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:
- Church members, or regular attenders, of the specific local church.
- 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.
Well, what info is usually on our website?
- History of the church
- Statement of faith
- 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 for today 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 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 methods of 15-20 years ago. Or we can adapt, become “incarnational,” and creatively rethink how to use this platform to faithfully engage our world.
Today is a different day, a different context, but also a new opportunity.
Read part 2 of this series.