I recently re-posted a link to an article I wrote a couple of years back entitled, Is It Time to Rethink the Church Website?
What I have suggested is that church websites may be geared more toward the already initiated, meaning those who are a) already a part of the church or b) those who are looking for a new church (what we may call “church transfers” due to being displeased with a previous church, moving cities, etc). However, the unchurched and de-churched are not really looking for what we might usually find on church websites: statement of faith, sermon series, upcoming activities, leadership team, or donate button – if they are looking at all.
So, my question is: How can we consider being more “missional” with our church websites, engaging the non-Christian landscape.
The re-post has caused some good interaction through social media channels – both agreement and disagreement. But a bigger question has arisen as well (and the same question came up two years ago): What alternatives would I suggest to the current church website model?
It’s a great question. We need real, tangible alternatives. Not simply a critique of an idea or practice. So, I wholeheartedly agree this is an important question: What then shall we do?
Now, I will say this: At times, my blog becomes a place to flesh out thoughts that are brewing inside. It’s a space for pondering things in short form. I have an idea; I pop some thoughts out about that idea. It’s not supposed to be the be-all, end-all.
That’s what was going on with the initial article. As I taught on the practices of mission, I was considering how the church can better engage in our world today, particularly through the varying creative channels at our fingertips. And I began to consider how we can more effectively engage in mission through our web presence. I thought about all the church websites I had visited over the years and how most of them seemed driven for current church members or Christians looking for a new church.
That’s how my church’s website was driven when I was pastoring in Belgium – and I helped create the content. So this is also a critique of my own practices.
Sure, some churches have looked to more missionally engage the world. Perhaps they have posted gospel presentations through well-produced videos. Or they may, say, hold a Fall Festival alternative to Halloween and the event is posted on the church’s website with a sharp rolling promo ad. But my perspective is that non-Christians aren’t usually searching church websites for such content. Yes, it may happen every once in a while. But my sense is that this is not happening on any regular basis.
Hence, my question about how the church could better use the web waves in its mission.
Now, let me also note that, I live in the south, right smack in the buckle of the Bible Belt (in Memphis, if you’re wondering). We like to say we have as many churches as we do gas stations. So what I offer here may not seem as applicable in my neck of the woods – or much of the south as a whole. Megachurches remain a dime a dozen (though the average church in North America is nearer 100 people – yep). Perhaps those in the south can continue to maintain our web presence in the usual format. We may even be able to continue to invest millions in state-of-the-art sanctuaries, leadership academies that bring in top names from around the world, launch ultramodern coffee shops in our buildings, etc.
All this may be considered “missional” in the Bible Belt. But for most of the west that increasingly feels the impinging expansion of a post-Christian, postmodern world, it may be that these efforts won’t effectively draw the unchurched and de-churched.
So what might I offer as alternatives to the usual church website. Here are a few thoughts as of now.
1) Our websites could be more community-driven over and above being solely local church-driven.
What I mean by this is that we consider how we might come together to effectively serve and love our neighborhoods and, connected to this larger community avenue, we link the community to our local church.
I saw this happen while I lived in Belgium. An organization called Serve the City was launched by a group of Christians. At the same time, a church called The Well, was started. Those working with Serve the City looked to utilize the conversations that came out of serving the community as a way to see people connected to the church. Serve the City is now in cities all across the world. I think it’s been an effective mission tool.
This by no means is meant to dismiss the essential importance of the local church. I am a great advocate for the local church, even as the local church is seemingly becoming less and less central to those proclaiming to be followers of Jesus. I simply think this could be an effective missional approach to our presence on the web: serve the wider community and promote such on the web, and then see how folk can become connected to the church.
So we might have a central website (and social media platform) that communicates about practical service opportunities in the community (the local school, local park, artistic venues, family events, etc). Then we invite the community to join in those events through the web space, see people get involved and see conversations start up about deep issues of life and faith. All of a sudden we have an avenue into the local gathering of Christians in our neighborhoods. Something of that sort.
2) Explore how something like meetup.com can be used to draw non-believers into real conversations about faith.
This site is particularly geared toward people finding other people of like mind. You sign-in, do a search within a certain distance from your location (city) and, boom, you’ll most likely find all types of groups with which you can connect.
I did both a search for the words “Christian” and “spiritual” within a 50-mile radius of Memphis and found plenty of groups. This could be a place to a) begin connecting with other groups for conversations and then b) start a new group that meets around faith topics. There are plenty of people interested in all types of spiritual things. These folk are also searching the web waves on a daily basis. How might we bridge the gap in our world today?
I’m not sure we need to re-invent the wheel and create another version of Meet-up. But that may also be something worth considering. Just, whatever we do, let’s not create the Christian version of Meet-up (like folk once did when Faithbook and GodTube was created).
3) It may be that we can utilize social media over and above a website.
In 2017, church’s have probably learned how to keep costs down for website design and content management. I imagine one way is that we combine a staff role where we have one Creative Director who oversees the music, worship, audio, visual, web content, and other creative media. The larger the church, the more can be divvied out to multiple staff. But what if we re-directed more of our funds toward mission over and above maintaining a high-tech experience that exists within our own four walls? Do we really need that many lighting cans, video screens, projectors, and even smoke machines?
Perhaps it’s worth considering a redirection of funds.
Now, listen, as I’ve stated in the previous post, I don’t think we have to completely give up the church website. But, from considering things primarily from a missional perspective, I think it may be something to consider – at least if what I suspect is true, that our websites are not effectively connecting with the non-believing population.
At the same time, just about everyone is on social media. And social media is essentially free. Perhaps our events, videos, and the sort could be hosted on social media where folk already are. I think non-profit organizations already use these platforms a bit better than local churches.
I know there are plenty of differing thoughts of how we should use social media to discuss (or debate) varying issues of the day. I think we could learn how to better do this; for goodness sake we live in a 2017-social-media-saturated world! Or maybe we won’t ever learn. So let’s leave out those conversations about LGBTQ issues and Black Lives Matter and politics. But social media of all types may be more helpful than our website firstchurch.org.
This is why I think that a combo of something like Meetup.com + social media could be a more effective way to engage the unchurched and de-churched today – again, at least over and above what’s currently happening at our church websites.
So there are three initial thoughts on how we could consider doing this better. I’ve touched on all three of these already, but this fleshes things out a bit more. Even in giving these examples, I don’t believe it’s the be-all, end-all in the conversation. They are simply ideas I’ve thought about.
Let’s continue thinking this through, discussing different ideas.
What do you think about these three suggestions? Do you think there are others worth considering? Or do you think we’re fine with our current web set-up?