Though technical expertise is important in the creation and administration of a website and though there are many technical experts in churches who also have great hearts for and an understanding of ministry, there are many instances where relying on technical expertise alone can have some negative effects on a church website. From the many interactions my ministry has with church website creation and function, here are some cautions to prayerfully consider.
A clarification first
Technology encompasses many tools and without the tools of technology, I wouldn't be writing this article. Technology isn't the bad guy—the problem is with people who misuse technology, who hide behind their expertise in a tool for a variety of reasons.
The purpose of this article isn't to judge motives of the people involved in making technology decisions about your website, but to caution church leaders and the technology experts in the church to honestly evaluate if the attitudes and controls over your website in the name of technology are serving the church.
This is a still a new ministry area for everyone involved and most people involved in technology in the church are doing the best they can—which is why the following cautions use the vague term "technology" as the descriptor of the perpetrator of the problems and not less helpful terms like "controlling webmaster" or "tech-savvy, arrogant kid." Truth be told, sometimes the biggest problem with a church website is one person with the attitude that their technological expertise gives them the power and permission to make ministry decisions.
This is a challenging situation in many churches today where senior leadership isn't comfortable with technology and allow themselves to be intimidated by those with expertise in these areas. But no area or person should be out from under the authority of God's Word and the command to fully fulfill the Great Commission. The following suggestions aren't intended to incite power struggles in the church, but to encourage everyone involved in the ministry of the website to approach it with prayer and humility and an honest desire to use it to reach out to people and grow them up as disciples of Jesus.
Technology goals don't always align with ministry goals
When you evaluate how your website is working and what makes a good website, don't stop at asking if the technology is functioning smoothly or if it looks contemporary. Far more important, when people come to your website, does it answer these questions:
- Why does your church exist?
- What are the driving values, the key ministry issues and concerns?
- What are the major ministries at your church?
- What is available for kids, seniors, singles, or seekers?
- Do you have a specific audience you minister to and if so, who are they?
- Can a visitor to your site answer these questions, or know where to find the answers to them from their first few minutes at your site? If not, why not?
- Are all of your schedules, times, calendars up-to-date and correct?
Your website might function flawlessly in load times and be technically perfect, but if it doesn't immediately let people know the purpose, goals, times, dates, and components of the ministries of your church and have places where they can go on the site to find out more information and connect with the ministry—you have work to do.
Technology cautions aren't always volunteer friendly
If a church website is useful, or has the most basic credibility for people to look at it and trust it, it HAS to be up-to-date. If your website isn't up-to-date (every week, every day, on a continuing basis) it probably isn't the fault of the system used to create your website. More often than not, in many churches, the problem of a continuously outdated website is the responsibility of a tech-savvy person who is the only one allowed to update the system.
No church website can serve its people if all the content has to be entered by one person. The systems used to create websites are all (or should be) cloud-based and any volunteer or ministry leader at your church should be able to create content, recruit volunteers, explain programs and keep times and events updated. Volunteers in various ministries should be in charge of keeping all these things up-to-date. Once entered, then a person in the office can skim over them to make certain all is OK and publish them on the website.
There is a BIG difference in time and complexity in the management of a church website between making one person in the church office responsible to get all the content on the website and to keep it continuously updated and allowing a team of people to update content and schedules and to have the church finally OK them before they are published. To expect one person to keep a website updated with content and all the calendars is an impossible task. It might take some time and effort to train volunteers in the various parts of your church to create their own content and calendars, but it will be worth it if you truly want to serve people in the various ministry areas.
If this isn't a priority in your church website ministry, you may need to take a look at the stated purpose of your website ministry. If you want to serve people with it (and not just create a wow site), making sure it is always updated and current should be an obvious priority.
Technology and design values aren't always the same as ministry values
Why did you design and built your website the way you did?
Was it designed to primarily to serve your people or to reflect a cutting-edge, latest and greatest design trend that a tech person told you was the way websites were being designed today?
A lot of current web design is created for one purpose—to sell something. It starts with a big scrolling header with splashy, upbeat images and artwork and then more images in smaller boxes. This might be eye-catching, but much of it is ultimately cold because there is little behind the pictures.
- Ministry values on a website make important content obvious. They explain; they serve; they are more concerned about meeting needs than trying to impress.
- Ministry values use images for a purpose, to underscore, to teach, to add meaning. If the images are of events involving the congregation they contain captions that explain what is going on. They invite people to join in and not leaving them on the outside looking in with no idea what is happening or how they can be part of it.
Is your website meeting pastoral and ministry needs of your congregation?
No matter what the technology used to build your site or the design of it, this is the important question to ask when you evaluate the success of your website.
It's an easy question to answer by simply looking at your website statistics.
- Do your people come to your website often?
- Do they spend time on the site?
- Do they recommend it to their friends?
- What is the percentage of your congregation that visits your site?
Your website visitor numbers will answer these questions and are readily available (if you are a pastor or staff person who doesn't know where to find them, ask the tech person who created your site).
Your website numbers don't lie. If people aren't coming to your site or interacting with your social media, it's because they don't find them useful. Advertising the website more or talking about it more from the pulpit are necessary, but that won't help if there isn't content on the sites that people want or find useful. If they've come to the site more than a time or two and couldn't find updated information on when an event or ministry was taking place that was important to them, you've taught them that your website can't be trusted.
Pastoral and ministry values are reflected on a website that does whatever it takes to serve the people in your church and in your community. People are looking for answers to life. Christians are looking for ways to grow in their faith. If your website is meeting needs, your numbers will reflect it.
What technology can't do
Technology can't create content. Lack of current content that ministers to the needs of your congregation and the audience you are trying to meet is what all the issues above have in common.
A ministry-oriented website needs lots of content and that means lots of people creating it. Once again, if one person is holding on too tightly to the control of what goes on the website, especially if their area of expertise is in technology and not Biblical teaching or ministry, ministry content creation won't happen.
Sometimes it's easier to rely on technology than on the hard work of creating content for a website. Many churches are still in awe that they have a website, grateful for anything online, and thrilled that anyone would work on it. That isn't enough.
We have to change that attitude if we want to use our church websites as the extraordinary tool they can be for the kingdom of God. Challenge your people (and yourself) to create complete, Biblical, constantly up-to-date content. It doesn't have to be brilliant prose or a witty video. Here are some ideas:
- Explain everything--terms, programs, anything that is obvious to you. You can be certain that visitors and new people will appreciate it.
- Interview people in the church, have members share how they are living the Christian life.
- When you ask for volunteers for anything, have complete information on the website about the ministry, volunteer requirements, scheduling, anything else that might be helpful.
- Tell people what is going on, why they should attend, and how they can grow as a Christian because of the ministry. People today are busy--give them a reason to fit your event into their schedule.
- As a leader of the church or in any ministry, share how you feel about your ministry, what your prayers are for your people. That is creating social media with meaning. Nobody needs to see one more selfie on a church website, but they do need honest content.
Create biblical-based content that will change, challenge, inform and inspire. When you do that, no matter what technology you use to get it on your website, it will be successful in what matters most—helping people find and follow Jesus.