"Using technology is especially prevalent with people who haven't declared a denomination or affiliation with an organized group. Younger or more educated people use the Internet to investigate different religions."

Sociologist Dr. Robert Reynolds
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iWorship:
Technology Spurs Pious to Study Religion Outside Church

Kelly Bingham
Standard-Examiner correspondent

OGDEN, UT, October 2006 - Church on demand is a new trend among Christians who fit religion into their fast-paced lifestyles by integrating technology into home worship.

The Internet has become a prime source for religious instruction. The Pew Internet and American Life Project report 3 million people search the Internet daily for religious material, including "Godcasts," the nickname for religious broadcasts downloaded to MP3 players.

Pastor Trinity Jordan of the Elevation Church, an evangelical church in Layton, was the first to Godcast in Utah, from www.podcastmychurch.com.

"We started podcasting a year ago, and it went through the roof," Jordan said. "In August, we had 510 downloads from our home page and 11,000 downloads from subscription services like iTunes."

Robert Reynolds, a sociologist at Weber State University, explains the Internet's appeal to the potentially pious.

"Using technology is especially prevalent with people who haven't declared a denomination or affiliation with an organized group," he said. "Younger or more educated people use the Internet to investigate different religions."

The uncommitted religious are exactly who Senior Pastor Raymond Wead of Canyon Road Assembly of God in Ogden is hoping to reach with his weekly Godcasts on www.cayonroadag.org.

"We wanted people who could not attend a service to be able to access the message," he said. "We present topics to people who don't know the Bible, are unchurched or don't attend church regularly. We try to make topics interesting so they will check out our content."

Wead's Godcasts include sermons on money management, overcoming depression and rebuttals to the controversial novel and film, "The DaVinci Code."

Protestants aren't the only Christians embracing cyber-tambourine thumping.

In August 2005, Pope Benedict XVI began posting Godcast sermons on www.vatican.va, the Vatican's official Web site.

In 2005, The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion published a study by sociologists C. Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long Marler, who reported that only 17 percent of mainline Catholics and Protestants regularly attend church services.

Church on demand is enabling parishioners to listen to Mass or a sermon with all the accoutrements of church but from the privacy of home.

The question many ask now is whether traditional church services will go by the wayside.

"Some people want to engage in religious behavior privately," Reynolds said. "Maybe they feel they're strong enough that they don't need church or don't want to engage in public worship."

Monsignor Victor G. Bonnell of the Saint Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Layton warns against withdrawing from public worship.

"Sitting in an easy chair on Sunday watching a Mass or religious program on TV is not keeping the Sabbath day holy - it's just watching TV," he said.

Will church on demand make traditional brick-and-mortar churches obsolete?

"No," Reynolds said. "There's still a desire by a lot of people to come together and experience the worship service together because it builds community."

Wead agrees.

"Churches need to offer more than you can get from a podcast," the pastor said. "A church isn't a building or an organization. It is people building relationships."

However, Jordan believes the trend away from brick-and-mortar churches is inevitable and beneficial.

"We're seeing younger Christians that don't associate a building with their faith. So these younger Christian leaders will be leading away from buildings," he said.

"When you go to Sunday service, you can't stop and ask questions during the sermons. This way, you get a more multi-perspective than you get from just one person saying this is the way it is.

"So I think, yes, brick and mortar will go away."