About "The Association"

"The Association" is a Christian-run Internet ministry designed to draw people in to a Christ-honoring online environment where they can gradually be exposed to other Christians and varied information presenting the challenge and benefits of living a life committed to pleasing God.  On the Internet, The Association can be found at http://freegroups.net and it's operator, Glen Stewart can be reached by e-mail at glen_stewart@welovegod.org.

The name "The Association" sounds like Mafia until one learns that it comes from the idea of Christ coming down to earth to "associate" with the lost and rescue them.  This idea is probably the foundational message of Harold Bell Wright's book, "That Printer of Udell's", where a multi-church inter-denominational organization called "The Association" was formed to help people better themselves.

"The Association" and "The Reading Room" were foundational establishments of Harold Bell Wright's story, and served as models, to some degree, for early ministry ideas when the online Association was a Bulletin Board System (BBS) ministry primarily serving modem-using callers from 1991 to 1994.  Those ideas (The Reading Room - a massive God-centered reference library, for example) still remain online, though now accessible in World Wide Web (html) format.  In December 1995, the BBS completed a transition to 100% Internet operation to reach a larger audience.

Many people struggle to understand how a purely electronic-based ministry can have an impact on people's lives, and how it compares to the ministry of a local church, for example.  The following list compares some typical Church ministries with online ministries.  Note that online ministries were not designed to compete with the local church, but rather to supplement them by providing a distinct witness where none might otherwise be found.
 
A Comparison of Electronic and In-Person Ministries
Church
The Association and other Internet Ministries
Prayer groups meet several times a week.  Attendance varies, but typically < 12. Email Groups keep prayer groups active 24hrs/day.  Participation of dozens is international in scope.
Major group gatherings usually on Wednesday  and Sunday.  Wed. is informal fellowship while Sunday is highly planned. Groups of varying sizes meet in multi-topic Chat, News groups, Email Groups , and private e-mail throughout the week.  Formal (moderated) and informal.
Sunday school lessons for all ages, and on various topics. Bible studies and discussion groups held on every imagineable topic.  Focus is on reading-enabled ages.
A small church library is usually kept. Typically, the content is books, tapes,  and videos.  Content not readily searched. The Internet is quickly growing its own online library of major proportions, consisting primarily of non-copyrighted, limited distribution, or recent works.
"Street Ministries" operated to appeal to those who are not committed to God.  The  approach and title varies. Online ministries of varying (multimedia) content used to draw the lost to Christ.  Interesting computer programs, games, and casual or direct discussion are all openings for planting seeds during evangelism.
Local church impact within 50-mile radius,  appealing to a wide range of interests and financial statuses. Global impact appealing to primarily computer-literate people, usually in mid-to-upper income levels, but also with a wide range of interests.
Local church has the advantage of touch,  sight, hearing, smell.  These senses can  both provide enhanced ministry opportunity  as well as raise unfortunate barriers that  inhibit ministry. People on the Internet are still generally limited to sight and the written word.  Although communication is somewhat impaired, people have developed written gestures that help them cope.  Shabbyness and body odor never detract from the conversation! <grin>
Churches use tithes to support missionaries, but suffer from high operating costs and  poor facility utilization.  Several full-time people usually staff each church. Internet ministries often piggy-back off of existing 
facilities, and can have minimal operating costs. They serve as resources, communication enablers, and news distribution sites for missions activities.  The use of online ministries as collecting-points for ministry support isn't done (yet?).  Running an Internet ministry *can* be accomplished by one part-time person entirely within their own finances.

Specific ministries originating from The Association touch thousands of lives each day, of which probably 50% are not committed to God.  The draw for unsaved people is limited by the availability of appealing activites/functions of the system, and the data capacity of the Internet connection.

Using church terminology, The Association houses dozens of simultaneous Sunday School classes with activites carrying on around the clock, worldwide.  The "class" topics or interest groups are listed below. Nearly 50,000 (ever-changing) people participate in these classes at any one time.

8dedezembro		fmhfriends		noonans
anzac			freedomserge		oasischorale
av_ministries		futurebasic		openairoutreach
b_sharp			global_watch		p40
bible1year		gracepeace		parkside
bibletalk		greer_chapel		petersheimfamily
bid_vir_elizabeth	greg_report		pittman_prayer
brucep4muslims		hfche			prophezine-ldp
burningbushdevo		hgbc_impactsingl	punktsieben
burningbushhtml		hop4hebrewroots		puthuppallybrethren
camel_report		hope4kyiv		quotesfromthebbd
cbdl			ipray4justice		romanfoosfamily
ccconnection		jim_lassiter		sa_prayer_watch
cecf			joyclass		scareahomeschool
chapel_de_oro		jwreminder		sendoutscripture
countryside_c_c		kemperclass		sentinelle
countryside_nursery	khartoum		sgf
countryside_wed		ki_ftlauderdale		shoulders
countryside_women	ki_news			tarlanding
cristaospb		kirksvilleahs		teambratcher
cwclass			ladies_fellowship	test
dillardsupdate		lavang			thomasfamilyinrwanda
docsdailychuckle	lbratcher		tva_ministers
doorofhope		lighthouse_beams	uccprayers
eternal_ink		mennoniteplain		uplift
faithfamily		millerfamily		vandiebrinkies
familienfutter		mineroadchurch		verdaupdates
famillier		moderator		voluntariatmataro
firstbaptistros		news4turkey		wingfold

All told, The Association currently has over 30,000 clean secular "library" entries and nearly 6000 entries focusing on God, one way or another. The secular library is typically in very high demand on the Internet.

Some of the other activities used on The Association to draw people to God are:

- A Scottish Stewart-clan home-base, representing all Stewarts and Stuarts on the Internet, with varying Christ-oriented content.
- A Gantt charting service with pop-up photo testimonies.
- A Unit Conversions web page for most known units of measurement, plus a Christian testimony thrown into the visit!
- A multimedia Christian role-playing game, DragonRaid, designed to appeal to secular RPG players with Dungeons and Dragons experience.

The more varied and changing the ministries and events are on The Association, the more appeal it has to folks wandering around on the Internet.  Promoting these activites is fairly easy to do, with no cost. If you would like to pioneer, implement, and manage a unique online ministry activity, please contact (by e-mail) glen_stewart@welovegod.org to discuss how your ideas might be implemented!  Church-group ministries are very welcome too.

Finally, remember that as Fishers of Men, the best way to tell people about The Association is NOT to say it's Christian-oriented.  We're not here so much to reach the saved, as we are to reach the lost.

The Association is accessed by the following Internet technologies:

World Wide Web -    http://freegroups.net
Email Groups     -  http://freegroups.net/groups.shtml
E-mail         -    webmaster@welovegod.org