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What Every Pastor Should Know About Church Web Sites

Your church Web site is the new front door to your worshiping community. As Anne Rudig, Episcopal Church Director of Communication, puts it, “If a church can’t be Googled, it doesn’t exist.” Increasingly, people are finding their way into the pews and programs of your church by first “kicking the tires” online. If your Web site doesn’t make the cut, people won’t go. It’s that simple.

“The Church Wasn’t Thinking About Us”

I was talking with friend recently who shared how his family found their current church after moving to a new city. “Before we stepped foot [in a church], we went to their Web site. If it didn’t have what I needed on the site–online giving, easy-to-find directions, and whether or not they had childcare–we didn’t even bother going to the building. It was clear [the church] wasn’t thinking about us.”

He’s not alone. I talk to church leaders all across the country who make the mistake of not thinking through their Web strategy before they preach the first sermon. It almost always leads to confusion, frustration, and inefficiency throughout the organization:

  • It impacts their team negatively for lack of a clear communication flow.
  • It impacts their congregation for lack of resourcing.
  • And as we’ve already seen, it impacts their future congregation for lack of planning and thinking through what would-be members are looking for online.

If you think your Web site doesn’t matter, think again.

Church Web Sites Are More Important Than Ever

According to a recent Arbitron study, the Internet has surpassed television as the most essential medium. The Net is more important to the 12-44 demographic than TV. Simply put, if you were to ask this group what they would rather give up, TV would get tossed by the majority. We are now living in a world-wide-wired culture.

Our findings at Monk Development support this trend. Our research shows that 61% of respondents we surveyed said the church Web site was “somewhat to very important in my decision to attend [their current] church.” Sound familiar? People want to know what to expect before going to a church, and they don’t want to endlessly click around trying to find it.

Given our research along with Arbitron’s, one would think that church Web sites would be a priority. Unfortunately, they’re not.

According to Lifeway Research, only 78% of churches have a Web site. While that statistic may seem high, less than half of those churches use their site for interactive purposes. The Web site is simply an informational “dumping ground.” A full 42% of churches update their site once a month or less. Add the 7% of churches that update their site once a year (a year!), and you have a near majority in under-updated church Web sites.

That means if potential church members are searching your site, they’re finding information that’s at least a month old. Can you imagine a business, restaurant, or news site not updating their Web site for a month? It would spell “disaster”!

It also means that current church members aren’t finding the information they need. They’re most likely calling the church office to get it, tying up valuable staff resources and time (maybe yours!). They’re not getting access to the programs, ministries, and services you’re providing in the primary place they go to look for information: the Web.

Senior Church Leaders Thinking Strategically About the Web

As a senior leader/pastor at your church, you need to be thinking through your Web site strategy with diligence. If you’re not tech-savvy, that’s okay. Make sure you surround yourself with people who are and then give them the authority to make decisions in this area. (For example, if someone on your staff suggests looking into Google Apps for non-profits, let them do their research!) Don’t let your gifted tech leaders “die on the vine” because you couldn’t give up control of an area you’re unfamiliar with.

You’re strategically minded in every other area of your church: Preaching schedule, volunteers, children’s ministry, youth, outreach events, etc. Why not take the plunge? Follow the research and start thinking critically about your increasingly important piece of Internet real estate.  

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Justin Wise is the Strategic Communications Director at Monk Development (http://monkdevelopment.com), a web strategy and solutions company. Justin also serves as the co-director for the Center for Church Communication (http://cfcclabs.org).