BY MARY WICOFF
DANVILLE — As people fill the pews today for the greatest of Christian holy days, they’ll hear a message that’s stayed the same for centuries.
In some churches, that old message will be delivered through new technology. Other churches prefer a traditional style of delivery, while still others take a middle road between tradition and technology.
Whether the message is coming through a 10-foot television screen or by use of simple prayer books, church-goers across the area will celebrate the same event today — the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Vineyard Church is an example of a church that uses a variety of technological devices to reach those who otherwise might not attend services.
“It broadens the reach of influence. Technology makes it (religion) more accessible,” said Jay Sorrell, campus pastor at the Danville site.
The Vineyard is a multi-site church, with the main campus in Urbana.
When a visitor enters the building on Poolside Drive, he can watch a looping message about the church on a flat-screen TV; pamphlets at each side of the screen spell out the church beliefs.
On most Sundays, the congregation watches a videotaped program on a 10-foot screen, while TVs on each side supplement the message with Biblical passages or other words.
The 30-minute message is recorded in Urbana, and an MP4 file is sent through the computer Saturday night for use the next morning. That one message reaches about 3,000 people at the five campuses. In Danville, the two Sunday services attract a total of more than 250 people.
“We like the small church feel. We’re a small church with the resources of 3,000,” he said.
About once a month, Sorrell delivers the message himself, in person, to the crowd.
About 80 percent of the teaching comes via video, while 20 percent is live teaching. Sometimes, a minister from Urbana will come to Danville to record the video here.
“It’s simple technology — it’s about communication,” he said.
Another feature is that children and parents use a computer to check in to Kingdom Kids, where children play and learn. Parents have a security card that’s scanned; no one else may pick up that child.
For training sessions, Vineyard uses the “Go to Meetings” software on a computer; attendees in Danville, for example, can see and communicate with trainers in another city.
In addition, the church uses Facebook — http://www.facebook.com/vineyarddanville — and a website — http://www.thevineyardchurch.us/.
Its newsletter, V-News, is a video e-mail that helps keep people informed and links the five campuses. Some people prefer to watch a video rather than read an article, and V-News includes a mixture of videos, such as one from a weekend service.
Sorrell noted that people also may pay their tithes through the website’s online giving program.
Another feature is that Vineyard is showing History Channel’s “The Bible” series each Sunday night on its big screen; discussions take place during the commercials. About 50 people have been attending those sessions.
Four employees in Urbana and tech people in Danville keep all of the technological tools running smoothly.
Reaching the people
While the high-tech world doesn’t appeal to everyone, Sorrell said the people who attend Vineyard like it. “We’re speaking a language that people like,” he said.
“You have the high tech and the high touch. We want to participate in both,” he said.
For example, using technology frees up time for Sorrell to visit with people.
“This allows me to focus on important things — the people. It allows us to invest time in people,” he said.
Last summer, he and church members gave out hot dogs at the Danville Mass Transit transfer station — with no signs or literature, just food for people waiting on buses.
“We’re just here to love,” he said. “I’m reaching people that other people look over.”
The focus of Vineyard, he said, is to reach people who don’t feel comfortable in other churches. The dress code is casual, and people feel free to bring their coffee and donuts into the service. Most of the members are in the 30-45 age range.
Pam Starkey, a founder of the Danville campus, said about 50 percent of the people at the services are unchurched or fallen away. “That’s what it’s about — continuing the ministry of Jesus.”
The Danville campus was started about four years ago by Pam and Dennis Starkey in the former Lakeside Funeral Chapel building. The group moved to the site of the former Nelson’s Pool.
The other campuses are Sullivan, Paxton and Charleston in addition to Urbana and Danville. In May, nine people are going to Valparaiso, Ind., to grow a church.
No matter what kind of technology is used, Sorrell said, the bottom line is: “We want to draw people to a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
A sign of faith
Motorists driving on Bowman Avenue can’t help but notice the tall sign that flashes messages.
The sign is one way that the New Life Church of Faith, 1419 N. Bowman Ave., reaches out to the community.
The church does have a website — http://www.newlifechurchoffaith.org — and a Facebook page. But the digital billboard is another tool.
Tabatha Forrest, administrative assistant, is responsible for putting messages onto the 24-hour screen. A message will be visible for 1 to 1½ seconds, which goes quickly — but a motorist coming from the curve near Voorhees can still get the whole message, she said.
Forrest posts messages from scriptures or gives practical tips, as well as promoting the various services and events going on. One practical-application message, for example, notes there are more than 1,700 jobs available in Danville; call your local employment agencies. However, that’s followed by: “Smoke marijuana? No jobs.”
Another message urges passersby to pray for city and county leaders, principals and teachers, and others.
“We get an overall positive reaction,” she said. One man who drives that route every day said it’s the highlight of his day to see a message.
Sometimes people call the church after seeing information on its website.
“I think it brings in visitors,” she said of the website. “Everyone is technologically savvy.”
Using technology helps cater to the young people, especially those in their 30s and 40s, she said.