Online dating? - Can you provide some perspectives?

By Christina Quick - Writer for Today’s Pentecostal Evangel (A weekly magazine of the Assemblies of God) - February 18, 2007, Page 10

Single Christians Looking for Love Online

Daniel Atteberry met his wife in what many would consider an unlikely place: cyberspace. The 48-year-old engineer from San Jose, Calif., participated in online chats with his future bride, Clorinda, for several months before flying to Pennsylvania to meet her. By that time, he says, he was already confident he wanted to pursue a serious relationship.

“I had invited several other friends to chat with us online,” Atteberry says. “I appreciated the way she would minister to people over the Internet.”
Married now for five years, Daniel and Clorinda attend Bethel Church of San Jose, where they are active in volunteer ministry.

Art Gorman, single adult pastor at the Assemblies of God church, says the Atteberrys are an anomaly since most Internet matches don’t lead to long-term commitments. Some of the largest online dating services have little more than a 1 percent success rate, he says.

The realities of online dating haven’t kept people from surfing the Internet in search of the ideal companion. In 2005, America Online estimated that 26 million people visited dating sites each month, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the services. Large online dating networks, such as eHarmony, boast millions of members. There are dozens of smaller Internet services — with names such as Christian Soulmates and AdamMeetEve — that claim to cater exclusively to Christians. There are even specialized services for Christian executives and Christians older than 50 years of age.

Gorman estimates that at least half the singles in his church group subscribe to or use an online dating service. “Some admit to it, and others don’t want to say anything about it,” he says.

The stigma once associated with online romance seems to be fading, however. Many young adults, who are accustomed to turning to the Internet for a variety of basic needs, are comfortable looking online for social interaction and even love.  “Some of them seem to have the impression that if you’re not online and you’re not making Internet connections with someone, there’s something wrong,” Gorman says.

Gorman, who presents workshops on Internet dating, started researching the topic several years ago after noticing the growing trend among singles in his church.  “My initial reaction was that it can’t be good,” Gorman says. “But then I thought about how every time there’s a new technology, the church tends to be on the back end of it trying to catch up.” 

Rather than condemning online relationships, Gorman has tried to give congregants tools for wisely navigating this previously uncharted territoryGorman advises single adults to be careful and maintain a healthy level of skepticism when meeting people online. He reminds them not reveal too much information too soon, and not to assume that everyone they meet through a Christian service is a Christian.

Some experts say that as many as 30 percent of people using online dating services are married already. Some use the services for illicit activities, seeking connections so they can solicit pornography or carry out elaborate scams.  Merchant Risk Council, an organization that tracks questionable online schemes, warns that some scammers deliberately target groups set up for Christian singles, where people may be less suspicious.

“It does seem like you can build a false intimacy by connecting electronically,” says Connally Gilliam, a skeptical eHarmony subscriber and Christian author of Revelations of a Single Woman: loving the life I didn’t expect. “I don’t think it’s real until you actually spend some time with somebody.”

Gilliam, 41, has dated three men she met on the Internet. Though she says all three actually behaved in person the way they portrayed themselves online, none of the relationships worked.

Many Web dating companies use advertisements portraying their services as an easy way to find a perfect relationship and a soul mate, claims that Gilliam finds questionable.  “If you look at the divorce rate, it’s apparent that perfect relationships aren’t so easy to come by,” Gilliam says. “As for a soul mate, it seems that God doesn’t call us to find a soul mate. He calls us to love.”

Gilliam says she turned to online dating because she found it difficult to connect with single Christians. She says a church setting may not be the best place for a single woman to seek a partner because there are more women than men in most churches.

Dennis Franck, director of Single Adult Ministries for the Assemblies of God, says part of the problem is that few churches do enough to create an atmosphere where single adults can meet.  “Only about 25 percent of our churches have an active young adult or single adult ministry where people have the opportunity for forming healthy friendships and dating relationships,” Franck says. “The church should be the ideal place for men and women to meet and form these friendships.”

Wherever they look for love, Gorman advises single adults to focus first on the most important relationship they can have — spending time daily with God — and trust Him to work out the details. “The reality is there’s no person who can fill in every gap in our lives and make us complete,” Gorman says. “That’s Jesus’ role. When you stop looking so hard and start concentrating on God’s mission for your life, you’re more likely to find that life partner.”

3 Author’s Perspectives From Christianity Today magazine

The purpose of Assemblies of God Single Adult Ministries is to help districts, churches, pastors and leaders build spiritually-strong single and single-again adults of all ages.

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