A few days ago, Brady Shearer of Pro Church Tools tweeted a screenshot of a message he received from a church that had decided to shutter its webpage.
Here's a screenshot I got from a person in Pro Church Nation yesterday.
Hard to believe this still happens…but it does.
Consider this: 97% of people search for local organizations online. Want new visitors to find your church? You need a website. Otherwise, you're invisible. pic.twitter.com/CHtiVsEHjD
— Brady Shearer (@BradyShearer) September 3, 2018
During the ensuing conversation, one Twitter user referenced Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 9:22: “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.”
That's crazy and sad to hear. Wonder if those churches have grown or declined. Built a church website in WordPress (https://t.co/co0bgzGoXf), wish I could talk in love with those church leaders. Paul became all things to all people & adapted to his audience & his times.
— Zac James (@ZJamesCreative) September 6, 2018
That caused me to wonder whether or not websites fall under Paul’s “become all things to all people.” To help determine the answer, I dug around a bit to find out why and how church’s websites are used and why and how web users are interacting with them.
According to Pro Church Tools, “The average web user has about 10 seconds to be engaged by a website before they click away.” That raises the question, what are web visitors looking for on a church’s site that they can ascertain in ten seconds whether or not they like it? If they’re clicking away after only ten seconds, then it’s safe to assume that they’re going to move on to another church’s site. Ergo, they’re not going to visit the church with the un-engaging website. And it’s also safe to assume that they’re not concerned about the content of the church’s teaching, at least not primarily or probably even secondarily.
When I’m traveling and looking for a church to worship with, the first thing I check on the website is their statement of faith. I want to see if they adhere to the orthodox tenets of Christianity. For example, do they believe in the inerrancy of the Bible? If not, I continue my search. Why would I take my family to a church with an anemic doctrine of the Bible? The answer is, I wouldn’t and shouldn’t. And the same applies to a church’s doctrine of the Trinity, their Christology, their soteriology (doctrine of salvation), et al.
Reading through all of that takes much longer than ten seconds, and I’m a fast reader.
After reading through a church’s statement of faith, I’ll generally look around for statements detailing philosophy of ministry. Many church websites don’t explicitly have that. That’s fine, I can generally get a good idea of things like philosophy of ministry based on what other ministries they support as well as what books and websites they recommend under a resources tab. What I’m not particularly interested in while searching for a church via the internet are interesting graphics, stunning photography, or compelling catchphrases. That’s not to say that the website’s aesthetics are unimportant to me. But, all in all, aesthetics take a back seat to the content.
Operating under the assumption that I’m an outlier when it comes to interacting with church websites, I tweeted Brady Shearer of Pro Church Tools, “I’m an elder in my church and write for @PJMedia and am writing an article about whether churches should have websites or not. Pro Tools says that sites have 10 secs to grab web users. What are web users looking for in church websites that only takes 10 seconds to decide?”
Shearer was gracious enough to respond, tweeting me a couple of resources.
Reading through one of the websites I was directed to by Shearer, I was struck by how none of the tips and suggestions applied to me. Apparently, my objectives when clicking on a church website are vastly different than most people’s objectives (and I really hope that I’m wrong here).
The tips include things like, “On average, 5X more people will read the headline of a website than read the body copy. With that being said, it is incumbent upon your church to write a headline that deeply resonates with a potential new visitor.”
The #1 tip was about how important the church’s logo is. “Users spent about 6.48 seconds focused on the logo area of a webpage before moving on.”
Frankly, all of the tips are geared toward a consumer mindset. Sadly, for many churches, the seeker-sensitive and church growth models are the primary means by which they shape their ministries.
Except it’s the preaching of the content of the gospel of Jesus Christ that the Holy Spirit has promised to use to reach and save a lost and dying world. First and foremost, it’s the gospel that people need, not programs and bands and coffee shops and… fill in with whatever makes for an enjoyable experience for consumers.
If things other than the gospel of Jesus Christ are used as bait to reel people in, then things other than the gospel are what will be required to entice them to stay. The gospel will be obscured, and the promise of the Holy Spirit cannot be counted on. True, the pews will be filled, the coffers will resound with the clanging of many coins, and book deals will abound, but at what cost?
Websites can be a valuable resource in helping churches get the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. However, while utilizing that resource, churches need to be careful not to obscure the gospel with ever-changing fads and trends. When Paul became “all things to all people,” he didn’t do so in ways that obscured the gospel. For Paul, the gospel was always front and center. So, yes, Paul would be more than willing to have a website, but I promise you that his primary objective with his website would be highlighting the gospel and not his logo.