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Last Updated: Saturday, 18 December, 2004, 17:30 GMT
Online church pulls in crowds
congregation : www.churchoffools.com
Visitors can create a character to animate
The Welsh co-creator of an internet church experiment is celebrating pulling in the UK's biggest congregation.

Cardiff-born Simon Jenkins, who created the Church of Fools with friend Steve Goddard, is amazed at its success.

The site, which features 3D animated characters, has been attracting up to 8,000 visitors a day.

A pilot project involving interactive sermons has finished, but funding is being sought for further work.

In the meantime, the church has re-opened for visits "for private reflection". The chatroom and discussion forum also remain open.

With this, you can just log out if you feel uncomfortable, and you know no-one is going to pounce on you to run a Sunday school group
Simon Jenkins, co-creator

Visitors can choose a cartoon persona for themselves, picking the clothes they want to wear and the kind of hairstyle and colour.

One of the items of clothing which has proved a hit is a t-shirt with the Welsh flag on it.

New features which have been added mean that, as each visitor takes a tour of the church, they can kneel and pray, shout "Hallelujah!", play a hymn, and ring the church bells.

"We were really pleased with the way the site appealed to people," said Mr Jenkins, 50, whose family still live in the Gwaelod-y-garth area of Cardiff.

"We did the pilot on a shoestring, because it was a genuine experiment. We were interested to see what we could do."

Global appeal

Mr Jenkins said about half the hits received were from users in Canada and the United States. There was also considerable interest from all parts of Europe, as well as Japan, Vietnam, Guatamala, Australia, and New Zealand.

Research has shown that most of the users are in their 30s, and 50% are male - whereas conventional church-goers tend to be older women. It is believed men are attracted because the site resembles a computer game.

But why should so many people be visiting the site?

"Some people do it because they can't get to church," he explained. "Some people just don't like going because they find the thought of going into this weird-looking building a bit threatening.

"It can be a bit intimidating, going into an unfamiliar place, worrying that you might be sitting in someone's seat.

"With this, you can just log out if you feel uncomfortable, and you know no-one is going to pounce on you to run a Sunday school group."

Virtual church
Virtual services proved hugely popular

Laura Ketteridge from Denbigh, the "virtual head warden" became involved from the beginning of the project.

She said as many as 80% of visitors had actually been inside a church building fewer than four times in the past year.

Ms Ketteridge said being involved in the site had been surprising at times. On occasions, the true cultural and religious diversity of the faith became clear when the congregation was asked to say The Lord's Prayer.

"They could type it in any language they were comfortable with," she explained. "At one service, there was Welsh, Finnish and Spanish. Seeing it all scrolling up gave a sense of the community of God around the world."




SEE ALSO:
Glimpse inside the virtual church
13 Apr 04 |  Magazine
First web-pastor appointed
11 May 04 |  Magazine


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