Church is in many ways akin to website. What is true about one is, similarly, regularly true about the other. Let me briefly highlight three aspects of a successful website:
1) the content of the site needs to be of high quality – meeting the needs of the visitor to the site, and encouraging visitors to return;
2) the quality of website presentation needs to be very good – so that people find the presentation attractive, easy to explore, and find what one wants;
3) the site must be promoted so that people actually know about the site – especially through links to the site – often placed by people who find the site significant and want to share this with others.
Each of these elements needs to be present. High quality material on a site that cannot easily be navigated or poorly presented is not going to be satisfactory. A beautifully presented and well-organised site with excellent material – but no one knows about it and no new visitors ever come – is not what most webmasters are hoping for. Links leading to a site with uninteresting and well-out-of-date material, or poor end-user experience, only leads to frustration – and certainly no re-visiting.
There are lessons here for webmasters as well as church pastors.
How often is our church experience a shoddy, second-rate experience? As if we might be embarrassed by striving for the excellence we would expect in other spheres. As if casual, make-it-up-as-one-goes-along somehow manifests God more. As if God can only work through the spontaneous and as if God is absent in prayerful, careful preparation. And what connection is being made with real people’s lives and needs? Erudite sermons with careful explanations of biblical background and even references back to the original languages and cultures – but with nothing for a teenager, or a person in a midlife or other crisis, to actually do.
How often is the experience for new-comers a bewildering embarrassment? How often are they either pretty-much completely ignored, or, at the other extreme, pounced upon by an over-enthusiastic person who has personal issues (let us give thanks these find a home in our communities – but how many communities watch out that these do not scare away new-comers?) Who ascertains discreetly how much help they need to feel comfortable as new-comers in this community? [“Would our visitor Mrs Smith please stand up” – to the woman who has arrived for the first time at church because her husband has just walked out on her…]
Finally, I am sure we can all think of church communities or organizations that are wonderfully, well-organised machines, with great internal communications, and wonderful programs, teaching, and experiences for those “in the fold”. But there is no connection to those “outside the fold” either promotion or service.
Three legs on which the stool will stand: (1) high-quality, significant content; (2) attractively, meaningfully presented; (3) promotion to encourage visiting. True for pastors and webmasters.