as some seekers have told us?" Schoen says. "Rather than lose contact with them, a virtual community helps us create relationships that offer at least some of the experience of church - the chance to pray with others, to share and learn faith, to learn about the UCC and its rich history and traditions."
Schoen says the online community could serve as an incubator for new church starts around the country. And in time, he says, it could provide a good model for how local congregations can approach evangelism, outreach and relationship-building over the internet.
"Naturally, through the Stillspeaking campaign, our first priority is to encourage seekers to consider membership in a local congregation," says Schoen. "A virtual community is no substitute for active participation in a local church, but it can serve as a gateway, a transition that leads to membership in a congregation."
One feature of the virtual community will be an online prayer chapel that encourages newcomers to join the church in intercessory prayer. Local congregations will be invited to download online prayer requests every week and incorporate them into their Sunday prayers.
"In this way, we hope the virtual community in time will become an outreach of many UCC congregations towards a growing community of seekers who will find the UCC as their spiritual home," Schoen says.
The virtual community project is being sponsored by the Congregational Vitality Initiative of the UCC's Local Church Ministries.
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