value1

3 Parts of a Great Church Website: part 3

In the first two parts of our Great Church Website series, we discussed how you can intentionally use your site’s headline to connect with broken people (like us). In addition, using great visuals (photos & video) can help show that the church is here for the world, and not for touting ourselves.In this 3rd part, we simply want to encourage you to examine your welcome. In essence, this is a natural extension of the first 2 parts, because a.) broken people shouldn’t be prideful, nor b.) act as if church is an exclusive, inward-focused club for those who “have arrived.”On the contrary, we want to be Intentional about displaying the truth that church is a safe and inviting “family” that welcomes all people. Sure, this family is dysfunctional too, because of sin (just read the epistles), but healthier to the degree that it acknowledges that fact!So how can we do this on our websites?First, always keep in mind that our culture has a “pre-existing condition” when it comes to church, a widely-held belief that it’s meant to be a “showcase for saints.” Remember the “Church Lady” skit from Saturday Night Live? There’s a reason it was so popular, resonating with so many. That’s because self-righteousness is actually a default setting in our hearts (see Romans 10:3). It thrives on comparisons to others, and will even use religion to avoid the deeper implications of grace. As a result, the expectation our culture often has about visiting a church (sadly) is “expect to be judged.”Because this is such a formidable barrier to church for many, I believe we must be intentional about centering on grace and helping people feel welcome. Our website is often the first glimpse that many will have of church, as they check us out from the safety of their own homes. Hopefully what they will see is that church is authentic, and about real people giving and receiving the unconditional love of Christ.One of the best examples I’ve seen of this is on the Remnant Church site (see the picture above). With an inviting, full-screen video background showing a multi- faceted, multi-cultural church in action, as well as local cultural and artistic sites, Remnant sends the message that it not only cares about all people, but recognizes common grace expressed in our culture. There is no hint here of moralism, or a false dualism that pits spirit and matter against each other. Remnant also seems to understand that God cares about cities, just as he cared about Nineveh in Jonah’s time, and Babylon in the exile (See Jonah 4:11, Jer.29:7).Secondly, examine your site for anything that might send this message. In an effort to state your positions, are you pushing (in any of your content) a message that might be interpreted as “We have a corner on doctrinal purity, and you’re only welcome if you come to believe what we believe”? Remember the adage, “people will not care how much you know, until they see how much you care.” It’s true. Love is the great apologetic (John 13:35).Related to this, can you rather affirm that everyone is in need of grace, and at a different stage in their story and understanding? Do you acknowledge that there are a host secondary matters (baptism, music styles) that people of faith differ on, and that we can hold them loosely for the sake of the Gospel?Third, and on a practical level, shape your site so it’s easy for the “unchurched” to get around. Put yourself in their shoes, and try to consider what a first impression tells them. Is your navigation user-friendly? Does your main page help them to know what a first visit would be like? Is your domain name short, and easy to spell (and remember)? Making it easy for someone to see your welcome is a natural part of extending an invitation.Let’s conclude this series by noting this simple truth: the most sanctified among us will be the most humble, displaying an others-centered focus that promotes love – just as Christ did (and does) for us. Our churches must be a reflection of that – not about how awesome we are. Jesus is healing, growing, loving, and welcoming a broken world, and he means to do it through us. Our sites can help send that message, inviting lost and broken people to write new chapters of grace.
value1

Use your Headline to Connect with People’s Struggles

“What’s your FCF?” (No, this is not some mysterious code to search for on your website).Actually, FCF is an idea, a theme for why you do ministry in the first place – and an important piece to your church’s overall communications.FCF stands for Fallen Condition Focus. and comes from one of the most helpful books I’ve seen on connecting with people (in this case, through a sermon – but it applies more broadly too).Why do I mention this?Because identifying an FCF can become a key ingredient to communicating well through your website – particularly, on the main page or banner – which is the first thing that people see when they visit your site. Let me explain.

Understand Your Purpose

Essentially, the main idea behind FCF is that people you’d like to reach are broken. And that brokenness – a universal condition we all face – manifests itself in various ways:
  • Relationally, on the vertical plane (struggles with God)
  • Relationally, on the horizontal plane (idols, broken marriages & families, etc.)
  • In a multitude of sufferings and griefs, to which we all can relate
This is why Scripture is so multi-faceted – God has given us all kinds of stories in which to see it, and Psalms to hear it expressed. And he’s given us Jesus as the remedy and Redeemer, the One who meets us where we are, in our particular struggles, with his promise to make all things new.Shouldn’t your ministry make that clear – that your church is about being a “hospital for sinners,” a family of authentic “wounded healers” – in short, a place of hope? (If this isn’t the case, then begin by praying for a recovery of the Gospel of grace and revival, that you might become so!)

