StarTribune.com

GodTube offers a Christian alternative to YouTube

By HEATHER DONCKELS Religion News Service

December 21, 2007

Chris Wyatt and the Internet have something going.

In the late '90s, the young television producer helped start Communities.com, the world's first social networking website. The site exploded into the Web's largest pre-MySpace network.

Now, less than a decade later, Wyatt runs GodTube.com, which was rated the fastest-growing online site when it was launched in August. Wyatt says the site aims to "help the church get people back into the pews."

Wyatt started GodTube.com, a Christian video-sharing and social-networking site, and is now the CEO of a company that employs about 20 people and has a distinctly Christian outlook.

"We're a traditional Christian site," said Wyatt, a 38-year-old student at Dallas Theological Seminary. "Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, period."

According to comScore Inc., which tracks the growth of websites, GodTube grew nearly 1,000 percent in its first month, and had 1.6 million unique visitors every month. There are more than 38,000 videos on GodTube.

Wyatt came up with the idea for GodTube after reading a survey about falling church attendance. And while churches can upload video sermons to the website, Wyatt insists that Christians still need to attend an actual church.

"GodTube is by no means a substitute or alternative for church," he said. "We're here to help the church."

Christians aren't the only ones using the Internet to share their faith. For Jews, there's JewTube.com, and for Muslims, IslamicTube.net.

Although the two sites are considerably smaller -- JewTube gets about 175,000 visitors per month and IslamicTube 23,000 -- the two sites are similar to GodTube in their mission to promote their individual faiths and surrounding cultures.

Jeremy Kossen began JewTube last June after noticing a worrisome amount of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel content on websites such as YouTube. That inspired him to begin a website for "Jewish-oriented videos ... where we didn't allow comments that were racist in nature."

Kossen says the mission of JewTube is not to convert people, but to "promote ... Jewish culture." It also includes informational videos for non-Jews wanting to learn more about the Jewish faith.

IslamicTube officially launched in April to create a clean environment in which to promote to the Muslim faith.

"We noticed Islamic videos ... became a huge hit on YouTube and felt we could help extend ... the true message of Islam," said Abu Ayman, a spokesperson for the site.

Although GodTube has dominated the press in past months, the folks at JewTube and IslamicTube seem to have a positive outlook on the Internet giant. "It's nice to have various religious sites so that people can go and learn about God, understand the differences in religion, and appreciate one another's belief," Ayman said.

Kossen called his opinion of GodTube "very positive."

"Go to YouTube and type 'Jewish' or 'Israel,'" he said. "Tell me what you find. Eighty percent of it is anti-Semitic. Now go to GodTube and type the same thing. What do you get? Ninety-nine percent pro-Israel and pro-Jewish."

In spite of its smashing success, not everyone has such a rosy view of GodTube.

The Rev. Dan Smith, pastor of Momentum Christian Church in Valley View, Ohio, created the video "Baby Got Book," which GodTube used to launch their site. Although the spoof on the rap song "Baby Got Back" has been viewed more than 603,000 times on GodTube, Smith wonders how effective the site will be in reaching non-Christians.

"Most Christians want to reach unchurched people," Smith said, "but you have to be really smart about where you reach unchurched people at."

Tim Ellsworth, director of media relations at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., has his doubts, too. Although he thinks GodTube can have a positive impact on believers, he thinks it's yet another example of American Christians copying elements of pop culture -- from Christian breath mints and energy drinks to a Christian version of "American Idol."

"It's comfortable and convenient for us to surround ourselves with Christian versions of everything rather than to interact with the broader culture," Ellsworth said.

He would love to see a larger Christian presence on YouTube, because there the videos would have a better chance of being viewed by non-Christians. He thinks Christians' tendency to withdraw from the world reflects badly on them.

"It indicates to ... nonbelievers that we don't care as much about them ... whenever we try to make Christian copies of everything," he said.

Nevertheless, Wyatt sees GodTube as his ministry, a way "to bring as many people to Christ ... as possible." He doesn't think he is the reason for the site's success. Rather, it's the result of "God in GodTube."

"I'm not really the CEO," Wyatt said. "I feel like I'm the CEO's man on the ground."