Spiritual exploration heads to the Internet

The Calgary Herald
February 6, 2010 
Mario Toneguzzi

Internet users -- especially younger ones -- are invited to join Soul Chat, a conversation about spirituality.

The website, www.soulchat.ca, is the brainchild of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Its goal is to engage a younger generation in spiritual discussion -- a generation brought up with the Internet and other social networking.

"It's a fairly new tool that our organization developed as a way to get into the Internet world and have spiritual conversations with people in that kind of a setting," says Dave Ingram, project manager for the association in Calgary.

"We all know that the Internet has become really the go-to source for information, especially for the younger generation. Really, for the 40-probably-and-down generation. If people want information, they go to the Internet.

"We were realizing that, as a Christian organization, information about Christianity or even opportunities to engage people in spiritual conversation was happening on the Internet and we weren't a part of that whole discussion. So we wanted to get into that. We wanted to really start to make use of that as a medium of communication to hopefully engage people, but in a pretty soft-touch kind of way.

"It was not meant at all to be in-your-face, pushy type of evangelism, but just as a place to engage people in spiritual conversation and enable Christianity to be a part of that conversation."

The new website is packed with articles, videos, and blogs designed for people interested in exploring faith. It invites people to participate by commenting on the content or e-mailing the association with questions, concerns, thoughts, or needs.

The idea is to gently introduce the basic tenets of Christianity to people who want to know more about the faith, but aren't yet comfortable enough to attend a church or have a face-to-face conversation with a Christian, adds Ingram.

Ingram says some people may be interested in Christianity, but are confused by stereotypes or misinformation in the media. Soul Chat aims to clear up that confusion, he says.

A television commercial created by students at Mount Royal University will be airing this month on Shaw TV and Access TV.

The hope of the television campaign is to drive people to the website.

Pastor Steve Grove, of the Louise Street Community Church of the Nazarene in Saskatoon, says the challenge of Soul Chat is to get people talking about spiritual issues.

"For me, the benefit is that it helps people have a place and to feel more comfortable to talk about spiritual things. As a pastor, I'm going to always support that," he says, adding it's a way to connect with a younger generation.

The church in some ways, he says, has failed to embrace that generation. How do churches talk to this generation, a generation that has been raised on video games, a generation that has been raised with the social networking explosion, he asks.

Ingram hopes the Soul Chat website will be a vehicle for that.

"We hope to cover topics like faith. What is faith? How is faith important to people in the world we live in today? What about the meaning of life? Why are we here? What are we doing? How do we make sense of the world we live in today? We hope to hit topics that are of current interest."

"Certainly it's not perfect, and we're learning as we go along," says Ingram of Soul Chat.

"We designed the website last fall as a result of comments from people that it really was not connecting. It was too verbal. Too much focus on words and not enough visuals.

"So we tried to redesign it and have gotten a lot of positive comments on that. We're learning as we go along and trying to make it something that's as user-friendly as possible."

Soul Chat is being promoted in Vancouver during the Olympics. Thousands of Soul Chat "touch cards" are being distributed, along with other Christian material, through an inter-denominational campaign called More Than Gold ( www.morethangold.ca).

Soul Chat was promoted through a series of prime-time TV commercials in the Saskatoon area during November. As part of that campaign, dozens of Saskatoon churches received training and became Soul Chat churches. They are listed on the soulchat.ca website as partners where people can go for face-to-face conversations. Also on the website's home page are links to the three TV commercials.

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