(Photo: Northland, A Church Distributed)
Northland, A Church Distributed, a megachurch in central Florida, is all about helping people worship where they are.
Their latest iPhone Web app is helping thousands do exactly that.
Northland is one of the first churches to stream worship services live over the iPhone. Already 2,000 people are worshipping with Northland online every week.
"For us, the distinctive is, wherever we are, whether were gathered in ones or tens, hundreds or thousands, that we are gathering to worship our God together. That is key for us and that is what drove us to build the online worship environment that we built," said Nathan Clark, Northland's director of digital innovation.
The 12,000-member church has taken innovative approaches to growth since 2001 when it launched multiple sites, or "distributed sites" throughout Metro Orlando. It began webcasting its services in 2006 and later launched an interactive version of its webstream that includes an online pastor and a chatroom.
Its very name – Northland, A Church Distributed – reflects how they see church.
"It's not a place you leave your community to go, it’s the gathering of community for worship, service and equipping," Clark explained.
Northland's $42 million facilities in Longwood were built with the vision that it would serve as a "distribution point" rather than a "destination."
"The intent was never to see how many people could fit under one roof; it was to facilitate ministry worldwide with other believers," according to the church website.
The way Northland sees it, their church provides unlimited seating "virtually."
Launched in July, the newest iPhone Web app offers videos of past church services as well as live streaming. It works both on 3G networks and Wi-Fi on the iPhone, and via Wi-Fi on the iPod Touch. The megachurch recently released instructions on its website to also help other churches stream their own live services to the iPhone.
Considering the ability to connect the iPhone to an external display, Northland hopes the new technology will not only draw individual worshippers but also serve as a means to start home churches, especially in countries where advanced cell networks are far outpacing broadband connectivity.
"We continually hear stories of people who start to worship online and eventually find a community to worship with others, or start one of their own," Clark highlighted. "People are coming to church, and they are also watching the services online. We just don’t see this as a zero-sum game."
What's next for the innovative church is finding ways to serve and equip those who join the weekend worship services. People can easily access worship services now but where they go from there is the issue.
"The last thing we want to do is call people for worship and then leave them unequipped," Clark said.
Nevertheless, Clark is convinced that people are experiencing God through technology.
"[T]o me it's very clear that this is a tool God is using to do great things for His kingdom," he said.
On the Web: http://www.northlandchurch.net/