JESUS' MANDATE IS CLEAR: "Go and make disciples of all nations." But how can one congregation accomplish this in today's hectic, time-starved climate? One answer is to harness the power of technology.
A young woman lives in Beijing, China. Every morning, she walks to an Internet café, where she logs on to one of their computer stations.
More than 4,000 miles away in Australia, a man sits in front of his computer screen every evening.
In a Georgia hospital room, a young man is glued to a laptop monitor.
In Texas, an 8-year-old girl saw something on her computer that stirred her enough to insist that her parents drive her more than 700 miles from Texas to Huntsville, Alabama.
And a mother-to-be on complete bed rest is able to attend services with her church family each week.
These people have never laid eyes on each other, yet they are members of the same virtual congregation. An Internet Web site, www.Churchpond.com, known to most as Churchpond, has touched each of these lives.
From Humble Beginnings
Churchpond did not arise out of a series of committee meetings attended by influential decision-makers, nor did a group of well-heeled investors get together and pool their resources to turn the world upside down. Instead, Churchpond barely made a ripple upon its arrival.
It happened back in the fall of 2002. Urick LaDonis joined a group of other Seventh-day Adventist twenty somethings, college students, and recent graduates, who would meet for vespers on Friday nights. Many of the students found themselves isolated from their churches back home, and disconnected from fellow believers in the Atlanta area.
Urick, known to family and friends as an inventor and innovator, began to think of a way for these students to have access to Christian content whenever they wished. He came up with the idea to film these vesper programs and stream them online so that students could watch them from their dorm rooms. As time passed, this service grew to include church services and flooded its banks to include a wider cross-section of the Adventist community.
Today, Churchpond has its own Web site, which streams live and prerecorded programming 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Letters, e-mails, and phone calls come in from around the world—Australia, China, India, Trinidad, Jamaica, the African continent, Korea, Europe, and across the United States. Churchpond has come a long way from sharing a weekly vesper service.
The Churchpond network now includes churches in the United States, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Bermuda, and Canada. More than 120,000 viewers per month access the Web site to view sermons from around the world. The site has presented remote broadcasts of various events, including camp meetings and international mission trips. Churchpond has also hosted evangelistic campaigns, including InterNet, a quarterly evangelistic series developed by its own staff
Urick and Dacia, his wife, are passionate about Churchpond's potential to reach as easily into the farthest corners of the world as into the house next door. Together they have sacrificed and invested long hours in this ministry. Although excited about Churchpond's potential, they are quick to point out that this is not a substitute for church.
"We developed Churchpond to meet the needs of people who for one reason or another could not make it to church," says Dacia. "We had a special burden for students, convalescents, and those on maternity or paternity leave." Her face and her voice reflect strong emotions whenever she tells of people whose lives were touched through Churchpond. She and Urick believe that ultimately it is not possible to prevent "misuse" of something even as benign as Churchpond, but they trust that if this is truly a tool inspired by God, He will use it as He sees fit.
How It Works
First, a church decides it wants to air programming on Churchpond. In the early days, Urick had to actively seek out churches; now it is increasingly common for churches to contact him, seeking to present their services to a wider audience. Once an agreement is reached, Urick trains the church's sound and video staff on how best to capture the service and upload it to Churchpond so that it can be streamed live to those who would view it.
It sounds fairly straightforward, but Urick, Dacia, and other committed volunteers have spent long days and sleepless nights keeping everything moving. In fact, the project has become so time-consuming that Urick, a former IBM employee, has devoted himself full-time to developing and maintaining Churchpond.
Urick believes that much of the success of Churchpond is due to many who have lent their time, support, resources to the ministry. Urick also credits Carlton P. Byrd and William L. Winston, former pastors, of the Berean Seventh-day Adventist Church in Atlanta, as well as the Berean membership, for supporting Churchpond since its early days. Additionally, forward-thinking conference and union leaders have by their support opened a number of avenues of ministry to Churchpond.
Another invaluable contributor is Kurt Shull, an editor and videographer whom Urick met on a mission to India. Kurt now produces and edits a great majority of the mission videos on Churchpond. In addition, Churchpond has been sustained by donations from people around the world. However, above and beyond all these, Urick and Dacia believe they have seen the hand of God in the progression of Churchpond from a vesper to a global communications medium.
As the power of the Internet and associated digital technologies continue to be unleashed in new and unpredictable ways, Churchpond is looking forward to enhancing and expanding its ministry. The Churchpond team shares the goal that this ministry be utilized by the church body as a witnessing tool to introduce people to Jesus Christ.
Oh, were you wondering about the people mentioned at the beginning of this story? Well, here's what you did not know. The girl in Beijing is 10 years old. She does not walk down the block, or across the street to the Internet café. She walks 10 miles each way, to hear a message that she can hear nowhere else but on Churchpond.
Mr. Primus in Australia does not watch Churchpond by himself. He invites all of his neighbors to come join his family, and together they hear the gospel presented across almost 10,000 miles of fiber-optic cable.
The young man in the hospital has been laid to rest. He was only 40 years old when he died from cancer. But right up to the end, he was able to worship with his church family, to hear and see them pray for him, and to be encouraged.
That young woman from Texas was 8 years old when she tuned in to Churchpond. She watched the services of the Madison Mission Seventh-day Adventist Church in Huntsville, Alabama, and insisted that her parents drive her there so she could be baptized. She was baptized in that same baptismal pool she first saw on Churchpond. That is not the end of her story, though; her mother and her father were also baptized in that pool and are now members of the Madison Mission church.
And the young mother-to-be on bed rest? She's my wife. Thanks to Churchpond, though confined to our home, we were able to watch church services each Sabbath during the weeks leading up to, and the weeks following, our daughter's birth.
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come (Matt. 24:14, KJV).
Please note: Our Story was published in the Adventist Review (2008).
By D. Dwayne Adams