How inclusive is your church website?

inclusive church websiteWhy does your church have a website?  Chances are one of the reasons is because you want to help people who are not Christians find their church and then find God.  That’s a great objective, but when an unbeliever visits your church’s website does it make them want to visit your church or run the other direction?

The world is cynical of churches due to long-held negative perceptions of “hellfire and brimstone” sermons, “Sunday” dress, lots of rules, money-hungry pastors, and according to the world, fanatical, intolerant members who are constantly judging them and who want to shove religion down their throats…while being hypocrites themselves. The plethora of televangelists with their emotional pleas for money hasn’t helped matters.

It’s also true that many adults can’t get past negative childhood experiences. I myself recall being just 12 years old when a mainstream denominational pastor cornered me (literally! I could not escape!) in his office and demanded that I be baptized. It was a terrifying, awkward experience that reduced me to tears.  No wonder it’s hard to get adults through the church doors!

If churches are to extend God’s love to those who don’t yet know Him, they must work hard to overcome these stereotypes.  They need to be, well, un-churchy. Please don’t misunderstand:  I’m not advocating a watered-down message from a wishy-washy church, but rather the truth spoken in love with a healing dose of acceptance, understanding and forgiveness… especially as it applies to your website.

Online but out of reach

Whatever your approach, this is serious business and the consequences for non-believers are grave. We need to share the life-saving message of Jesus Christ! But who will share the message? How can we reach people in the first place and counteract negative stereotypes of church and Christians in general (Romans 10:14)?

One excellent starting point is your church website. Is it appealing and inclusive to unchurched visitors? Take this brief quiz to find out:

  1. Does my website use spiritual jargon that unchurched people rarely if ever use, like “fellowship,” “rejoice,” “congregation” and even “sin”?
  2. Does my website – and in particular the navigation menu — use acronyms and insider terms that only members of my church would know?  (For example, let’s say you have a young adults ministry called “TNT.” Does your menu link say “TNT” with no explanation, or does it say “Young Adults” to get people to the right section, with an explanation of TNT, or “Tuesday Night Thing,” within that section?)
  3. Is the main focus of my website on the facilities rather than the people? (Look at your website photos if you’re not sure.)
  4. Is my website more concerned with programs or people?  (Are you just promoting events or telling people how they can get connected and make a difference?)
  5. Does my website convey its members as real people who struggle with the same problems as the rest of the population, like divorce and alcoholism? (Yes, church members struggle, too. Learning to live under the lordship of Jesus is a process.)
  6. Does my website provide opportunities for people to talk back (message board, blog, etc.)?
  7. Does my website meet people where they are by being relevant and addressing today’s issues, or does it focus exclusively on activities within the church walls?
  8. Is my website friendly towards visitors by providing newcomer information quickly and easily? Is it easy to find clear directions to the facility, service times, ways to get connected, and an overview of the church?
  9. Does my website share the gospel of Jesus Christ in an understandable way? (Many do not share the gospel at all.)
  10. Is my website more about the pastor and church leadership than it is about the people who attend or who are welcome to attend?
  11. Does my website include stories of people at my church whose lives have been transformed by God?
  12. If a person with a very disturbing past visited my website, would he or she feel welcome in my church?
  13. Does my website offer resources or links to websites for people struggling with alcohol, divorce, or other major life problems?
  14. Is my website regularly updated so that there is always something new to offer?
  15. Does my site offer sections that are relevant to people of all ages and walks of life? Would a teen find any sections of it engaging?
  16. Am I making sure my church’s real-life experiences ring true by making sure website visitors feel welcome when they visit my church in person? (In other words, is your church as warm and friendly as your website says it is?)
  17. Is my website attractive? (More on this in a later blog article.)

I think you can draw your own conclusions from the above. And sure, there’s a balance. A church website should most definitely have sections that are relevant and useful to its members, and there’s nothing wrong with having information about church leaders or the physical building. The point is that many church websites can do a better job of making new, unchurched people feel comfortable and welcome.

Speaking in tongues

No, this isn’t going to be a discourse about spiritual gifts. Made you look! ;) Instead I wanted to expand on my first quiz question (above) regarding the language your site uses to communicate with people. Ask yourself if it’s understandable and relevant to a non-believer. For example, compare “a great time of fellowship was had by all” with “we had a great time catching up with our friends.” Which one provides a better picture in your head? Here’s a list of Christian terms you may want to avoid unless you are explaining these terms as you go along.

