- (Left photos courtesy of Dan Mark; Right photo courtesy of Brandastic.com)
One night in 2010, three friends brainstromed about how they could create a digital platform to swap stories about what God was doing in their lives.
"We thought it'd just be something for our friends. Maybe they would read it. Maybe our family would read it," Dan Mark, one of the site's co-founders and an attorney in Los Angeles, told The Christian Post.
With little technical expertise, the friends created a Tumblr site, they named "WitnessLA" and initially shared inspirational and provocative quotes and Bible verses, a personal lesson about tithing, and dreams about what they hoped the site might become.
"For greater things have yet to come / And greater things are still to be done in this City," Mark wrote in the blog's third entry, quoting the worship song "God of This City." "For me, these words are a personal dedication of this blog to God and His plan for Los Angeles, that our testimonies here are not only spreading the word on all that we've seen so far, but that through this blog we can be a part of the greater things that are still to be done in this city."
Mark and his team also began to regularly post stories, some dramatic, some mundane, about where there they had found God recently, whether it was at Jiffy Lube, 24 Hour Fitness, or the local auto repair shop. With many of their friends "already on Facebook and Twitter, talking about what is going on in their lives," the team also shared the blog's testimonies through social media platforms.
Nearly 200,000 people have visited one of the sites and users from countries as diverse as Denmark, Malaysia and Kenya have shared their own stories and testimonies through the existing platforms.
Currently, the network of sites is run entirely by volunteer editorial teams in cities where users have approached the Los Angeles team about creating their own local site, a model which has helped ensure that the site's growth is sustainable.
"Earlier on when I started this, I had a very business mentality about this: like what are the big cities that we want to get into, like New York, Chicago, London?" said Mark. "But then I realized that's not how God works. Everything has to be God-breathed through the Holy Spirit, so now I'm just open to where God connects us to people."
One of those connections Mark made was a woman named Rachel Tan whom he met while on a missions trip to Hong Kong, and who became a founding member of the Hong Kong site.
"By doing the blog together, we got a lot of chances to spend time together, and that was kind of how we first got to know each other," he said.
"We ended up dating, and now we've been married for two years and continue to run the ministry together," Mark added.
As the movement has taken off, the leadership team searched for a better platform to reach "tech savvy" Millennials who found church antiquated and belonging solely to their parents' generation.
"We wanted to find ways to interact with them online, not to give them an online church experience but to give them a taste of what God is about, and a taste of the Gospel that's relevant to their lives," he said.
In August, Mark and his team created a crowd-sourced fundraising campaign to pay for the creation of OurWitness, a platform to centralize their content and community. Within a month it had exceeded its financial targets raising $8,615 — $600 more than its initial goal.
The site, which Mark hopes will launch at the beginning of next year, will include a live feed that will allow users to track what's happening in each others' lives in real time around the world. Users will also be able to message each other, share prayer requests on an interactive wall and chat with OurWitness staff weekly.
While the site seeks to globally unite users, it also will retain its local homepages, which will now also be home to a calendar of related events and allow people to share "what is happening in their own city."
"What we really want to emphasize to people is that God doesn't just move on the mission fields of Africa…God moves everywhere. He moves wherever you are," said Mark.
"I want to remind people that when they see these real life landmarks in their city, they can say 'Hey, God moved there,'" he added.
Mark believes that the power of people telling their personal stories is what ultimately fueled the the site's impact.
"It's been really encouraging to see that people have been inspired to [share their stories and] to say, 'My story has value too and I'm going to share it with the world. I'm not a famous evangelist, I'm not a famous pastor, I don't have any doctrinal training but I can do something for the Lord,'" he said.