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Pastor puts his faith in online church

The sermon is just a click away

With up to 10,000 downloads of his sermons per week, the pastor of Switzerland's only online church has reason to celebrate this Christmas.

Erich Engler, who also has a real congregation in Rapperswil near Zurich, has big plans to reach even more of the faithful worldwide, including English-speakers.

The 38-year-old preacher was inspired by similar online ministries based in the United States. He spent two years attending a bible school in Tulsa, Oklahoma and the influence remains in his work.

Internetkirche.com (internet church) has been up and running for a year, with a new sermon by Engler in German available every working day. "The main focus is German-speaking Europe at present. But of course we want to reach as many people as possible."

"We want to spread the word of faith and the internet is the fastest tool in this age to do it. It's even faster than TV and much cheaper," Engler told swissinfo.

English subtitles

Engler and the members of his church who work on the website plan to put subtitles on the sermons in the future.

"I don't know when we can realise it because it will require personnel and equipment but we have already thought about how we can reach the English-speaking world," the energetic minister said. There are also plans to buy the domain name in different languages.

Four to five people work on the site every day, all members of Engler's church, which holds services in a hotel. All the costs are paid by donations.

"The website needs equipment, to film the services, for example, and edit the files with professional software tools. All this costs money."

So what does an internet church offer that a traditional church does not? Anonymity for one thing, according to Engler.

"We reach a lot of people who are not going to church, who are not members of any church. They don't feel comfortable to expose themselves in a local church so the internet church is a great tool to be anonymous. It really is a new way to spread the faith."

A hit

The website has taken off with remarkable speed. The team started a test phase last year to see what the response would be to downloads of Engler's sermons on the internet.

"We were amazed - within one year we had 50,000 downloads so we decided to set up a better tool and bought the name internetkirche."

Engler has had no formal media training but has learnt to successfully transfer his experience in public speaking to a new medium. "I speak three to four times a week in front of a congregation. The only thing I had to change for the studio sermons was to imagine people behind the camera."

And his message for this season of good will? Every day is Christmas Day.

"Like most people we celebrate Christmas but we don't wait until December 24 and 25. This is the message I always give. If you know Jesus as the Lord and your personal saviour, every day is a heavenly gift and that's not something you remember just once a year."

swissinfo, Clare O'Dea

Erich Engler

Erich Engler was born in 1970 in Bülach near Zurich.

After working in the family business, Erich went to Tulsa, Oklahama in 1995 to study at the Rhema Bible Training Center.

He spent the following years working as an assistant pastor in Zurich.

In 1999 he founded the Family Church of Rapperswil.

Alongside his main activity as a minister, Engler teaches at the Gospel Training Center of Brugg in Switzerland and the Rhema Bible Training Center in Germany.

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