BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
There may not be an IPO in their immediate future, but if Chris Burkhart and Wes McKinsey who both grew up as sons of pastors achieve their goals, then hundreds of thousands of Christians from around the world will be able to meet up with each other at their newly created faith-based social networking website, HeavenUp. If the site takes off, the founders hope that teenagers who are no longer drawn to attending church will flock to HeavenUp for regular doses of spirituality and fellowship.
Five years in the making, the Facebook-like website, "provides never-before connected elements of a social media network including video sharing, streaming music, and an online store," OneNewsNow, the American Family Association's news service, recently reported
Chris Burkhart told The Christian Post, that he hopes "HeavenUp.com can be used as a resource to not only maintain and foster relationships with their local church and community but to grow spiritually and fellowship with people worldwide."
Burkhart made a point of disassociating HeavenUp from Facebook: "Were focusing on Christians and bringing them together as one body of Christ," Burkhart told OneNewsNow. "Our goal is completely different than Facebook - Facebook is, to put it bluntly, to make money. Our goal is to bring the body of Christ together so they can all connect together at one place."
"It's a safe community of Christians, it's a place where you can get inspired, when you can get inspiration," Burkhart says. "It's a completely different vibe than you get at Facebook. It's a Christian vibe."
At its website, HeavenUp describes itself as "a safe Christian social network community where you can connect with Christian friends, bands, artists, churches, pastors, youth pastors, authors, speakers, comedians, radio stations, TV stations and all other Christian organizations. Members can share and/or sell their content such as music, videos, books, films, DVDs, CDs, sermons, bible studies, downloads, software and all other Christian content.
"HeavenUp provides an online environment for Christians to fellowship and build meaningful Christian relationships. The foremost goal of HeavenUp is to unite the body of Christ and help further His Kingdom."
According to a HeavenUp .com press release, "Working alongside Burkhart is Andy Huddleston, a 35-year entrepreneur veteran who will be serving as the Chief Communications Officer for HeavenUp. He is the author of, 'White Knuckle Faith' and has been serving with YWAM (Youth With A Mission) for the past 35 years."
The website has already received the endorsement of the twenty-plus-year-old Dove Foundation, an organization whose mission is "to encourage and promote the creation, production, distribution and consumption of wholesome family entertainment."
Dick Rolfe, CEO of Dove, said that the foundation "highly recommend[s] HeavenUp.com as a ‘safe haven'" social media site, and he stated that "we feel [it] will be the next social networking phenomenon in the faith and family market."
Each year the Dove Foundation confers what it calls The Crystal Dove Seal Award, an online ballot available to visitors of the Foundation's website. 2011 award winners were: Comedy: The Muppets - Walt Disney Pictures;
Drama: Soul Surfer - Sony Pictures / Affirm Films; Adventure: Hugo - Paramount Pictures; Animated: Cars 2 - Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar Animation Studios; Documentary: African Cats - Walt Disney Pictures;
Limited Theatrical Release: The Frontier Boys - Ferocious Films / Destiny Image Films.
HeavenUp has also garnered support from music labels and artists such as MercyMe, The Afters, Phillips, Craig & Dean and more, as well as from Lester F. Sumrall's LeSea Broadcasting and iTickets.com.
Although it embraces all age groups, HeavenUp may be specifically aimed at teenagers, whose participation, according to a study by the Barna Group, a Christian marketing research and polling company, in "small group attendance, prayer, Sunday school participation, donations to churches, reading sacred texts other than the Bible, and evangelism by Christian teens" has declined.
"In several ways, teenagers are much less inclined toward spirituality than were teens a dozen years ago," the Barna Group study confirmed.
"Teenagers view religious involvement partly as a way to maintain their all-important relationships," David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group and the director of the research said. "Yet perhaps technology such as social networking is reconfiguring teens' needs for relationships and continual connectivity, diminishing the role of certain spiritual forms of forms of engagement in their lives. Talking to God may be losing out to Facebook."
Chris Burkhart hopes that HeavenUp, his Facebook-like website will help bring teens back to spirituality and fellowship.