One church uses the Internet in a different kind of ‘church planting’

By Ronald E. Keener

Northland, A Church Distributed uses the Internet to reach people, and works with Global Media Outreach around the world.

When Northland, A Church Distributed received its name, the Longwood, FL, congregation was intended to be “a distribution center for whatever God has given us,” says Dan Lacich, pastor for distributed sites. “It’s kind of a fancy name for the fact that you are the church wherever God has put you, wherever you have been distributed throughout your day and week.”

Under his purview at Northland comes its multi-sites, Web worship and house and simple church ministry globally. “Simple church” is about people gathering in a community room and other small venues, volunteer-led small groups, working globally through house church movements for the multiplication of churches, and even with 100 pastors in Kenya where they are going through training for ministry.

But it was unlikely when the “church distributed” concept was conceived by Senior Pastor Joel Hunter in 1997, that thought was given to reaching people as well over websites on the Internet. The purpose was always there, but technology has made a huge difference in how people can be reached.

Changing the world
“We’re really about reaching as many people as we can, however we can, with the Gospel, in order for them to change the world they live in,” Lacich says.

In 2001, the church began doing overflow worship in a nearby high school auditorium, weekly driving a truck between the church and the auditorium to run fiber optic cable. As multi-sites were added, leaders began thinking four years ago about sending out the service over the Internet.

“Originally it was just a simple Web stream of the video itself,” says Lacich, “but it has grown to be a fully interactive online ministry, with chat sections and prayer sites. Facebook applications were added so people can web worship with us from Facebook ( ). We added live worship via iPhone so that pretty much wherever you are, you can connect to our worship service.”

For the five services every weekend, a staff or volunteer minister is online a half hour before and after each service, talking to people who are coming into the Web portal. Video, audio and tech teams are involved. An audio technician receives the service and mixes it for the multi-site locations and for the Web.

More than 2,000 people worship online with the church each weekend. Some of those online will be greeted by name just as everyone else in the auditorium is welcomed. Many of those online are from other countries, or in-house churches. “We make sure to welcome them and mention that the church is meeting in their home,” Lacich says.

Community and fellowship
Even as there is an online minister, people jump in and help each other out and respond to questions and needs, build relationships with each other, or go to a private chat section to have a conversation.

Lacich describes the interactive dynamic of community within the online congregation when one weekend the church collected backpacks for needy kids as they went back to school.

One regular online worshipper, Terri from Houma, LA, a region that was hit hard by the hurricane and the oil spill, decided to start a backpack drive in her town. Her goal was for 1,000 backpacks so that every kid in town could have one.

“So here’s somebody who’s a Web worshipper, gets the idea of serving her community, considers Northland her church, but she’s in Louisiana,” says Lacich. “Our serving team says we need to help her with this, we need to partner with her.”

The church collected 500 backpacks loaded with school supplies in Longwood, FL. Two members of the Northland video team trucked them to Houma, LA, and helped distribute them. Others who saw this online began helping out too, people Terri only knows through the Internet.

While many of Northland’s online congregants have never even set foot inside a church building, the online worship experience begins to build a sense that they’re in something together with a larger group of people, and that they’re not alone out there.

Northland is working with churches in South Africa, Egypt, the Ukraine — in both the Ukrainian and Russian languages — Brazil, China and Argentina. Its goal in the next decade is to work in places of the 15 largest languages in the world and introduce the evangelical Web stream in live interaction worship, hosted by one or more churches in that culture and language.

Helping others do it
The church is more interested in helping other churches work through the Web, working through partner churches in other countries, than doing it all itself.

All that became prelude to what the congregation has been doing in the past year and a half with Global Media Outreach (GMO) (, an arm of Campus Crusade for Christ, that uses the Internet and other technologies to bring people to Christ. In 2010, more than 10 million decisions for Christ were made through one of more than 100 GMO websites.

More than 250 Northlanders serve as volunteer online missionaries, receiving e-mails through a secure server system from GMO. That e-mail will be confidential information from someone who has gone to a GMO website and clicked on to “I have a question” or “I have made a decision for Christ.” They can enter their question or desire to have someone follow-up with them into a comment box.

