Around the mid-1990s, members of Protestant and Catholic Churches in several European countries began to pay attention to the Internet. Since then, the growth of interest and involvement has been rapid. For instance, there are today no less than 6,200 Catholic websites in Italy, Fr. Franco Mazza, web coordinator of the Conference of Italian bishops, told RW.
Most European Christian websites continue to be maintained by dedicated individuals. In France, voluntary work still plays an essential role for the updating of the websites of many Catholic dioceses. However, several countries show clear trends towards a professionalization of the Christian presence on the Web.
This was evidenced by two recent conferences which RW attended. On June 8, the first French gathering on the Christian Internet took place in Paris. From June 9 to 12, the 7th European Christian Internet Conference convened in Cologne, Germany. Both conferences drew less than 50 participants, but they included some key players. One of the major concerns of European Christian webmasters is to avoid being confined to a “virtual ghetto,” visited only by believers.
Consequently, the challenge is to find ways to make Christian websites noticed by and interesting to wider, secular audiences.”The time has come for a new cooperation with partners outside the church community,” said Rev. Ralf Peter Reimann of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland.
Indeed, the affirmation of a Christian presence on the Internet does not only mean getting high rankings in the results when typing keywords into major search engines. An even more important goal is to convince the most visited commercial portals to link their welcome pages to religious information put online by the churches, or even to provide those portals with religious content tailored to serve their purposes.
Even in secularized Europe, this does not appear completely impossible, since there may be cases of a mutual interest. For instance, one of the most important French commercial portals on marriage has agreed to link to a Catholic website on the same issue, since people desiring to have a church wedding are pleased to find such information.
Similar experiences have been reported from Finland and from Germany, where some church websites provide both religious content and general information intended for a local community beyond the walls of the church.
(Websites: http://www.eklesia.net, Christian Internet in France; http://www.ecic.info, ECIC).
— By Jean-François Mayer