Northland has been webcasting its services since late 2004. But in August 2007, the church launched its first interactive online worship environment. Through this innovative Web-based application, worshipers are not only able to participate in services via live online video, they now have many new ways to interact with the church and with one another.
A robust set of features includes immediate access to an online pastor and the ability to chat instantly with other worshipers and to save them to a list of “favorite sites” (similar to the “buddy list” system in instant messaging programs). Each weekend, worshipers at more than 1,200 sites around the world worship online, bringing the church into homes, coffee shops, restaurants, military bases, offices and other sites. (A “site” may encompass one or two individuals gathered at home or dozens of people gathered for worship.) Worshipers can scroll the online roster of people “worshiping now.” Private, “site-to-site” chat is available, and individuals can change their status to inform others of their desire to be chatted with.
Online worship can be utilized by people throughout the world who don’t currently have a church home. This is in keeping with Northland’s “church distributed” philosophy, which arranges itself around the relationships of congregants and partners, rather than around a physical church building.
“We believe the distribution of our worship, where people can deeply connect and engage in real-time worship and fellowship, is a vital piece to the distributed church vision,” says Northland’s online minster, Nathan Clark, who designed the user interface. “By leveraging technology in this fashion, we can support thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of churches and sites around the world.”
Besides those who worship routinely in other locations, Online Worship also benefits Northlanders locally—the family that has a sick child or the businessman who is traveling—who can still engage fully in community worship. In addition, online worship may prove useful to the burgeoning house church movement in America.
According to a study by The Barna Group, 9% of adults attend a house church during a typical week. “That is remarkable growth in the past decade, shooting up from just 1% to near double-digit involvement. In total, one out of five adults attends a house church at least once a month,” Barna reports.