Virtual communities are the new haven for believers coping with 21st century culture.
Whether it's for confessions or a sense of support, today's believers are flocking to the Internet, where they discover thousands of others struggling as Christ followers as they are.
"Our culture wants us to conform," said Ed Young, lead pastor of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas, in a sermon this past Sunday. "God wants us to be transformed."
And transformation, the megachurch pastor indicated, begins with the mind.
The 23,000-member Fellowship Church, which currently has five campuses, launched one of its biggest sermon series this month and a major campaign to reach out to its surrounding communities. "I need 2 change" is the latest series that's drawing thousands of Christians to a newly launched virtual community – www.ineed2change.com.
On the Web site, visitors submit brief notes of commitments on what they want to change about themselves, sometimes confessing bad habits or a sin they want to get out of.
"I need to stop lusting over a married man that I used to date prior to his marriage and stop those thoughts immediately!" states one Post-It note submitted on Wednesday.
"I need to think about what to say before actually saying it," reads another.
Young sees incredible potential and phenomenal change coming out of the campaign, as he indicated in his latest sermon.
He warned church attendees that change doesn't come easy for a believer but to reach success, one must go through the conflicts, persecution and temptation.
"So often when we experience resistance, we resist because of the resistance," said Young, noting that many falsely believe change is automatic and bail out during the process before the breakthrough.
It's all in the mind, the pastor stressed.
"We don't check our brains at the door when we become Christ followers," he said. "The battlefield is in the mind" and renewal or renovation is of the mind.
Believers are encouraged to take anything they know they need to change and submit their stories online. They're only "one click away from discovering what true change is all about," said Young.
The virtual community is also open to those outside the church. Billboards in the traffic-dense areas around Dallas, Fort Worth, and Miami – where Fellowship's other church campuses are located – are advertising the Web site and online visitors are also encouraged to "Spread the Change" by posting flyers, e-mailing friends the Web address, and performing random acts of kindness.
Diane Winston, professor of religion and media at the University of Southern California, says online communities are the "next frontier" for religious organizations, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Last August, LifeChurch.tv which claims nearly 20,000 attendees on 12 different campuses every week, launched an online confessional to go along with a sermon series on secrets people often hold. MySecret.tv became widely popular with thousands of anonymous confessions submitted both from church members and people outside the church.
Winston calls the virtual communities "brilliant from a marketing perspective" as the Web is used to "fish" for potential members.
"But it's also very 'me-oriented,' which appeals to folks who are turned off when religion seems 'holier than thou,'" she told the local Morning News.
At Fellowship Church, the vision is simple – to reach up, reach out, and reach in.
While anticipating change in its church community and surrounding neighborhoods, Young reminds the believers that it is ultimately God who is The Agent of change.