Make Your Heart-Theme Clear

Next, apply this same idea of connecting to the FCF in your audience, to your church website.To illustrate, here’s a site that typically does it well: https://thevillagechurch.net/)With the headline, ‘It’s Ok to not be OK,’ The Village Church taps into one particular manifestation of brokenness: our tendency to pretend we’re not broken; to wear masks, hide behind a veneer of niceness and good behavior, and find a life of our own making (artificial life). This headline provides a perfect segue to the Gospel, because it opens the door to see Jesus, who said: “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”Without this intentional focus of connecting to the FCF, the church’s mission and message will tilt to extremes – either a lecture hall that does “50,000 foot flyovers” of topics and never addresses the heart; or a group of “religious people” that make mentions of problems, but does so superficially – like the prophets and priests spoken of Jeremiah 6:14: “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.”As mentioned, there are many FCF’s to look for, and for churches to minister to with the Gospel – if we’re willing to pray for the eyes to see it. It’s all around us, and in us.So how does your Church website do in connecting to people at the level of the heart?(Note: For a shorter, helpful summary of FCF, see this helpful article from Bryan Chapell.)
value1

Social Media in a Selfie World

With over 2.8 billion users worldwide – over a third of the world’s population – social media is fast changing the way we communicate. In the U.S. alone, the percentage of adults using some form of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or LinkedIn, has risen dramatically, from 8% in 2005 to nearly 70% in 2018.Increasingly, churches are among those realizing the benefits: bible apps for regular reading and study, community groups networking for prayer and service projects, blog posts for social engagement, and even the latest sermon post, with discussion questions.

Discernment and Social Media

Yet many point to social media – and the smartphone in particular – as a significant factor in disconnected relationships, a “suspect technology” replete with minefields of temptation. And while this isn’t limited to teens and their friends, they say, many parents admit to vacillating between imposing a rigid list of smartphone rules and throwing their hands up in despair.In a recent piece entitled Social Media Isn’t Your Teen’s Biggest Problem, Kristen Hatton does a great job pointing out that amidst a plethora of social problems – from drug use and perfectionism to depression and eating disorders – social media and smartphones aren’t the foundational issue. While this may come as a surprise to many, Jesus points out that any negative behavior always has deeper roots:“There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him” (Mark 7:15).

The Heart of the Matter

This is not to say that rules to limit temptation aren’t necessary. Yet it’s only when we see these behaviors as symptomatic of a deeper root problem – the idol-making human heart which continually defaults to seeking a life apart from God – that we begin to address the real source of our motivations, desires, dreams, and lusts.The reality is, our hearts crave an identity – to be approved of, accepted and loved – to fill the “God-shaped” hole. Ironically, we only find this, as Kristen notes, when we “peel our eyes away from self and look full into the face of the One who’s work in our place was perfect. Our soul will feel its worth only when we see Jesus for who he is—and who he is for us.”Social media is indeed revolutionizing the ways in which we communicate, broadening our networks and rapidly increasing the flow of communication. But the answer is not to label communication tools as “evil” (after all, we noted how many are using them for good), and to become moralistic about their use, but to address the root desires that affect what we’re really looking for through them.In a world where we all have “selfie hearts,” may this deeper diagnosis lead us to a place of greater freedom, self-forgetfulness, and grateful service.
value1

3 Parts of a Great Church Website: part 2

Why does your Church exist? Who are you here for?As mentioned in part 1, the church exists to bring God’s love to broken people – both inside and outside the family of God.As we take our cue from Jesus, we see that ministry is holistic and multi-faceted. Word and deed walk hand-in-hand, expressed in a thousand different ways. Jesus didn’t merely sit on the Mount of Olives and teach. He fed the hungry, was an instrument of healing to the sick, and in doing so ushered in a whole new reality called “the kingdom of God,” secured by his cross and resurrection.And now he keeps touching and loving people, through us, his bride and church:“…for Christ plays in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his To the Father, through the features of men’s faces.” (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Make Your Mission Clear

Why do we mention this in an article about websites? Because your church website provides a great opportunity to convey more than just service times, parking instructions, and directions. Those things are necessary, but say little about purpose, and why you’re really here.For example, consider the photo above. The Commons shows you, on their main page, a church hard at work serving the community. They purposefully avoid the stereotypical things that people normally associate with churches – a pastor in a pulpit, or a picture of the outside of the building – attractive though it may be. Rather, what they show us is an appealing vision of people who are radically “others-centered,” brining healing to a broken world. This is Christ’s love in action.This is crucial, because too often, churches send the exact opposite message in their promotional materials and on their websites. The message, whether intended or not, is perceived in this way: “We are perfectly happy and healthy, so be like us,” or “I’ve got all the answers, let me teach you.” or even worse, “Our politics are the Christian ones, so see things like us…” The problem is, these things simply aren’t reflective of the Gospel of grace.In an age that prizes authenticity, we must embrace our brokenness, and our call to be “wounded healers.” Photos, video clips, and stories of grace, prominently featured on our site, will help us do just that.