Bringing in the sheaves. (Umm… what’s a sheave?)

Ha! I know that the singular of “sheaves” is “sheaf” and that it has something to do with harvesting something-or-other, but not everyone will be that (ahem) knowledgeable. That’s why we need to express things in a relevant, meaningful way. Our example is Jesus. What language did He use to reach people? Why parables, of course. “Consider the lilies of the field,” He said. I would imagine He was standing in a field of lilies at the time. “A farmer went out to sow.” That is something the people of Jesus’ day could identify with since, in order to eat, they had to plant seeds.

If Jesus told parables in today’s world, I expect that He might use references to computers, cars, and television because these are all things that surround us every day. That’s what we can be doing, too. It’s a matter of taking the religious-speak out of our sentences (Matthew 13:19). If you’re not sure how the language on your website is perceived by outsiders, ask an unbiased observer to look at it with fresh eyes and ask him or her to provide honest feedback. The OurChurch.Com forums are frequented by Christian webmasters who would be glad to offer a critique.

A popular song asks this thought-provoking question: “If we are the body, why aren’t His arms reaching?” I know many churches are reaching out, and souls are being saved daily. Still, the challenge remains: How will your church effectively use the power of the Internet to change the world and reach visitors who are looking for real life, real answers, and the real Jesus… and not just religion?

Pam has been providing support and website development at OurChurch.Com since 2003. She and her husband Ed have two grown children and one grandchild. Pam is a small group leader in her church and volunteers with the Extension Ministry. She enjoys writing and music. Her children's songs have been published and distributed nationally for use in a vacation Bible school curriculum.

10 Responses to “How inclusive is your church website?”

  1. Even though my website is not about my church, I have devoted a page to where I worship and how I feel about it, including directions and service times. Other pages of my site share my testimonials and feelings about how the Lord has blessed me with my talents and gifts through His Gifts of the Spirit. I have had alot of comments received, and thanks from visitors to my site for sharing my beliefs and it has truly come back to bless me. So, don’t be afraid to add a church home page to your site!

  2. Thanks for this blog. Very informational. The ministry the Lord has entrusted me with is about people and not building a big name for myself. If I’m well-known, that part is up to God. I’m about building people beginning with pointing them to Jesus, and the cross of Christ, and I pray before God that my website reflects this. We have enough mega-ministry want-a-bes. Lets get back to the cross and the simplicity that’s in Christ.

    Thank you Lord for providing us a way back to the Father, and let our lives, families, ministries, and churches be a reflection of the awesome love and mercy that you’d shown us by shedding Your precious blood for us…God bless and thanks for this informative blog…

    Randy (Psallo Praise Ministries) http://www.ourchurch.com/member/p/psallo_praise

  3. I just want to say thank you, thank you, thank you. I really like the way you layed it out, so that we can make our sites better to those who need Jesus. I am just getting started in my ministry and wasn’t sure where to start, I prayed and prayed, and it hit me one day to use the internet as a tool to help others. Thank you so very much for having this site, where those of us who are on a limited income, can have thier own website to share the gospel to those who need it…My ministry is to help mothers and daughters who have a bad relationship between them, as well as helping single moms. This site gives me the opporotunity to share what God can and will do if you allow Him to do so..

    In His Love,
    Teresa Griffin

  4. I read your comment included in your email Pam, I often think that I would be happy if just one more person got the “good news”the reason for my website is to use my gifts to express love for God! So no two websites are going to be the same in expressing the word! However hard that may be for some to understand well that’s the way it is. Some Christians need a tender loving care approach some need to hear it like it is,others have already heard it and need something they aren’t getting elswhere! You had someone approach you with the wrong approach! You may also know that God doesn’t always put his stamp on anything we do just because we assume it’s right, I got a feeling we come a little short a little more than we think! So we make up the Body of Christ and he places us where it pleases him! He directs the path of the upright! What may be important to think about in a creation of a website is does it preach his word, for let the person who preaches anything but what the apostles preached(Paul,Peter,Luke,Matthew,John,Timothy,Titus Philemon,James,Jude,) let that person who preaches any other gospel than these have ,be accursed,secondly does the website equip the believer or non believer to continue on in his walk. if it does these and just needs minor corrections well it’s probably welcome by God, his people perish for lack of knowledge ,the story of Jonah is a good example God sent him to preach the word and he didn’t want to and when he did many were converted but how good was he at it when he didn’t care for those who he preached to I don’t suppose if Jonah were a website he would look much like the biblical character we knew him to be ,witnessing is planting a seed and letting God grow it! Sincerely John C

  5. Yahwah bid all to know his Name

  6. I think you people know less about God then most the world. Your a disgrace. Catholics know more about boys then you know about God. Seriously, consider yourselves.

