Not exactly, said Heidi Campbell, a communications professor at Texas A&M who studies links between new media and religion. As society becomes increasingly connected, "we're seeing that people are not dropping out of off-line institutions" but rather "they're using the Internet as a supplement to -- not a substitute for -- religious participation."
What can you get on your laptop that you can't get from the pew? The answer, according to Campbell, is more sustained and satisfying personal interaction. That includes matters like in-depth theological discussion, prayer support, opportunities for confession and the like.
But connecting believers is only one element of GodTube's vision. According to its mission statement, the site was built "for the purpose of encouraging and advancing the Gospel worldwide."
Ivan Leon, GodTube's manager of Hispanic communities, explained that the video conferencing feature will be crucial for churches -- both in the United States and Latin America -- to instruct and communicate with missionaries in the field. Leon added that users from Spanish-speaking countries account for about 10% of GodTube's traffic.
GodTube believes its financial aspirations hinge upon its ability to maintain a community environment that is squeaky clean, free of sex and violence. Wyatt and chief technical officer Jason Martell emphasized that the site has gone to "extreme measures" to build a monitoring infrastructure to keep its audience, its partners and its $2.5-million investment safe.
Every single video must be approved by an administrator before it goes live. Currently, that is 300 to 500 videos a day and growing.
At first, only pre-approved pastors and ministries will be trusted with the live video features. As far as what the site considers appropriate, Wyatt has said "if we wouldn't want an 8-year-old girl to see it, then we won't allow it."
Perhaps it's no coincidence then that the site's all-time most-viewed video features a 3-year-old girl reciting Psalm 23. "He'll anoint my head with oil. Surely . . ." she stammers, "surely goodness will follow --"
"Surely goodness and love," her father corrects.
Offerings from the Jewish world are in the works too. JewishTVNetwork.com bills itself as the "first broadband network to feature a mix of entertainment and news channels celebrating the Jewish experience" and just last week began accepting user-submitted videos. Monday, the site plans to launch a contest seeking the most humorous bar or bat mitzvah clip.
Naseeb.com, a Muslim social network, dating and culture site, has over 335,000 members, and Muxlim.com is a media portal that encompasses several smaller sites, including a social network and a video-sharing space. Notably, neither Mecca.com, Naseeb.com nor Muxlim.com is oriented toward proselytizing, like GodTube.
"We are a site for Muslims -- not about Islam," said Aslan of Mecca.com, which he says is trying to be "the Muslim world's YouTube/MySpace."
"The Muslim community is completely fractured -- it doesn't really exist anymore; the only place it does exist is online," said Aslan, adding that some of the most easily accessible online communities are the jihadist sites. "The only way to counteract those voices of extremism is to shout just as loud. This is our opportunity to shout as loud as the extremists so that we can give young people an alternative."