Teaching the Internet to Churches
Publish or Perish
Why don’t more churches use their websites? Really use them!
It’s 2015. The internet has been part of our lives for 30 years or so. Most churches have made some attempt at creating a website. Many have rudimentary, static sites only. Even those with flashy sites rarely use them to serve their audiences. They are informational sites, updated regularly—Christmas and Easter.
The interests and needs of seekers—the people churches hope to engage—are rarely addressed. If the website is found, it is not likely to result in a visit.
This is the critical mistake made almost universally on church websites. Even regional bodies make this error!
The art of the Sermon was perfected to spread the Gospel at a time in history when most people were illiterate and books were hard to come by.
We approach the internet as a modern tool for doing what we already do. We fail to see that it can do so much more!
Here is the basic problem. We rely on church leaders to lead the way. Church leaders are way behind in using the internet.
This is understandable. It involves skills that were not imagined when today's leaders entered the ministry. Most business and organizations faced the same challenges. If they didn't, they are no longer with us! The Church has never seen this as a priority.
This lack of vision is regrettable—but not insurmountable. The merry-go-round is still spinning. We can still reach for the brass ring.
Why bother? Because reaching the people of today is our mission.
Here are the hurdles:
- The internet calls for specialized skills that are not traditional church roles. We'll pay for a pastor, choir director, organist, youth pastor, and sexton before we'll consider paying a digital communications expert. And so the congregational website holds a perpetual place on many churches’ “To Do” list.
- Communicating with the congregation is traditionally the responsibility of the pastor. Using the internet is not in the typical pastoral job description. The temptation is to hand this job to a techy volunteer who lacks the authority to use the site.
- Our approach to evangelism concentrates on getting people to come to us on the one morning of the week when it fits OUR schedule. Optimizing the Sunday morning experience is the primary function of most pastors and the ONLY purpose of many part-time pastors. It is so entrenched in our thinking that we fail to notice—it isn't bringing people to Christ.
- The most daunting hurdle: The internet is horizontal in nature. The Church is vertically structured—by tradition, not by need.
That’s not to say there are no pastors online. Quite a few pastors are blogging.
Most online pastors write for other pastors, almost oblivious that lay people can read them, too.
I've read several pastoral posts that encourage pastors to label their congregations. It's a hot topic—guaranteed to draw online comments from disgruntled clergy. The examples given and comments attracted are always condemnatory! Lay people happening upon these posts must gasp, ”Is that what our pastors think of us?”
Pull Down the Chancel Rail
For churches to successfully use the internet, they must share the responsibility. That means blurring the line between clergy and laity. The skills of both are needed.
But what if lay people write something terribly wrong?
The answer is simple. Take part in the conversation. Correct it! The internet is a huge teaching opportunity!
You might think this would have happened ages ago. Digital publishing is an extension of traditional publishing. Churches denominations tend to have publishing houses—Augsburg, Fortress, Cokesbury, etc.
But there is a difference. Print publishing is an uneven playing field. It is costly and time-consuming to become noticed by publishers/marketers. Only the carefully vetted reach the bookstore shelves. Church publishing houses publish the thinking of the chosen few. They respect and protect the chancel rail.
Denominational constitutions often forbade congregations from publishing. They didn't want competition. Keeping clergy from creating cult-followings was also a consideration. The message of the Church needed to be united. Today such imposed unity is impossible.
Publishing has changed DRAMATICALLY. Anyone with a message has a chance to be heard without the filters of the past. The only way to protect the message of the Church is to lead the conversation—not control it.
Publish or Perish!
We sing about publishing more than we do it!
I Love to Tell the Story. Publish Glad Tidings. Go Tell It on the Mountain.
It is with difficulty that congregations think of themselves as publishers. But they must!
Publishing is the key to reaching the neighborhoods. The web is the first place people turn BEFORE visiting a church.
A couple of years ago, I visited a church the week before they were scheduled to close. The pastor lamented, "We tried everything. We just couldn't engage the neighborhood."
They had no website.
A website cannot save a dying congregation, some church leaders preach.
Have we tried?
Publish or Perish. If you are not reaching your neighborhoods with the printed or digital word, you are isolating your congregation.
NEW! 2x2 Trainings
2x2 Virtual Church has five years experience in online ministry. We are a small church.
Our website contains many posts about how to get started.
This week I conducted a first onsite workshop. I walked eight people through the first steps in creating a WordPress website.
Each had a laptop or tablet. Each created a site, chose a theme, defined its appearance, set up a post page and several pages and added them to a menu. Each learned to add images and use both the visual editor and HTML editor.
Each participant left with a website created—not just theory.
The workshop lasted 2.5 hours that seemed to fly by.
If you'd like this kind of hands on help to train an internet team ministry, please contact 2x2.
Thanks for the terrific seminar today! You're a natural teacher, and this was so much fun! —HM
Thank you so much. Your presentation was awesome and the information invaluable. —SHC
Great job today on the presentation. It was quite well done! I have a WordPress site, but you taught me a few things I didn't know before. I know we all learned today :) —TT
Thank you so much for putting the workshop together. It was so much fun and very helpful. —CK