    I am very open-minded and willing to listen, but are you? Gods word says to ‘test the spirits’, I am betting you have come across that, so, as my duty as a ‘child of light’, ‘Christian’, ‘Gentile’, and ‘Isrealite’, would like to ask you questions that I hope you will respond to, though not your duty I hope for it none-the-less. I am doing this to {a}. Test whatever spirit you are governed by. {b}. make sure I am not misunderstanding anything, and {c}. Doing my Biblical, for-chosen duty.

    I ask you first, this: Is God a god of hate, love, or both?

    Secondly: Your stance on predistination.

    Thirdly: Your views on the Tribulation/ End time prophecies.

    And lastly: This is co-existing with the End times, do you believe in a time the church falls?

    So as not to carry on too long, I will state my points, but as I mentioned I am very open minded, another ‘gentile’ traite.

    We are predestinated (Romans 8:29-30).

    God hates, as well as loves (Romans 9:13,15)

    And I will end there.

  7. Thanks to all who responded to my article. Randy, I especially appreciate what you said: “The ministry the Lord has entrusted me with is about people and not building a big name for myself. If I’m well-known, that part is up to God. I’m about building people beginning with pointing them to Jesus, and the cross of Christ, and I pray before God that my website reflects this. We have enough mega-ministry want-a-bes. Lets get back to the cross and the simplicity that’s in Christ.” Beautifully said!

    A blog is intended to foster an exchange of ideas and opinions, and we welcome differing viewpoints, but I get the feeling I may have been misunderstood. So I want to reiterate an important point found in my article: “Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not advocating a watered-down message from a wishy-washy church, but rather the truth spoken in love with a healing dose of acceptance, understanding and forgiveness… especially as it applies to your website.”

    I Corinthians says that if I speak with the tongues of men or of angels, but don’t have love (or charity for those of you who prefer King James), then I’m nothing but noise.

    I think everyone can agree that speaking the truth in love, in a language that is understandable to both the churched and the unchurched, is an important goal. Dancing around the truth or candy-coating the gospel is the farthest thing from my mind and heart. I simply want to gently remind everyone to consider the audience. Relate to them on their level, just like Jesus did. We don’t have to talk down to people but we shouldn’t frustrate them, either.

    For example, what does “being saved” mean to someone who doesn’t understand the dangers of hell? I’m not suggesting that we avoid the phrase altogether, but if you use it, explain what you mean by it. It wouldn’t hurt to also explain the many benefits and responsibilities of following Jesus while we’re still alive, because there is more to salvation than merely avoiding hell. But I digress.

    This article was written by a flawed sinner saved by grace. Obviously no matter what anyone says, whether it’s me or a pastor or someone famous like Billy Graham, we have to listen to the Holy Spirit first. Absolutely. There is no substitute.

    Thanks again to all who wrote.

    Pam

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Christian Web Trends Blog by OurChurch.Com » Blog Archive » 11 Tips for Making Your Church Website a Great Resource - Apr 4, 2006

    [...] Pam explored the first purpose in her articles “How Inclusive Is Your Church Website?“, which discussed how to make the content of your website welcoming to non-members, and “The 5 C’s of Intelligent Web Design,” which touched on how to make the design and appearance of your website welcoming.  Today I’m switching gears to the second purpose, making your church website an informational resource to help people in your church get connected with others and use their gifts in service. [...]

  2. Christian Web Trends Blog by OurChurch.Com » Blog Archive » Can anyone find your church website? - Apr 18, 2006

    [...] Search engines are a great way to help you reach many people with whom you may not otherwise come in contact.  The tips above will help get people to your website.  The rest is up to you.  Of course, once a visitor finds your site you want to be sure it’s welcoming and provides the information a visitor is looking for like service times, a map, beliefs, Sunday school/child care options, and other info about your church. [...]

  3. » Internet Evangelism Day Strategies - May 19, 2006

    [...] Modify your website to be more seeker-friendly.  You’ll find some tips on that in the article How inclusive is your church website?  While it’s written for churches, many of the principles apply to any Christian website. [...]