In keeping with its stated mission “to press forth the claims of Christ’s ... Lordship ... over every sphere and aspect of society,” the Reformed Bible Church has harnessed twenty-first century technology to the service of Christ’s Kingdom.
The church’s “IT guys” have made it possible for anyone, via the Internet, to watch its Sunday services, hear Pastor Paul Raymond’s sermons, and sit in on its Bible study sessions. But it wasn’t easy.
“It was around January of 2005 that Pastor Paul approached me about ‘streaming’ our Lord’s Day services ‘live’ on the Internet so our New York congregation could watch them,” said Michael Hyland, a computer expert who was given the job of making it happen. “Up until then, I’d been using a tiny, crude closet in the back of the sanctuary for taping our sermons on an ancient 8mm camera, which was fed into a VCR. When I accumulated three or four Bible studies and sermons, I would send the VHS tapes to our congregation in New York for their viewing. I think we were doing it this way for two or three years.”
Looking for a better way, Pastor Raymond learned that his sermons could be made available live on the Internet by submitting them to SermonAudio.com, a new company founded for that purpose. Many churches have signed up with SermonAudio.
“They’re fairly strict about who they allow to use their service,” Hyland said. “All potential subscribers are required to fill out an application and must fully adhere to the site’s Articles of Faith.”
Hyland provided a sample of SermonAudio’s faith statement:
“SermonAudio.com embraces the historic Protestant faith and is not open to the dissemination of such ... views as extra-Scriptural revelations, tongues, healing, women pastors/preachers/elders, etc.”
To set up technologically, Hyland first had to rebuild one of his homemade computers to convert it to “heavy multimedia chores.” The church had to buy a new digital video camera, build a new room to serve as a “broadcast studio,” and then send the pastor and his brother-in-law to New York to set up the proper equipment there.
When they started broadcasting last February, they were plagued with a host of technical glitches, which had to be corrected. With help from SermonAudio, Hyland had to reinstall everything from scratch. Even then, transmission was spotty until a new, multi-million-dollar Internet service provider took over the market in central Virginia.
Now, Hyland said, “we can offer virtually error-free transmissions.”
How to Listen In
The live broadcasts are on the air Sundays: the full church service at 10:00 a.m., Bible study at 11:15 a.m., and a condensed version of the service at 2:00 p.m.
To listen live at the scheduled time, the Internet user must go to SermonAudio.com and click the red “on air” button at the top of the site’s first page. This will yield a menu of all churches broadcasting at the moment.
Next, click the “on air” button for the Reformed Bible Church, Central Virginia, and follow the instructions on your Windows Media Player. The quality of the broadcast you receive will depend on the speed of your own Internet connection: the higher, the better.
During the week, one can listen to Pastor Raymond’s sermons by going to the Reformed Bible Church’s website, hisglory.com. This site offers a menu of recent sermons. You can listen to any sermon you select.
“It’s really great for shut-ins,” Pastor Raymond said, “or for anyone else who was unable to go to church that Sunday.”
“Statistics are provided to subscribers for every broadcast [at SermonAudio.com], and you can view historical status going back as far as you need,” Hyland said. “We usually experience fifteen to twenty listeners per service, from as far away as South Africa and British Columbia. There’s no way to determine how many souls may be watching the broadcast from each of those computers.”
Hyland went on to list some of the other options available to SermonAudio.com visitors.
“You can add (and delete) sermons, Bible studies, devotions, and other audio files, which anyone can download for free,” he said. “All are in MP3 format. Submitting them is as easy as clicking a button, pointing or clicking to an audio file on your hard drive, and clicking another button or two to send it to your SermonAudio site.
“Pastor Paul has posted several tracts from Reformers of old, such as Jonathan Edwards, which have been recorded by elders in our church and friends of the pastor’s. I’ve noted that there have been 46,450 downloads of Edwards’ ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’ alone, and a grand total of 92,294 downloads combined.
“Plus, there are areas where visitors to the site can post comments about a sermon they’ve listened to.”
Despite all these technological achievements, the RBC’s Internet ministry still has much to do.
“My next assignment,” Hyland said, “is to set up a ‘Podcast’ stream so folks can listen to us on their iPods and other portable MP3 audio/video devices. Stay tuned as I travel down my next learning curve!”