Editor's note: the following was first published in the Nov. 20, 2012 print edition of The Compass.
Members of Salvation Army in Lower Island Cove got together and asked themselves what the church of the future would look like. Their answer, it turns out, looks like a website and sounds like a place to hang out.
They called it TheSpiritualCafe.ca, and after just a few weeks the site has attracted more visitors than anyone involved had anticipated, said project leader Richard Knapman, who built the website after teaching himself how.
The retired school principal, sitting in front of his computer at his home in Lower Island Cove, tells a story of the website project members guessing how many daily visitors the site would have after six months. Somebody guessed 20, one said 40, another 60. Only one person ventured a guess of 200.
"Except for one or two days since we started, 200 daily visits was the lowest," said Knapman, who regularly looks at the statistics of who has visited the site.
The site launched on Oct. 21, and in the first nine days 4,000 different people visited the site.
While those numbers may not seem high to some, it's important to remember the town of Lower Island Cove has only a few hundred people, and the Salvation Army services usually attract about 50 or so people.
The success of the site has been encouraging, and the church is finding a new community of the faithful online.
"The community now is whoever you are connected to through social media, for the most part," said Knapman, who points out that while the concept of faith remains the same, people are changing how they show their faith.
"Yes, faith is still as relevant as it ever was, but it manifests itself in a different form," he said.
Knapman realized the church must adapt and change with the times if they were to remain relevant as a church, and if they wanted to attract youth, many of whom Knapman said have stopped going to church.
"If you stay to the old ways of worship, you're going to lose generation after generation," he said.
But getting new followers wasn't the goal of the Spiritual Cafe. It was established as a way to serve the community, and to offer views on religion and faith to people in an easily accessible way.
"The purpose is to just increase the sphere of influence for religious thinking," said Knapman.
When it comes to thinking about the church, Knapman realizes religion transcends physical structures.
"The church is not a building. The church is people," he said.
On the web: www.thespiritualcafe.ca