Through the Northland relationship with GMO in 2010, more than 63,000 people have been connected with a Northlander for some form of follow-up. Some 39,000 of those were first-time decisions for Christ.

A Northlander online missionary might receive e-mail inquiries Monday, Wednesday and Friday, because that is all she can handle.
Monday morning the missionary receives an e-mail from somebody who has indicated a decision for Christ and has asked a question or made a comment. An affirmative response is given back within 24 hours and the new Christian is given one or more website addresses for further understanding — in their own language.

Flexible technology
Different websites are used depending on the question, and templates easily respond to the questions being asked.

“Global Media Outreach’s involvement is to be the broker of the e-mails and they set up the templates and the training,” says Lacich. The Northlander can turn to a community leader if she gets stuck on a question or needs something in another language. It is as simple as clicking on the reassign button for “another language.”

“The impact it has had on our folks has been pretty amazing,” Lacich says. Of those more than 63,000 responses in this past year, about 3,900 of them have been people who were seekers still asking questions about Jesus or about Christianity.

“So here are 3,900 opportunities that have been divided amongst more than 150 Northlanders to answer questions of somebody who’s saying I want to understand the Gospel better,” he says.

Having worked with seekers over the Internet in helping them get answers to their questions, the online missionary is better prepared to respond to the same questions from her next door neighbor. “What it has done is to increase the confidence of our folks in sharing the Gospel,” Lacich says.

“They realize this is something I can do. I can sit and I can type a response if I have time to think about it, research it and ask somebody else for help. That gives them the experience and the confidence to be able to do that with friends and family and whoever else,” Lacich says.

“Northland has never been about planting churches according to the western model that requires lots of money, staff and a building to get started,” Lacich says. But Joel Hunter has a passion for reaching the unsaved, and the Internet has become this church’s way of multiplying their witness, that will make Northland truly A Church Distributed.


Global media outreach online missions program

Church congregations all over the U.S. are plugged in and praying with people as far away as Pakistan, Morocco and Kenya, and as close as next door, with just a click on their computers. Through the Always Ready online missions program, Internet ministry, Global Media Outreach (GMO) provides access to quickly and easily increase global evangelism and influence around the world.

The GMO Church Online Missions Program is an online missions plan available to churches of any size or denomination. Through multiple websites, GMO is able to direct online spiritual seekers to the “electronic” front doors of participating church volunteers — known as online missionaries — where they can engage with and disciple people through e-mail.

The online missionary program includes more than 5,000 trained Christians, sharing the Gospel with people in 195 countries. With just a computer and Internet connection, believers with a heart to reach people searching for Christ can become an online missionary. The program provides training and online resources for volunteers to use when answering questions.

GMO is a California-based ministry using Internet and other emerging technologies to effectively and efficiently convey
the love of Christ and plan of salvation across the globe. Since their inception in 2004, GMO has seen the number of people
indicating a decision for Christ grow from 21,066 people annually to more than 10 million people in 2011. Online missionaries responded to more than 1.6 million e-mails last year. More information about becoming an online missionary can be found online at

— Michelle Diedrich, GMO


More people using set-top boxes to attend church

More than 4,000 owners of the Roku player have installed a new channel from Northland, A Church Distributed, that streams live worship services, along with past sermons, music and classes.

Northland launched the first-ever church channel on Roku last October. Northland recently helped launch a similar channel on Roku and wants to help many more churches do the same.

Originally designed to stream Netflix directly to TVs, Roku has since opened up to developers to create new music and video channels, including Amazon On-Demand, Pandora and Major League Baseball.

Starting at $59, and about the size of a paperback novel, Roku is one of the most compact and least expensive ways to bring the church into just about any room. Installation is simple: Just connect the box to your existing Internet connection using ethernet or WI-FI, and plug an HDMI cable from the back of the unit into the TV.

The device is a potential boon for the burgeoning house church movement.

Hulu, the popular online TV and movie site, just made its subscription service available in the Roku Channel Store.
— Robert Andrescik


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