Sunday, 11 August 2013

The ‘Sins’ of Church Websites

There is an old adage which says that, ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression’. As Scotland’s churches move into the 21st century, many are attempting to portray themselves in a positive manner through a website. The question is: are these websites serving any useful purpose in the overall mission of the church?

The ‘By the Way’ team has recently carried out a limited survey of Scotland’s evangelical church websites. The team’s findings are very similar to some research that has been carried out in the USA.

Dr Thomas W Rainer looked at over 100 websites from a variety of churches of different sizes. He looked at the sites from the perspective of a person considering visiting the church. Apparently, between 75% and 90% of guests will check out a church website before deciding to come through its doors. His conclusions are detailed below.

‘In the vast majority of churches:

1. The website is dated in both design and content. You are communicating an uncaring attitude and a sloppy approach to ministry.

2. The website was built cheaply and looks like it. From a ministry perspective, the church is missing many opportunities. From a stewardship perspective, one guest who becomes a member will pay for the cost of a good site. Though some web designers and builders are too expensive, it makes absolutely no sense to try to get by with a cheap-looking site.

3. The service times are either hard to find or non-existent. This information is probably the first information a guest tries to find. If the times are not clear and apparent, you probably have already lost the guest.

4. The physical address of the church is either hard to find or non-existent. Most of your guests will likely put the address in their satellite navigation system. They won’t be seeking your church in the Yellow Pages. You are probably missing out on the majority of your guests if you don’t have a clearly marked physical address.

5.  Not enough information on childcare. You’ve lost your young families with this omission.

6. Minimal information on your Pastor(s), Elders and Deacons. Guests want to know as much as possible about the staff of the church. The best sites I’ve seen include personal statements from the staff along with their photos.

7. No place to listen to recent sermons. A number of your prospective guests will listen to an entire sermon before deciding to visit. They may assume that you are not very proud of the preaching ministry of the church if you don’t have podcasts easily available.

8. In recent years, more prospective guests want to know the basic beliefs, vision, values and mission statements of a church. If you have none of these on the website, you will miss out on some of your more discerning guests.’

The best Scottish evangelical church website undoubtedly belongs to Deeside Christian Fellowship in the north east of Scotland. An exploration of this website presents a Biblically grounded, vibrant, family orientated fellowship which is open to the rest of the world. This is clearly an outward looking fellowship which puts evangelism and the Great Commission at the forefront of its thinking. Unlike many churches, it is not in decline.

Sadly, the excellence of Deeside Christian Fellowship’s website is not replicated across Scotland’s evangelical churches. This need not be the case. A well constructed website has huge potential in communicating Christ to the local community and the wider world: the sooner churches make this a priority the better.

Would I visit DCF on the basis of its website?.................................I fully intend to, and soon!! 
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