What is the point of a church website?
It is a rarely well answered question. Why does your church website exist? For many churches the only reason that their website exists is because, well, it does. It is often barely a passing concern for the decision makers in church, especially when that basically amounts to the minister. On the flip side, some church websites are the loving creations of some church member or team that spend many ministry hours building a beautiful website with every functionality you can imagine, but to what end?
There is a need, therefore, to give some clarity on the point of a church website. To do that we'll start with a few things that a church website is not.
A church website is not central to evangelism
There are a lot of people on the web, most of the world in fact. One could say that the web contains the world’s largest unreached people group. Therefore, you might say, we should be using our website to share the Gospel with the masses. And while the Holy Spirit is the ultimate method of salvation and so can and will save through internet based evangelism, there are a few reasons, humanly speaking, why making your church website central to evangelism isn’t a good idea.
- It’s ineffective and inefficient
Unless you commit to a massive seo, social, content strategy to bring people to your site, and probably even then, very few unbelievers will visit your church website - they have no reason to - and if they do visit they can very easily leave again before the truth is heard. Social media used well can have some effect but that doesn’t really need to be related to your website. Rather than investing the time and money into an evangelistic website it would be better to equip christians to talk to people in the streets, go door to door or speak to their neighbours/gym buddies/office mates.
- It excludes church members from evangelism
Practicing evangelism isn’t only holding out the greatest gift mankind has ever seen and will ever see freely and widely, but it grows the christian as he or she speaks the truth boldly to those around them. If we take evangelism out of the church member’s hands we rob them of chance to grow.
- It’s impersonal
This ties in with the next point, about fellowship. It is very difficult to speak the truth in love over a medium that doesn’t convey much of the loving cues that come with speech and body language.
A church website is not the central node of fellowship
Taking the view from outward looking, to one another, your website is not about building relationships within the church. While there can be features to assist fellowship on a website and social media, these only really work as an extension of a physical relationship. The problem with centering your fellowship around a website as a medium is you’re placing blocks between each other than disable your ability to truly communicate with and serve one another. I think I’m probably going to have to build on this in another post, but I don’t think that Hebrews 10:23-24 is fulfilled by meeting on facebook messenger. Even video calling has a disconnect that often prevents true christian relationships that submit to one another in love. It is very difficult to be rebuked when I can just turn you off, it’s a lot more difficult to walk away in a café.
Fellowship is loving one another, partnering with one another, encouraging, exhorting, serving one another, all of these are done best standing (or sitting) right beside one another. So, by all means facilitate your one anothering via your website (or related media) but stop there.
A church website is not just a what’s on this week
This is the opposite kind of problem to the first two, a website that is merely or attempts to be a church calendar. The main problem with this is that it does not engage a visitor wanting to know about the church, it doesn’t explain what you believe, what kind of church you are. More often than not the calendar contains three things, the sunday service, the mother’s group that actually isn’t on during the holidays and a long defunct prayer group. Given there is software around that does this for you - if you have to use software for this - this kind of website is pretty much pointless.
What is a church website then?
I believe the purpose of a church website is two fold, and most of this is built on the answer Paul Clarke, the senior pastor of my church gave me when I asked him this question.
Firstly, a shop window for your church so that those who are new to the area or come across you and do a quick google can know what you’re about. And secondly, a tool for facilitating the ongoing ministry of the church without being the focal point of that ministry.
At my church, St Andrews Free Church, we have a fairly simple website that I think fulfills these two aims pretty well. Firstly we try to show on the homepage and the two main information pages ‘Sundays’ and ‘Activities’, everything someone interested really should know about us and what we do. Given we also have different service times depending on the time of the year we also have a top banner that shows where and when our services are this Sunday. This means we’re showing the most pertinent information to someone who might be looking at our website if they’re visiting or moving to St Andrews.
Secondly, we provide supporting content for our church members. Many of them will check the website to check what the service times are this week, but we also provide the latest sermons in audio format. This is especially useful for those who might be out in Sunday School during the sermon. I’m sure we might add more member facing functionality in the future, but this is an example of a way that a church website can support the ongoing ministry of the church without distracting from it.