PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - James Twiner has been a pastor for years. Recently, when he was asked by a group of young people for their addresses, their answers made him realize his job might change.
"I expected them to put a street and an address," said Twiner. "They put an email address, and I knew. I knew then that this is a phenomenon that the church can't afford to miss out on."
And his church, First United Methodist Church of Pascagoula, is tapping in to the trend. When Jamey Foster, the audio engineer, decided to launch a faith-based social networking website, Twiner threw his support behind the project.
"We know that there's a lot hungry of people out there that's wanting to connect and wanting to have some interaction with others," said Twiner. "And if this is a way to reach them with a positive message of God's love, then I'm for it."
What Foster wanted was an attractive website to connect people when they weren't in church. What he created has already grown to be much greater than his original vision. The site, thechurchyard.net, is packed with the same features that make other social networking sites so popular.
"You can create a profile, upload pictures, upload video. It's got a lot of neat features," Foster said.
But on this site, all the features are focused on faith.
"There's prayer forums, praise forums, divorce, addiction, recovery, pastors' forums, youth organizations, events," Foster said. "You can even post events."
Foster is happy with the site's success so far. It's already garnered 40,000 hits since it launched in April. Some of those hits come from as far away as China. Foster said the site is growing steadily with more than ten new user accounts created every day.
"It's just amazing to see people going on there, already asking questions and sharing thoughts and sharing blogs and talking about family and things they're going through, and that's one thing that I really want to see happen," Foster said.
Twiner is excited about the world of possibilities the site creates, especially for the church's youth.
"This is a way for us to interact when we're not gathered," Twiner said. "This is a way for our people to interact, especially our youth. They live in perilous times, and they face a lot of challenges. And this is a way for them to connect."
Right now most of the users are church members, but they hope other churches will join in on their cyberspace ministry.
"If us, as one church, can make a difference in somebody's life, think about us as ten, fifteen churches working together," Foster said. "You know there's a message there, and that's that we need to get the word of Christ out there. And there are so many people out there looking and searching for something. Just give them a website. Give them a place where they can go to and get answers."
The site is still in the developmental phase, and lacks funding. But both men hope it will eventually grow into a powerful ministry tool.
"There's an old gospel hymn that says, 'Little is much if God is in it,' and God is certainly in this," Twiner said. "And there's no telling what God will do with this."