Church Websites and the Lost
- Tuesday, October 31, 2006
In 1995 I started building and marketing Christian-oriented websites. That makes me one of the veterans of the net. I was still in my teen years and saw the Internet as the mature version of Nintendo. Besides, the excitement of my learning permit lost its glow after the third or fourth drive with my parents.
My parents, by the way, would occasionally become frustrated with me and tell me to "Get off that computer and get in bed! It's 1 A.M.!" I eventually obeyed, but I don't regret those late nights of learning and building for the future. Today I simply tell them that I was preparing for my career.
Most churches did not have a website in those days. In fact, the idea of a church having a website was actually being debated by some churches and denominations. "Is it scriptural?" is something I remember hearing several times. In fact, even as late as the year 2000 I was actually reprimanded by a self-appointed church leader for making a very basic website for a church where I ministered to youth. He couldn't quite put his finger on it, but I had done something too new for his taste -- and that just had to violate some scripture, somewhere.
We've matured beyond that now except for extreme and absolutely silly situations that aren't even worth mentioning.
"So webmaster, hurry up and tell us something useful!"
So you want to use the Internet to reach the lost?
Okay, but remember that just because something is new and trendy doesn't mean it's effective. However, through my work on the Internet I have come to believe that it can be very effective in reaching people. One example is what happened to the movie Gigli that featured mega stars Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. The marketers spent a jaw-dropping amount promoting the movie, and with expectations of being the "movie of the year" it had a very large opening weekend.
Then the teenagers and twenty somethings struck.
They blogged and posted in forums with statements like, "Overrated." "Stay at home." Or "Watch anything else."
The movie flopped.
"In the old days, there used to be a term, 'buying your gross,'" Rick Sands, chief operating officer at Miramax, told the Los Angeles Times. "You could buy your gross for the weekend and overcome bad word of mouth, because it took time to filter out into the general audience."
Those days are gone with blogs and message forums that allow the "average person" to act as movie critic.
So what does that mean to the church? It means that the Internet can give most anyone a voice -- even a church.
In terms of a church website, you're not going to accomplish much of anything if your site simply features your address, phone number and "worship times." Sure, your members might know how to call the church building to borrow tables for their garage sales, but that's about all you can expect.
Putting articles on your church website is certainly a good thing -- especially if they are on topics that pull in the "average" person. Be careful that you don't "preach to the choir." A church website is probably not the place for major doctrinal studies and statements. That's what your member-attended Bible classes are for.
If you truly want to be evangelistic, your target audience won't have a clue what some of your doctrinal words and beliefs mean or why you care so much about them. It would be like trying to recruit students for a beginner's cooking class by arguing over which garnish was proper for a plate at the banquet of Trimalchio (don't ask).
Make your church website matter
Provide information that matters to your audience. Articles on parenting, marriage and financial stewardship might be a decent start. However, if you want to truly have a shot at bringing in outsiders with your church's website, have the members of your congregation write about their areas of expertise. For example: If you have a computer expert in the congregation, ask him/her to write some articles on common computer problems and how an average user might fix them. Or if you have a doctor in the congregation, have him write articles on keeping children healthy or symptoms that warrant a doctor's visit. Or ways to lose weight.
Use your imagination. If you have a coach in the congregation, you could have him write an article about lessons kids can learn from sports and include a Bible verse with it such as "Whatever you do, do your best as if you are working for God" (Colossians 3:23). A coach could even write an article about how parents should not push their children into sports or be poor examples by yelling at umpires.
Maybe you include seasonal articles about the local high school football team complete with statistics and names of those who made key contributions in games. Write about other local events in order to reach those in your community.
At the end of all of the articles include something like, "From your friends at the Harpeth Church, located at 555 Whatever Street. If you would like someone to to pray with you or study the Bible call us at 555-7733. We care."
Obviously this doesn't replace your outreach efforts or actual participation in community events. But I believe churches should use every tool available to reach the lost. And if you're thinking about having a church website or improving the one you have, these strategies will have you on the right path. Ask members of your church to link to the church site from their personal websites and you are well on your way.
In my opinion, the Internet is another way of becoming "all things to all men." It's another way to use your congregation's gifts to help people and "in any way possible" lead them to Jesus. It also involves the congregation in evangelism and might prime the pump for other evangelistic activity.
Go into all the world... wide-web!
Lee Wilson founded Grace-Centered Magazine and has spoken on many lectureships and Christian events. He co-wrote "The Real Heaven: It's Not What You Think" and speaks to churches about how misconceptions and incorrect teachings about Heaven cause the world to turn away from Christianity. Lee also founded Real Christian Singles, a website that helps Christian singles form godly relationships.
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