Is It Time to Rethink the Church Website?

church website

There’s no doubt that, with the invention of the internet and the subsequent explosion of website development, the church was handed a prime opportunity. With relatively great ease, the local church could now publicly communicate with effectiveness, even getting the gospel story out in a variety of new ways.

But recently I’ve been thinking about church websites. My mind has been contemplating this question: What is the purpose of the church website and do we need to rethink this media platform in our world today, a world that’s only about 20 years removed from the initial explosion of the “website movement”?

Though some might argue the church website has the ability to reach non-believers, the unchurched, etc, I think if we are honest, we need to admit our church websites primarily reach two groups of people:

  1. Church members, or regular attenders, of the specific local church.
  2. Church transfers, meaning those who were part of one local church and, for whatever reason, are now looking for a new local church.

To break it down, church websites are really for the already initiated. Non-believers and the unchurched are not regularly drawn to them, if really ever.

Why?

Well, what info is usually on our website?

  • History of the church
  • Statement of faith
  • Leadership
  • Upcoming events/activities
  • Sermon series
  • Listing of different ministry areas
  • Possibly a short blurb about the gospel
  • Social media links
  • Donate button

There might be some other items, but those are the primary markers of the church website. However, while those who are already part of the local church, or the transferees looking for a new church, might be interested in this info, it really has very small, if any, bearing upon the non-believing community. And this is highlighted as we head more and more into a post-Christian, postmodern culture. Most unchurched are not looking for a statement of faith, sermon series, leadership team, or donate button – if they are looking at all.

Now listen. I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to have something for those who are already part of a local church community. But we might also need to consider whether the current normal website set-up is going to serve the church of our current world, even the local church setting, especially as our world continues to grow by leaps and bounds in its global-ness. Are our websites too inner-focused on us and our activities, not connected to anything outside our own particular context?

But back to church websites and the unchurched.

We do have something to think about in 2015 and beyond. Will we continue to shape our websites for those who are already part of the Christian community or will we explore what is best for engaging with those who are not yet followers of Christ?

My hunch is that this doesn’t mean better or “cooler” presentations of the gospel or posted on our websites, and it could even mean that websites are not really needed, as the urban, unchurched, postmodern can see right through our marketing ploys. But something has to change, at least if we are going to consider effective church website development within our context. We can continue with the revolutionary methods of 15-20 years ago or we can adapt, become “incarnational,” and use this platform to faithfully engage our world.

Today is a different day, a different context, but also a new opportunity.

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “Is It Time to Rethink the Church Website?

    • That’s a great application question! I’m initially theorizing, which is my default. I’d also be interested in the ideas of others if they are tracking with me.

      But here are some initial practical thoughts:

      1) Do we need a church website?
      2) Perhaps we utilize and better connect via social media.
      3) Maybe a website like meetup.com could be a format if we want to utilize websites going forward. So I do think we can use them, but I just think the normal model is becoming less and less effective. So meetup.com is an interesting platform. Another might be iklesia.net.

      Hope that offers some more concrete ideas of what I’m beginning to imagine.

      • Yes, no doubt. It’s just that with this being a new thought for myself, I’m not sure what it would exactly look like just yet or what others are doing to be more effective in connecting with the unchurched via the web today.

  1. Scott, I think websites have evolved to have what they have because that’s what people want. I think the plain truth is that non-Christians, unbelievers, whatever you want to call them aren’t LOOKING at church websites. If they are seeking truth, it’s not likely they are just going to visit some random church website. They are going to Google something about the specific truths they are looking for, which is going to likely lead to a para-church organization or a blog or religious magazine’s website, rather than a church’s.

    So, I don’t know if it’s the CONTENT that needs to be changed as much as the SPIRIT of the site. Most website, logically, are written to “the member” or “the believer”, because that’s the primary audience. Maybe they should ask on the front page who you are: member, believer, seeker, other. 🙂 And the response would dictate how the site is organized and presented to them. But the same content would still be there.

