In the first two parts of our Great Church Website series, we discussed how you can intentionally use your site’s homepage and headline to connect with broken people (like us). In addition, great visuals (photos and especially video) can help flesh out how the church is to be 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 selfish, nor b.) act as if the church is an exclusive club for those who “have arrived.”
On the contrary, we want to be intentional about grace – displaying that the church is actually a safe and inviting “family” that welcomes all people (that does describe yours, hopefully!)
Sure, this family is dysfunctional too, because of sin (just read the epistles), but it will be healthier to the degree that it acknowledges that fact!
So how can we do this on our websites?
Firstly, we do well to remember that our culture has a “pre-existing condition” – a set of typical assumptions – when it comes to church.
The foremost of these assumptions which many hold is that church is for those who are morally “better.” Remember the “Church Lady” skit from Saturday Night Live? There’s a reason it resonated with so many, and it’s because self-righteousness is actually a default setting in our hearts (see Romans 10:3).
We thrive on comparisons to others – either to seek approval or look down on them – and will even use “religion” to avoid the deeper implications of grace.
As a result, the expectation of our culture about visiting a church (sadly) is “expect to be judged.” This is a major reason that many appreciate checking out the church “from afar” first, through a website. It’s much less threatening.
Because this is such a formidable barrier for many, we must be intentional about centering our welcome on grace and helping all people feel welcome. Our website is often the first glimpse that many will have of church, as they check you out from the safety of their own homes. Hopefully what they will see is authentic, 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 engaging video background on its homepage, showing a multi-faceted, multi-cultural church in action – as well as their local sites – Remnant sends the message that it not only cares about all people but also recognizes the common grace expressed in our culture.
There’s no hint of moralism or a kind of false dualism that pits spirit and matter against each other. Remnant seems to understand that God cares about cities, just as he cared about Nineveh in Jonah’s time, and Babylon during the exile (See Jonah 4:11, Jer.29:7).
Secondly, examine your site for anything that might send this exclusionary message.
In an effort to state your convictions, are you sending a message that might be interpreted as “We have a corner on doctrinal purity, and you’re only welcome if you believe what we believe”?
It’s an old adage, but true: “People will not care how much you know until they see how much you care.” Love is the greater apologetic (John 13:35, 1 Cor. 13).
Related to this, can you rather affirm that everyone is in need of grace, and at a different stage in their story and understanding? Are you being shaped by law, or the gospel? (If you’re not sure, listen to this great message by Tim Keller in which he makes the distinction.)
Do you make clear that there are a host of secondary matters (such as modes of baptism and music styles) that people of faith differ on? Can we hold such things loosely for the sake of the Gospel?
Thirdly, shape your site so it’s easy for the “unchurched” to get around – just as you would if you brought a visitor into your home.
As a gracious host, you’d point out the important places – the bathroom, refrigerator, etc. Put yourself in their shoes, and try to consider what your first impression tells them.
As we mentioned, is your navigation user-friendly? Does your main page help them get a feel for what a first visit would be like?
Also, 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.