My recent relocation to a new city has driven me to a fundamental belief that a church that does not have a digital footprint is failing the community. In other words, in the American context, a church without a website is in error.
To some a website seems superfluous. What does it matter if we are preaching the Word and doing ordinances correctly? A few years ago I might have argued the same thing. However, from the perspective of someone looking for a church home, the lack of a website is a significant failure on the part of a church.
Three reasons to have a website
The first reason it is important for churches in the digital age to have a website is because without a digital footprint it is nearly impossible to find a church. As a newcomer to town I have no idea where some of these small churches are located. I don’t have a phone book and a phone book is insufficient for getting information out in this day and age anyway.
If churches want to be found by anyone who doesn’t live right next door, they need to communicate their presence. The most efficient way to do that is with a simple website.
The second reason for a church to have a website is to provide helpful information. For example, what time does the church meet? Unless the congregation takes out an ad in the phone book (which will likely cost more than a simple website), then having the only marker of the church’s existence be the name and seven digits of phone number in the yellow pages is not very helpful.
Additionally, a website can simply convey what the church believes. Are you a moderate SBC church that refuses to affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000? This is good to know so that people can skip over to a biblically-faithful congregation. Also, how does your pastor preach? A visitor shouldn’t have to spend several hours to visit just to find that the pastor uses a text as a springboard for a ramble through a self-help lecture. That time could be better invested looking for a congregation where Scripture is valued and there is opportunity to serve.
It doesn’t take much time or money these days to create a simple website that presents the basic facts and links in some sermon samples (even if they are the best ones). The result is that people know what to expect, where to be there, and you are more likely to get visitors that are more likely to join the fellowship.
A third reason for a church to have a website is to meet the needs of the community. How will the person in the midst of a divorce find out you have a care group to minister to that situation unless you put it online? Maybe through word of mouth, but most people depend on a web search.
How about the ways that your congregation provides emergency aid to the community? Or, if the church does job training or a clothing closet, it is insufficient to expect work conversations to really communicate the resources to those in need. When technology is so inexpensive and ubiquitous, the failure to use it should lead others to question whether the aid programs are intended to be effective.
Although recently someone attempted to tie the existence of church websites to the decline in SBC missions, that tie is tenuous. Perhaps it applies to churches that spend large amounts of money on top of the line sites. That isn’t the point of this discussion.
A failure to have a website is a marker that you really don’t want to have people visit. Whatever your rhetoric is, you don’t want visitors if you won’t provide information about your congregation. This is not just new move-ins to the community, this applies to those in your community that suddenly have a need that drives them to seek out a church.
When a church fails to provide a digital footprint with basic information, it puts the onus on the visitor to figure everything out. As a believer who is required by my contract to join a church, I am forced to do the legwork to find a church. However, if I did not have that driving force, it would be much easier to stay in bed on a Sunday morning than to make phone calls, visit around, and potentially miss the beginning of your service because the church didn’t publish a schedule.
A church without a website is still a church. This isn’t a question of orthodoxy. However, a church without at least a simple website is not stewarding the available technology and resources well. While this isn’t essential to the gospel, it is a gospel issue because it undermines the effectiveness of a congregation in serving the community.