In 2001, I was called from seminary to my first parish, a small congregation in a suburb of Atlanta. One of the first things I noticed was they didn’t have a website. A church today must have a website, I’d been told. You can’t do ministry these days without a website or you don’t really care about reaching people with the Gospel.
“Not a problem for a trained geek,” I thought and quickly put together a website. It was a thing of beauty (assuming, of course, one has never seen a website before . . . and is blind in one eye. It wasn’t the prettiest site I’ve ever done.) It had a calendar, news, information, maps, and forums where the members of the congregation could communicate with each other. I built it, announced it, promoted it, and . . .
. . . No one came. No announcements were made. No forum posts were posted. No events were placed on the calendar. No one used it at all.
To be clear, the congregation wasn’t filled with luddites who hated technology! They went online regularly and many even used the web to communicate with friends and family. But their church relationships, their church family, didn’t talk there.
Instead, the members carried on as they always had. Announcements were made before and after service. Events were scheduled when the folks involved could make it. When they wanted to communicate with each other, they picked up the telephone or just went and knocked on the door. They didn’t use the website because my new congregation didn’t need that sort of website. It’s possible that yours doesn’t either.
In my rush to make sure I was using the latest and greatest technology, I forgot to ask the fundamental communication questions:
I had attempted to let the medium control the audience and the message. Never let a particular technology drive your communication efforts. Your audience and your message will determine your medium.
So often today, congregations approach building a website as through it needs to become the central planning and communication hub for the church. Unless that church is already speaking and listening online as their primary communication platform, they’re going to struggle with the transition.
For a new communication method to completely push another aside, it has to offer some significant advantage over the older format. The telephone replaced the telegraph because it’s faster to talk and listen than to tap and decode. Email has almost entirely replaced letter writing because of the speed and convenience of both typing and electronic delivery vs. physical delivery of the message. When you adopt to a new type technology for church communications, make sure you choose to make the change because it offers a real advantage, not just because it’s new and high-tech.
A website as a communication hub may or may not fit the people in your congregation. It’s likely your church already has communication systems in place. The best place to engage someone in conversation is always the place where they’re already listening.
If they’re active Facebook users, then maybe you need to devote your energy primarily to Facebook. Got a congregation that tweets? Get the word out on Twitter. If they’re the sorts of old friends and family who relish taking the time to sit down and have coffee together, better get a bigger mug. It’s crucial to consider the dynamics of your church first when choosing the right communications medium for any message.
For the other side of the coin, check back on Thursday to read my follow up post, “Why Your Church Totally Needs a Website (Part 2)”!
Read more about discovering the right place for technology within your ministry efforts in our free ebook, Technology & Your Ministry. Click the button below to download!