Jesus in cyberspace - you'd better believe it

Sydney, Australia - SYDNEY Anglicans have appointed their first web evangelist to oversee a new, internet-based ministry.

David Horne, a lay pastor, has been employed by the church's media group as its first internet missionary. His job is to establish an interactive website forum for Bible studies.

The appointment, effective from January, is in response to the mission of the Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, to convert 10 per cent of Sydneysiders to the gospel by 2012. It recognises that the internet is a popular tool, especially among a new, technology-savvy generation, and that unless ways can be found to reach more people, churches might wilt and die.

Mr Horne will head a team of 35 students from Moore College who will provide question and answer sessions on, which is the Sydney Anglican web base.

Talks are under way to expand the team to include workers and students from other denominations and theological colleges.

Mr Horne said the internet had not been used to its full potential to spread the word. While no substitute for church attendance, it could provide a new place of belonging. "For me, this is an opportunity to explore the possibilities of communicating the message of the Bible to those people who may or may not meet face to face," he said. "In order for someone to hear about Christianity they have to buy a book, talk to a Christian friend or go to church and identify themselves as someone who is interested, and that can be a big barrier for some people. The internet allows them to quietly and anonymously inquire about Jesus."

Mark Hadley, manager of the church's multimedia department, said a central part of Mr Horne's work would be developing a model for what church communities would look like online. "The model of church as we understand it is changing and the internet is going to be one of the big factors that change it," he said. "In 10 years' time how people relate to each other is going to be massively affected by the internet. We are going to be more online than ever so it makes sense that the Anglican Church should begin to shift itself. The church is not interested in becoming an anachronism. Every generation has the responsibility of trying to work out how to communicate a timeless message."

Mr Hadley wanted to do more than use technology to share resources. "There are plenty of people who provide information on the web; there's next to no one providing relationships."