    • Thanks for the feedback. I think what you’ve said is near to what I’ve said. They’re just not looking all that much. But a Google search could lead them to a church website with particular info of interest. So maybe we need to keep Google searches in mind as we develop websites. I’m not sure if the idea of creating multiple “levels” of a website for member, believer, seeker, etc, would work. But I think it’s something that could be worth considering.

      In the end, the church website has become a precious commodity in its current form. We don’t easily let go of things that we hold so near and dear. So it will take some time on this matter. But some are ready to consider a way forward for this moment in time.

  2. Hi Scott.

    Good thoughts. Myself, I think the website still serves a purpose, but it’s not primarily evangelism… if it ever was. I think evangelism still comes down to someone saying to a friend “I can hardly describe the difference Jesus has made in my life.” If the friend is on a faith journey, and gets invited to church, then he or she may very well visit the website before daring to stick their head in the door on Sunday, just to get a sense of what they should expect. And to make sure we’re not Westboro.

    Same goes for a drive-by (as we calls ’em here in the California desert). They may be developing a openness to matters of faith, and wonder about that church they drive past on their way to work every day. The natural next step is to check out the website – far less threatening than actually showing up to a place they know almost nothing about.

    So I agree that the typical church website is not primarily aimed at the unchurched. But that does not mean it’s not useful. It’s true that we live in a global society, but that does not mean local society has died … yet. 🙂 At this point we still do interact face-to-face on occasion.

    Our church is also active on social media. Primarily facebook at this point, though we should put some more effort towards instagram. But I have to say, most of our facebook traffic is our own church people. I think that’s OK. I still think personal interaction is the best way of reaching the unchurched.

    • Dave –

      Thanks for the comment. I agree that the church website, as is, can and does serve a purpose. But I’m trying to get people to think who it is the website is serving today. I’m not even sure people have really stepped back and thought about this factor. Perhaps I’m wrong.

      I would guess that, 15-20 years ago, websites were launched with the intent of also connecting with non-believers, the unchurched. Not the sole purpose. But we really thought the stuff was cutting edge and if we can put together a pretty decent looking website, with a video or something that explains & shows what’s going on here (nice contemporary music, lights, hip pastor, coffee bar in the foyer, etc), then the unchurched might come give us a try. It would be interesting to see stats on this, and especially those where things really clicked for people and they ended up putting roots into that local church community. But, as a whole, I’m pretty convinced this particular web-development focus, so cutting edge 15-20 years ago, has little effect today.

      I’m actually not saying we need to use our websites in an evangelistic way, at least in the traditional sense we think of evangelism. A short 4-minute “salvation” presentation. Again, I don’t think a postmodern, post-Christian group of people would be drawn in that way. They see past the facade of such or they are just turned off by it. Rather, I’m trying to think of the church doing something that makes connections overall, if anything. Perhaps the church has a community service with activities that attract interested people from all around – music classes for kids or web development classes for the community or a food co-op for the neighborhood. This is stuff that people are interested in these days. So there might be a sidebar statement on the site that communicates about this community service that says, “This group also gets together on Sunday afternoons at Cafe Main Street to share coffee, stories, and thoughts about spirituality.” Then you might have something to move forward with. I don’t think this is about doing something incognito. I think it’s about taking steps within a community.

      I’m not exactly sure what it would all look like. But I do feel strongly we need a different approach overall to connect with non-believers in our world today.

      Also, you are very correct that the best way is personal contact. That’s why I think social media might just be the best way moving forward to alleviate the web development & maintenance. And social media could be used for the example scenarios I put up above. Each Saturday you put up a reminder that some of those in the group get together for coffee, stories and spirituality. Something of that nature. But personal relationship will ultimately be your best option over web material.

  3. The way I see it, not having a website for your church is like not having your phone number in the phone book. If you don’t have a site it will likely limit your presence. Also, I think is your first impression for most most who fins your access a church website. They are “coming” to see what you are and what you have to offer. If it is not a user friendly site that won’t help.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s