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Church harnesses digital technology to spread gospel

by Jordan Green

Don’t tell the Rev. Joseph Moore that technology and Christianity are inherently at odds.

“Instead of hymnals or handouts we have a screen; all our words are projected on the screen,” he said on a recent Monday morning in the small brick house that serves as the temporary office for the Adams Farm Community Church off Mackay Road on the southwest outskirts of Greensboro. “We have a praise team. We’re mic-ed to the hilt. Our services are pretty engaging.”

Perhaps that’s a reflection of the demographics in this burgeoning area of new housing developments scant miles from the high-tech crossroads of Interstate 40 and Highway 68 near Piedmont Triad International Airport.

“If you walked into our church on Sunday you’d find Democrats, Republicans, whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, people who are conservative theologically and people who are liberal theologically, a lot of young couples,” said the 28-year-old Moore, a reserve US Army chaplain who is studying the theological underpinnings of American slavery in the hopes of eventually earning a doctoral degree. “We have a very blended church.”

The church has been posting its sermons on its website since December 2005. For Moore, who was installed as senior pastor in mid-November after leading the church as an associate pastor following his predecessor’s departure, it was a natural step to start offering the sermons as podcasts for those who would rather hear the message on the hand-held iPod device produced by Apple Computers than sitting in front of a monitor.

Not that Moore wants the iPod to replace the sanctuary as the medium for the church’s message. His congregation and the surrounding community tend to be comfortable with technology, he said, and he hopes the podcasts will bring new people to Christ. Even if only five people a year listen to the podcasts, he said, he would count that as a success.

Part of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian church, the Adams Farm Community Church advertises itself as desiring “to be a body of believers with open arms going into our community with love and concern for those around us.”

“There’s more to Christianity than a cognitive listening,” Moore said. “There’s an active doing. We have small groups, people that can share burdens together and live out their faith” through service. Later, he added: “You can’t have Christianity apart from other Christians.”

Perry Thomas, a 20-year-old UNCG student studying economics who serves as intern at Adams Farm Community Church, was responsible for setting up the church’s podcasting operation.

With a mother who works in internet technology support and his brother who program computers Thomas developed a facility with computers outside of his formal education. He moved to Greensboro with his family from Florida for his first year of high school. After one semester of college in Charlotte he returned to Greensboro with the encouragement of Sam Manual, the church’s director of student ministries.

“My work here was supposed to be mentoring the middle school students,” Thomas said. “That’s why they brought me here. Then they said, ‘Hey, you have all this experience with computers.’

“I’ve been thinking about working in the ministry,” he continued. “I get a lot of ministry background. I get a lot of theology background. Joseph is always talking to Sam and I about theology. And then, churches have to be run just like a business. Me being here, except for the pay, is just like a business internship.” Moore suggested in a staff meeting that the church should consider taking another step with its use of technology.

“He was like, ‘Perry, I know how you feel about Apple, but I really want to start podcasting,'” Thomas recalled.

Moore added: “Perry said he could make it happen and he went away for a couple days, and then he had it set up.”

The lag time between when the sermon is delivered on the pulpit and when it becomes available as a feed to an iPod is about two days.

On Sunday afternoons Thomas takes a CD and rips it onto a computer at the church office or at home through a program call FreeRip that converts the recording to an MP3 file. Then he goes to the church website’s administrative page, and completes a text form for each new episode.

The administrative page includes a field for search terms. “Jesus,” “christian,” “sermon” and “presbyterian” are among them. A field for “explicit” reads “clean” and the field for “block” responds “no.” Once Thomas fills in the new information, including the title and date of each succeeding sermon, he’ll click on “submit” to upload the new file.

“Once I press submit it’s up within a twenty-four-hour period,” Thomas said. “I upload them on Sunday and they’re on iTunes by late Monday or Tuesday.”

The Nov. 19 sermon, “Heaven on Earth,” comes across in crisp audio, with the tittering of light laughter and the thump of the pulpit the only distraction from the plainspoken and conversational cadences of Moore’s speech as he discusses his relationships with his wife, his grandmother and his small group at the church.

“In the bonding and the fellowship and the friendship and the showing up when people had problems and the showing up when people had things to celebrate and the calls and the lunches, I saw Jesus’… in them. Because there was a restoration of a more perfect fellowship.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com

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