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Give the Rev. John Rudolph five minutes, and he will give busy online seekers a weekly message that lifts up the Word of God in a new kind of Christian community.
Last June, the pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Emmitsburg, Maryland began filming and posting an informal, shortened version of his weekly sermon to help time-challenged people live Christ-centered lives outside of Sunday morning.
Now, more than 80 viewers - almost matching the 90 people who attend Trinity‘s live Sunday service - link online weekly to the Studio 4:40 ministry to watch the five-minute video clip of an informal Rudolph, sitting in a chair with a Bible at times open in front of him, share a Christian message.
The ministry is committed to building a full-service online church.
“We are looking for people on the go, people who are working long hours, people whose family life is hectic, or calendar is full,” the site states.
Joe Fox and his wife, Lori, are grateful for the Web ministry.
They both work 12-hour shifts Thursdays through Sundays in the printing industry, regularly missing Sunday morning service at Trinity United Methodist. When Trinity initiated an online webcast last year, the young parents eagerly logged on to catch up with the weekly message.
“When you can’t get to church, sometimes you can feel like you’re not a part of the church,” says Fox. “But seeing the pastor delivering the message makes you feel like you’re still going to church, even if you can’t physically be there every week.”
The church also is welcoming participants from other parts of the country.
One of those viewers is Amy Hiett, who attended high school with Rudolph a
nd connected to Studio 4:40 through Rudolph’s Facebook profile. Hiett lives in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., and works on Sundays.
“I haven’t found a church home here yet,” Hiett writes in an e-mail. “I can watch Studio 4:40 on my break at work or listen to it while I’m driving. It’s great as little reminders of what our purpose is in life and how much greater God is than the small things of everyday life.”
The ministry’s name references the biblical number 40, which suggests when enough time has passed to accomplish God’s work. Examples include the number of days of the flood or the time Jesus was tempted in the desert, according to the Bible.
In reaching out online, statistical tracking revealed that users would only watch a clip shorter than five minutes. “It has to be efficient and brief,” says Rudolph. “On the World Wide Web, you h
ave to be able to capture and maintain their attention, and know when enough’s enough.”
But it still leaves time for a powerful message, ministry workers said.
Young adult Matt Sayler, who helps record, edit and post the clips, says the weekly webcasts are a window into God’s Word, helping people with their day-to-day living.
“I think it’s been a blessing because there are people that can’t get to church or might not want to get to church ? it gives them an opportunity to see if they’re interested,” says Sayler.
Rudolph and Sayler hope that viewers will form small groups to watch the webcasts, adding their own music, reading Scripture and being in fellowship.
“We want to help people have authentic fellowship and inspire people to respond to the Word,” Rudolph says.
The next step, Rudolph adds, includes making connections between viewers via online Bible studies ? which could include scheduled chats or other online possibilities.
“We’re looking at where is God taking our church, what’s next in terms of a Web presence,” says the pastor.
*Madren is a freelance writer based in Olney, Md.